Recommended Reading

The following is a selected reading list made up of books that have been helpful in the development of this project. For a comprehensive list of books and other resources relating to crime and prison issues we recommend

Art, Photography, and poetry

Too Much Time
by Jane Evelyn Atwood
Photographs have impacted laws and legislation before, and this book has the power to do just that. Battered Woman's Syndrome has not been effective as a defense, but the ideas behind it could be incorporated into legislation and sentencing. Atwood spent 11 years visiting women in prisons around world. Cross-culturally their stories are similar—most women in prison for a violent crime are there for killing their abusers. Their crimes are acts of desperate powerlessness. These women have been controlled, beaten, raped, and repeatedly threatened by husbands, lovers, and stepfathers. While the stories are infuriating, the photographs are amazing; looking at these images is like experiencing an elegiac nightmare. A 14-month-old toddler who has spent his life in prison with his mother walks down a cavernous, empty corridor of a prison. There's a woman being stripped naked and tied down spread-eagle for trying to commit suicide by swallowing her clothes. A shackled and chained woman is giving birth.

Too Much Time
Doing Time
edited by Bell Chevigny
This anthology of material by winners of PEN America's annual prison writing contests provides a polyphonic chorus of rejoinder to our policies of maximum incarceration. The collection's prose is honed and direct, with many contributors striking a hypnotic balance between the urgency inherent in writing as survival and the punishingly absurd nature of their circumstances: though their literary imaginations range widely, bodily, they're going no place. Most at issue is the individual reader's openness toward otherwise shunned figures. Several pieces are from longtime death-row inmates, presenting lucid, provocative narratives that don't excuse their youthful brutality. A thick sheaf of entries represents the hapless POWs of the Drug War (often disadvantaged women), serving long sentences for semantic and violence-free crimes. The distribution of fiction, poetry, and essays into 11 topical sections (e.g. Players, Games) allows a textured diversity of excellent pieces.

Doing Time
Texas Death Row
by Ken Light
Since the U.S. just elected (sort of) a president who is chest-thumping proud of the record number of people being put to death on Texas's death row, this book is particularly relevant. It gives faces and stories to the growing number of men awaiting execution in Texas prisons. The viewer experiences the hope, the diversions, the nightmarish absurdity of this city of the damned within the strongest gates and thickest chains in our society. The viewer is with the prisoners—their last statements, their apologies, sweating brows, and terrified eyes—all the way up to the final moments.

Texas Death Row
East Side Stories: Gang Life in East L.A.
photographer Joseph Rodriguez and Ruben Martinez
While the Crips and Bloods on the West Side of L.A. experienced a media blitz in the early 1990s, Joseph Rodriguez was on the other side of town, photographing the lives of Hispanic gangs. There have always been gangs in society, but what is striking about these pictures is the way they portray how entrenched the communication of violence is that goes on in these communities. When viewing the shots of children playing with guns with a chilling nonchalance, the viewer feels the inevitability of suffering to come in their lives. Perhaps it's from the images of drive-by shootings, the toddler's funeral, the captions that tell you a subject later died, but the adults in the photographs have a doomed sense about them, and the inescapability of the identities they have constructed is striking. However, the photographs are shot with such intimacy and warmth that Rodriguez does not allow for judgement against the subjects. Instead, his shots open up quick, bright moments of understanding.

East Side Stories
Spanish Harlem
by Joseph Rodriguez
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa once said that "an artist does not avert his eyes." Like many great documentary photographers before him, Joseph Rodriguez chose to photograph the lives of the poor. He focuses on Spanish Harlem when crack cocaine use was epidemic. The images that show the squalor of poverty and the depravity of drug addiction are portrayed with unflinching honesty. However, Rodriguez's work also records the beauty and integrity of his subjects as well, and shows that these people are worthy of far more respect than they have been offered by our society.

Spanish Harlem
Ben Shahn's New York
by Deborah Martin Kao, Laura Katzman, Jenna Webster
Ben Shahn referred to his early photographs as "scenes from a living theater." His photography documents the lives of washerwomen, tenement dwellers, laborers, immigrants, and prisoners in 1930s New York City. He believed in prison reform, and when he was commissioned to create a mural at Riker's Island, he showed the prisoners creating art, studying, and working, thereby portraying these men as deserving of assistance and respect. He juxtaposed his pictures of the poor and destitute on the streets of New York in the prison mural to show the link between poverty and crime. The Municipal Art Commission dismissed his proposal, and the mural was never made. Only the sketches remain. This book and the related exhibitions chronicle Shahn's powerful work and his progressive beliefs.

