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In retirement, I've still found time to weigh in...sometimes about sports and sometimes not.

Book Review: "Freeman’s Challenge" -- Essential Reading on Prisons, Slavery, and Profit

The prison was the first in the nation specifically designed to generate a profit for everybody but the laborers.

Freeman’s Challenge: The Murder That Shook America’s Original Prison for Profit by Robin Bernstein. University of Chicago Press, 293 pages including Notes and Index.

In 1840, William Freeman, a young black man, was convicted in Auburn, New York of stealing a horse. He protested his innocence at trial, but to no avail. He was sent to the institution known — at least to some — as “Sw

Book Review: "Faraway the Southern Sky" -- Portrait of a Young Revolutionary

“Faraway the Southern Sky” is an extraordinary literary achievement because it makes real and present the scuffling life and education of the very young man who grew up to become Ho Chi Minh.

Faraway the Southern Sky: A Novel by Joseph Andras. Translated by Simon Leser. Verso, 82 pages.

Verso’s promotional material for Faraway the Southern Sky describes the novel as “genre-bending.” It’s no exaggeration.

Joseph Andras, both author and narrator, explores the streets of contemporary Paris, seek

Book Review: "Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis"

The history of US policy on immigration might charitably be described as shameful.

Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis by Jonathan Blitzer. Penguin Press, 523 pages

In the introduction to this ambitious and compelling account, Jonathan Blitzer characterizes immigration policy as “a politics of permanent crisis.” Then he defines his mission “to tell each side’s story to the other; to find a way to bring the Homeland Security officials int

Book Review: "Fallen Angel" -- Edgar Allan Poe's "Black Electricity of Guilt"

Robert Morgan has written a fascinating reconsideration of the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

Fallen Angel: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe by Robert Morgan. Louisiana State University Press, 382 pages.

Part of Edgar Allan Poe’s grand achievement, according to Robert Morgan, is “exposing the Imp of the Perverse in us all.” No wonder the author felt that, despite the considerable attention Poe has received from biographers, critics, and readers delighted to be scared silly by stories like “The Tell-Tale

Book Review: "Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class"

Dan Canon provides not only the statistics but powerful stories to demonstrate the extent to which plea bargaining has bankrupted the justice system.

Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class by Dan Canon. Basic Books, 324 pages.

Perhaps the most dramatic statistic in Pleading Out is that 97% of criminal cases in this country don’t go to trial. They are dealt with via plea bargains.

The United States leads the league in that regard, just as we lead the industrialize

Book Review: "That's a Pretty Thing to Call It" -- Prose & Poetry by Artists Teaching in Carceral Institutions

These essays and poems present incarcerated men and women as nothing more or less than our fellow humans.

That’s a Pretty Thing to Call It: Prose and Poetry by Artists Teaching in Carceral Institutions, Leigh Sugar, Editor. New Village Press, 289 pages.

Working with incarcerated students presents distinctive challenges. The people who’ve contributed to this collection of essays and poems struggle with the debilitating notion that by meeting with their students in prison, they’re helping to mak

Book Review: "American Purgatory" -- Prison as a Form of Social Control

American Purgatory is the sort of book reactionary politicians and organizations are trying to ban. It’s full of evidence that many of the attitudes and conditions prevalent in this country from its founding were racist, bigoted, even genocidal.

American Purgatory: Prison Imperialism and the Rise of Mass Incarceration by Benjamin Weber. The New Press, 284 pages.

Much of American Purgatory is concerned with the practice of incarceration over the years in places other than the United States. Ben

Book Review: "Free Them All" -- The Case for Abolishing Prisons

Free Them All’s analysis of the broken prison system and the obstacles facing those determined to find solutions combines scholarly discipline with a powerful, emotional appeal for justice.

Free Them All: A Feminist Call To Abolish the Prison System by Gwenola Ricordeau. Translated by Emma Ramadan & Tom Roberge. Verso, 182 pages.

Throughout her argument that prisons should be abolished, Sociologist Gwenola Ricordeau reminds the reader that “penal abolition can only be ‘unfinished.” In the epil

Book Review: "Chain-Gang All-Stars" -- A Terrifying Future World

In this novel Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah creates a terrifying future world. I’m glad that he chose to anchor that creation so powerfully in the shameful present.

is an ambitious novel by a determined author. Most novelists who want to address hideous social conditions imagine what might happen next and let the damaged characters and grim circumstances do the work. Adjei-Brenyah certainly does this. But via footnotes, he adds messages from history, contemporary and otherwise, to his tale of a worl

Book Review: "You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You're Innocent" -- Believe It

This is a well-researched and accessible account of how and how often the system locks up the wrong people and keeps them locked up.

You Might Go To Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent by Justin Brooks. 222 pages, University of California Press.

If you’re Caucasian, rich, and reasonably well-connected, you probably WON’T go to prison, even though you’re innocent. Still, Justin Brooks, the Director of the California Innocence Project has a good point as well as a provocative title for this well

Book Review: "What’s Prison For?" -- A Case for Building Trust and Mutual Respect

In this valuable and necessary book Bill Keller argues that American prisons need to accept that men and women don’t stop being human beings because they’re in the custody of the state.

What’s Prison For?: Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration) by Bill Keller. Columbia Global Reports, New York, 159 pages, $16.

One of Bill Keller’s informants characterizes what he terms “the cynical cycle of American justice” this way: “Sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in

Book Review: "Barred: Why the Innocent Can't Get Out of Prison" -- Blind Justice

Daniel S. Medwed demonstrates just how astronomical the odds are against anyone who tries to question a guilty verdict, no matter how suspect the conviction.

Barred: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison by Daniel S. Medwed. Basic Books, 321 pages.

Nearly all of Barred, Daniel S. Medwed’s exploration of the branch of the justice system responsible for providing people who’ve been unjustly incarcerated with the opportunity to seek relief, is profoundly discouraging.

Medwed, University Disti

Teaching behind bars

The competition for spots in these programs is fierce. That’s one thing the programs have in common. Another is that no bumper sticker could ever distill the importance of these programs or of the smart, supportive, and respectful students in them.

My experience with incarcerated students should have begun 30 years ago. That was when a colleague of mine at Curry College, where I taught in the English Department for almost 40 years, invited me to participate in the program he’d established for

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