A writer and social activist chronicles her visits to prisons around the globe to gain insight into what works and doesn’t work.
This anthropological examination by Dreisinger (English/John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, CUNY; Near Black: White to Black Passing in American Culture, 2008) wears its agenda proudly, which is not a bad thing given the level of intellectual insight and emotional struggle the author brings to her argument. Though she founded the Prison-to-College Pipeline program in 2011 to help prisoners transition successfully back into society, she still had questions. “I decided I needed a shock to the system, to unseat basic truths, to ask myself what I used to get asked all the time, before my world became overwhelmingly filled with people who shared my passions and premises,” she writes. “Why care so passionately about the so-called wrongdoers of the world?” To that end, Dreisinger traversed the globe to speak with genocide survivors in Rwanda, reggae enthusiasts behind bars in Uganda and Jamaica, and imprisoned mothers in Thailand. In Brazil, the author met men broken by the savagery of solitary confinement. “Anything not to be in a cell,” one prisoner said. “I will do anything to escape being so alone. All those hours. I believe in love—in love as redemption. There is no love here.” Yet while she made a concerted effort to connect on a personal level, her ultimate goal was to understand the big picture. In Australia, she struggled, for example, with whether privatization of incarceration for profit can be humane. Dreisinger’s refusal to offer sweeping generalizations or simple directives in the name of restorative justice is bold and as confrontational as her sessions with her students. “I’m not trying to be cryptic; the reality is that there is no pat answer to the big questions around race and crime,” she writes. “Humanity is complex and contradictory; any system addressing it must be equally so.”
An eye-opening, damning indictment of the American prison system and the way its sins reverberate around the globe.