Ben Shahn's New York
Popular Non-Fiction

A Disjointed Search for the Will to Live
by Shaka N'Zinga
This memoir reveals the personal and political transformation of a young African-American boy growing up in the urban poverty of Baltimore. Having been incarcerated since the age of 16, N'Zinga provides first-hand knowledge of racial politics and every-day life inside prison. N'Zinga takes us on his journey from a rebellious youth lashing out at a hurtful world to a political activist and writer.
Contact PGW: 1-800-788-3123 or

A Disjointed Search for the Will to Live


In the Belly of the Beast
by Jack Henry Abbott
In the Belly of the Beast is a series of letters sent to writer Norman Mailer by Jack Henry Abbott detailing his life in the prison system. Mailer lobbied to have Abbott released then—about two weeks into his life on the outside—Abbott stabbed a waiter to death for a minor slight. That story weighs heavily on the reader during both Mailer's introduction and Abbott's letters. Mailer describes Abbott's withstanding of horrendous punishments as refusals to submit. But this time it's real—Abbott isn't another hairy-fisted novelist kvetching about being a man, he has spent all of his adult life in prison, and he actively participates in a sadistic/masochistic relationship. The prison experience can be an extension of a man's rage and violence, and Abbott embraces this, even identifies himself through it with pride. "A prisoner rebels even with the knife at his throat. That is why at this time he is a prisoner. He cannot be subdued. Only murdered." You certainly can't blame Mailer for the tragedy that ensued, but it doesn't take deep reading to realize that it would be unwise to drop Abbott off in downtown Manhattan without a lot of work.


The Prisoner's Wife
by asha bandele
In her memoir, The Prisoner's Wife, asha bandele meets, falls in love with, and marries Rashid, a convicted killer serving 20 years with life on the back for murder. Throughout the memoir, she experiences the humiliation, false hopes, and depravity of prison with him. bandele even emotionally goes through the guilt for the murder with him. While reading it, you can't help but question her choice of beaux. bandele's book sets out to explain that. Her honesty with these struggles make this a remarkable process to watch, as the limitations and stasis of the prison break them both down until they face the most vital, raw, painful parts of themselves.

The Prisoner's Wife
God of the Rodeo
by Daniel Bergner
The annual rodeo at Angola State Prison has the feel of a Roman gladiatorial event. It is not sport, but rather a spectacle of convicts engaged in dangerous events, such as convict poker, where they all sit around a table absolutely still, while a bull rages around them. The last one to move wins. The God of the title, however, is not a participant but the warden, who has absolute control over the prison and is most likely profiting from their labor. His paternalistic philosophy towards the prisoners is that each man should try to become the best person he can, even if he's serving life in prison. The book shows how the inmates struggle with the transgressions that got them there—many are horrendously violent acts—and grasp for the different forms of redemption available to them within the prison. The book begins and ends with the rodeo, but the event never really serves as a metaphor for the power, the politics, and the history of Angola. The event doesn't even seem exploitive by the end of the story. You realize that the convicts are risking themselves, not to ask forgiveness, but rather because this is their one chance to appear in public and to show that they are fully human.

God of the Rodeo
Manchild in the Promised Land
by Claude Brown
First published in 1965, the book chronicles the first generation of African Americans who settle in Harlem after their parents migrate from the South. The book still provides remarkable insights into the juvenile justice system. It shows how the relationship between the community and child make the pattern of incarceration hard to break. In the introduction, Brown writes about people's disillusionment and anger upon arriving in Harlem, "To add to their misery, they had little hope of deliverance. For where does one run to when he's already in the promised land."

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America
by Geoffry Canada
This brutally honest account of a childhood in the Bronx is a personal history of violence in America and a hopeful plea for the salvation of our children caught in today's crossfire. Canada's childhood experiences influenced his sensitive understanding of violent attitudes born out of fear and self-preservation. What is perhaps most disturbing about the events Canada experienced is the degree to which all such occurrences (gang fights, weapon use, drug abuse) have increased in frequency.

