A powerful critique of mass incarceration by the people who have experienced it Inside Knowledge is the first book to examine the American prison system through the eyes of those who are trapped within it. Drawing from the writings collected in the American Prison Writing Archive, Doran Larson deftly illustrates how mass incarceration does less to contain any harm perpetrated by convicted people than to spread and perpetuate harm among their families and communities. Inside Knowledge makes a powerful argument that America’s prisons not only degrade and debilitate their wards but also defeat the prison’s cardinal missions of rehabilitation, containment, deterrence, and even meaningful retribution.
If prisons are places where convicted people are sent to learn a lesson, then imprisoned people are the ones who know just what American prisons actually teach. At once profound and devastating, Inside Knowledge is an invaluable resource for those interested in addressing mass incarceration in America.
Doran Larson is Edward North Professor of Literature at Hamilton College. He is the author of Witness in the Era of Mass Incarceration, editor of Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, and founded and co-directs The American Prison Writing Archive (prisonwitness.org).
As this compelling text shows, filling in longstanding silences about what prisons actually do may have far-reaching and desperately needed benefits for those inside and outside the institution’s walls. Profound reflections on the unacknowledged inhumanity of the nation’s prisons.
~Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Larson’s dedication to challenging the usual conversations about mass incarceration by showcasing voices of the imprisoned highlights many faults and some solutions. An important addition to the discussion around this urgent subject.
A powerful indictment of American prisons for failing at their ostensible purpose: making us safer. What distinguishes this book and makes it so persuasive is the insight Larson has drawn from thousands of archived essays by the incarcerated themselves. Their testimony is vivid, infuriating, and profound.
~Bill Keller, Founding Editor of The Marshall Project
Inside Knowledge is a necessity in the conversation on criminal justice reform. Larson builds a critical discourse rooted in the value of “witness” within the carceral state, underscoring the power of the hidden and hushed voice to deconstruct that which can be, at times, indestructible.
~Randall Horton, American Book Award winning author of #289-128: Poems
Larson offers readers a window into the brutal realities concealed within prison walls by exposing the grim wisdom that incarcerated individuals have for so long carried in silence. In so doing, he illuminates the gap in public perception between the peace that prisons supposedly deliver and the destruction they actually wreak, thereby chipping away at the misconceptions that fuel the machine of mass incarceration.
~Marc M. Howard, Founder and President of The Frederick Douglass Project for Justice
Provides a devastating and heartbreaking account of the national nightmare of mass incarceration. Drawing on the insightful analysis of those behind bars, the book pinpoints the structural problem of American prisons, while also pointing us in the direction of a more effective—and compassionate—approach to public safety. Policymakers and the public alike need to hear this urgent call for change.
~Marc Mauer, author of Race to Incarcerate
Doran Larson, founder of The American Prison Writers Archive, has curated and contextualized a selection of incarcerated writers’ words, naming and amplifying a rich literary tradition of prison writing in the United States (dating to the 1700s). Ultimately, the book provides a damning indictment of the failures of mass incarceration to achieve any of its four stated goals: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation.
~Keramet Reiter, University of California, Irvine
One of the most compelling accounts of prison writing to date. Larson has given us a tremendous gift, a withering indictment of the US prison system, based on one of the deepest collections of prison writing ever compiled. The courageous writing and formidable expertise of people confined in prisons form together a clarion call: don’t look away. And in a time where prisons have once again catalyzed resistance, Inside Knowledge beckons to us.
~Vesla Mae Weaver, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
This book will advance the cause of those in and out, shedding much needed light and changing the way people see those fighting for justice on many levels... most importantly in prison.
~Jimmy Baca, author of The Misfits
Inside Knowledge presents a thoughtful, well-documented history of the origin, the rationales, and the practice of incarcerating people in this country, and a great many testimonies from the people who know best how thoroughly that practice has failed to achieve its alleged goal of 'rehabilitating' the people prisons are supposed to serve.
~The Arts Fuse
Larson's is an ambitious and compelling project, and his book is an extraordinary and valuable contribution both to the literature on prison writing and to the ongoing effort of activists to redress social ills caused largely by conditions of poverty.
~The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice