The United States holds 2.4 million citizens in its prisons and jails—a higher percentage of its population than in any other nation on earth. Yet despite a record rate of incarceration, there remains a remarkable ignorance of, or willed indifference to conditions inside our prisons, let alone how incarcerated Americans experience those conditions. This disregard does a disservice not only to incarcerated Americans but to free-world citizens, students, and scholars. We suffer effective censorship of the foremost resource for understanding the realities of imprisonment today.
There is a real need to create a single-site where American prison writers can write about and document their experience and where free-world citizens—including scholars, and students in a growing field of study of criminal justice and mass incarceration—can access such writing. No such archive yet exists. The American Prison Writing Archive will be a place where incarcerated people can bear witness to the conditions in which they live, to what is working and what is not inside American prisons, and where they can contribute to public debate about the American prison crisis.
The American Prison Writing Archive site will also be open to contributions by correctional officers, prison staff, and prison administrators, thus creating a true meeting place and venue for comparative expression by and study of all of those who live and work inside American prisons. In creating a resource that can be accessed online, by a wide diversity of people, I hope that Hamilton can serve as the host for a public conversation that will include all of the members of a notably unheard population, increase awareness, and improve the ease with which all citizens — prisoners, students, scholars and the general public — can better educate themselves about one of America's most powerful and most problematic institutions.
NEH GRANT ANNOUNCEMENT
- "Incarceration’s Witnesses: American Prison Writing,” a free MOOC on the edX platform (March, 2015).
- Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America (Michigan State UP, 2014).
- American Prison Writing Archive / Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, Promotional Flyer
Download [PDF, 1.2mb]
- Hamilton College: "Larson Edits New Book, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America"
Link to Article [Hamilton.edu]