Do They Hear You When You Cry
by Fauziya Kassindja
If prison is a metaphor for rage in men, it's certainly one of powerlessness for women. Fauziya Kassindja is a Muslim woman from the village of Togo in western Africa. She grows up in a large, close family, her father's favorite child. Her father is a liberal Muslim who doesn't believe in multiple marriages or female circumcision like many of the other villagers, and even his own family. When he dies, Fauziya's fate is left to her uncle, who sells her to be married to a 60-year-old man who already has three wives. She is supposed to undergo kakia, the process of having one's clitoris cut off without anesthesia and with a knife that isn't sterilized. Her mother and sisters help her escape to the U.S., where she is promptly jailed for being an illegal immigrant. She decides that prison here is so bad that, despite the life of misery she faced back home, she wants to return.

Do they hear you when you cry
Finding Freedom
by Jarvis Masters
While on death row at San Quentin, Jarvis Masters converts to Buddhism. This collection of vignettes does not show the transformation, but rather how Masters applies the principles of this religion to prison and his changing attitude toward the nature of life in general. The story doesn't have a narrative arc, but the effect of the tales, both from San Quentin and his childhood, accumulate—the abuse and terror, the courts appointing him to foster care, then juvenile detention centers, then prison, then death row for a crime committed in the penitentiary. For many of the other prisoners, their abusive childhoods and their lives in prison are never really reconciled. Masters never has much of a chance in life, yet he isn't bitter. He seems to have a remarkably gentle nature. "Twenty years ago, I was a ward of the state, and they told me they wanted to protect me. And now I was in the same kind of room, with dim buzzing lights, and they were figuring out how to try me and maybe kill me."

Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin
by Judith Tannenbaum
On the last night of Judith Tannenbaum's poetry writing class at San Quentin, one of her students gave her an assignment. Elmo challenged, "Write about these past four years from your point of view; tell your story; let us know what you learned." The response is this book. Hettie Jones, a writer, prison poetry teacher, and chairman of the PEN Prison Writing Program, describes the book as "open-hearted and even-handed because Tannenbaum looks at the world she entered as openly and widely as possible. She has important stories to tell about prison, about art, about what it is to be human, and about trying to live in the world with both loving-kindness and honest attention."

Disguised as a Poem
Theory and Law
Sensible Justice
by David Anderson
In this book, Dave Anderson debunks the myths about alternative sentencing and shows how a well planned program will be far more cost effective—right now more than 1.5 million people are locked up in state prisons and local jails, at a cost of about 20,000 dollars per inmate. Among the "alternative sanctions" considered are: restitution programs, military-style boot camps, electronic monitoring, drug treatment, community service, sex offender treatment, and day reporting. Along with being cheaper than prison, these programs may help rehabilitate people and reduce our extremely high recidivism rate.

Minefields in Their Hearts: The Mental Health of Children in War and Communal Violence
edited by Roberta Apfel and Bennett Simon
While this book deals with the mental trauma of children who witness war, many parallels can be drawn to the effects of crime, violence, and abuse on children who witness and experience it. Yale University Press, 1996.

Minefields in their Hearts
On Crimes and Punishment
by Cesare Beccaria
Published in 1766, this book takes the ideas of the Enlightenment and applies them to criminal justice. Believing man to be rational and acting of free will, Beccaria states that people make calculated decisions about what behavior they will engage in. They weigh the costs and benefits of an action and decide accordingly. Therefore criminals have calculated that the benefit of the criminal act outweighs the costs. To deter them, punishment must then outweigh the particular crime. Offering a rather mathematical approach, Beccaria posits a rational approach to crime and punishment. A punishment need only cost just a bit more than the benefit would be worth and be proportionate to the harm done by the criminal act. This is considered the beginning of criminological theory and is referred to as the classical school of criminology.

The Principles of Morals and Legislation
by Jeremy Bentham
Published in 1789, this book furthers the ideas of Beccaria's free will and the cost/benefit calculations, as well as suggesting even more reforms of criminal law. Also, Bentham had an interest in architecture. He designed and generated blueprints for the panopticon, a word whose Greek roots mean "everything" and "a place of sight," which he strongly advocated. This was supposed to be the ultimate penitentiary, and in the 1770s it was first proposed as a solution to the persistent horrors of jail and prison conditions. This structure had a column in the center with the individual inmates' cells arranged around it. This allowed guards to have total and constant visibility of inmates. The separate cells kept inmates safe and they behaved because they were under constant supervision. In this setup, prisoners always assumed they were being watched—whether or not that was actually the case.

The Principles of Morals and Legislation
Power, Politics, and Crime
by William Chambliss
A fascinating and to-the-point read on the role politics plays in the creation of criminal justice policies. It also offers one of the most lucid critiques of the validity of government crime statistics. Westview Press, 1999.

