THE PRISON EXPERIENCE: An Anthology by Karl--Ed. Weiss


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A chorus of voices ticks off its point by point indictment against the prison system: prisons are ghettos for the poor and black; they dehumanize through petty regulations and guards who have also been brutalized by the system; they make sexual alienation and assaults a way of life. The testimony comes from inmates from different eras and nations--Eugenia Ginzburg, Zeno, and Papillon as well as Caryl Chessman, prison poet Ethridge Knight, and anonymous contributors to the Fortune Society newsletter--and is supported by sociological case studies and commentators such as Tom Wicker and Jessica Mitford. Outrage, along with a cumulative sense of despair that such a capriciously unjust system could be looked on as rehabilitation, are the only possible reactions to the material. However, while Weiss merely skims the surface of prison writing, he flings his net very wide--attacking capital punishment and solitary confinement, military justice and the Rockefeller drug program simultaneously--and making sweeping comparisons between, say, Nazi concentration camp labor and prison labor here. The approach is unlikely to bring readers to share Weiss' conviction that prisons must be eliminated; a more structured discussion of alternatives, examples of better-run prisons which also fail, and at least an acknowledgement that society fears violent criminals (this, despite the dollar value of the crimes, has to be part of the reason why embezzlers get shorter sentences than armed robbers) would be a necessary minimum. But as a first look at the issues imprisonment raises, and as a source book for students who will find the topical arrangement a plus, this should be an eye-opening first look at The Prison Experience.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1976
Publisher: Delacorte