KILLING TIME: Life in the Arkansas Penitentiary by Bruce Jackson

KILLING TIME: Life in the Arkansas Penitentiary

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Jackson's somber, understated photos and the grim recollections of inmates and guards present a horrific picture of life on a Southern prison farm as recently as the 1950s and an only slightly improved present-day version. The Fifties were a time of shotgun-toting inmate trusties (the only ""free-world man"" around was the warden) who were given free reign to brutalize less favored prisoners. ""Cooter's Yellow Pad""--the first and longest selection in this documentary/photo essay--recounts the whippings, the buckshot, the man who complained of being ill and was shoved into cold storage, the cowpeas and wormy turnips that were lunch and dinner. Times changed, particularly after 1969 when a federal judge declared the Cummins prison farm unconstitutional because the inmates were unable to ""fall asleep at night without fear of having their throats cut before morning."" But they didn't change so very much, and Jackson--who teaches interdisciplinary American studies at SUNY, Buffalo--can still make an apt comparison between prison discipline and the Nazi Kapo system. Even though most of the deliberate cruelty is gone, crowding, loneliness, and ""the enervating impotence that poisons the lives of guards and convicts and administrators alike"" is everywhere apparent. Most especially in the prisoners' attempts to personalize their environment from the most meager of materials. A composite view that connects.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1977
Publisher: Cornell Univ. Press