The Female Offender
by Meda Chesney-Lind
It should be no surprise that the criminal justice system treats female offenders differently than males, nor that the nature of crimes committed by women differs drastically from those of men. However, very little has been studied about these differences, and even less has been done to address them. Chesney-Lind is one of the foremost scholars on female criminality, and her work sets out to explain the rising number of women being incarcerated. She explores the cultural expectations that make the public uncomfortable with female aggression and the idea of women as criminals. This book opens a vital discussion and shatters the silence on the issue of female prisoners.

No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System
by David Cole
David Cole chronicles the way justice is carried out for the vast majority of poor, minority citizens in the U.S. From policing, to the courts, to the prisons, Cole analyzes the double standards found in the criminal justice system and offers ways to improve the current situtation. The New Press, 1999

Crime and Punishment in America: Why the Solutions to America's Most Stubborn Social Crisis Have Not Worked — and What Will
by Elliott Currie
Elliott Currie spends half of his book detailing the myths and misconceptions of criminal justice policy and the other half on concrete solutions. A deep knowledge of the social impact and the use of social action to remedy the question of crime, especially in the inner cities, is a cornerstone of Currie's analysis. Metropolitan Books, 1998.

The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission
edited by Steven R. Donziger
In 1994 the National Criminal Justice Commission was formed. Made up of a cross-section of criminal justice experts, community leaders, scholars, and concerned citizens, the commission set out to assess the current state of the criminal justice system in America. The result is this report, which systematically anayzes all of the current policies and debunks the myths and misconceptions around crime and punishment. It also provides some insightful recommendations on how to improve our criminal justice system. Harper Perennial, 1996.

The Real War on Crime
Discipline and Punish—The Birth of the Prison
by Michel Foucault
Foucault takes the ideas of the of the Enlightenment, particularly the classcial school of criminology by Cesare Beccaria and the ideas of the panoptican by Jeremy Bentham and creates a treatise on power, coercion, the self vs. the other, and the morality of punishing the mind and soul rather than the body. He shows how these effects of control are not only present in prisons, but constant surveillance and invisible power, are also present in our schools, jobs, and hospitals, etc. Despite the good intentions of the Enlightenment, this imposition of social order creates a constant, curative discipline, which increases suffering and repression in all of society.


Punishment and Modern Society: A Study in Social Theory
by David Garland
David Garland provides a social history of punishment in modern times. Though the reading is more academic than other works on this list, this work provides a solid foundation of the principles and concepts of modern penal practices and how it is intrinsic to sociological theory and vice versa. University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic
by James Gilligan
Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It
by Hans Toch and Terry Allen Kupers
The books by Terry Kupers and James Gilligan add tremendously to the growing issue of how prisons have become the de facto mental institutions in this country. Kupers and Gilligan bring to the discourse years of personal and professional experience and an empathy for the individuals in these tragic circumstances that lend a human touch often lacking in the literature. Vintage Books, 1997 and Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic
Race Crime and the Law
by Randall Kennedy
Randall Kennedy focuses on how the criminal justice system fails the African American community in many key aspects, from jury selection to the death penalty. This is required reading for anyone interested in the role that race plays in the criminal system. Pantheon Books, 1997.

Race to Incarcerate
by Marc Mauer
In 200 pages, Marc Mauer manages to provide the reader with a wealth of information and analysis on the current policies fueling over-incarceration in America. As Assistant Director of the Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer has come to be recognized as a leading and credible voice on the progressive side of the debate over the proliferation of punishment. The New Press. 1999.

Race to Incarcerate
Kind & Usual Punishment: The Prison Business
by Jessica Mitford
This book, published in 1973, combines investigative reporting and rhetorical muscle to reveal a system rife with fraud, brutality, and other horrors. Prisoners leased to pharmaceutical companies for experiments. Prostitutes and drug addicts watched by guards who do not even believe they should be locked up. With chapters like "What Counts as a Crime?" and "Women in Cages," Mitford raises disturbing questions about the nation's criminal justice policies—questions that are all the more relevant today, now that many of the same policies persist and the U.S. has the world's highest incarceration rate. On every page of Kind & Usual Punishment, Mitford's outrage is palpable, making today's liberal critics sound timid and showing how conservative the public debate over prisons has become over the last 30 years.

Ethnicity, Crime and Immigration: Comparative Cross-National Perspectives
edited by Michael Tonry
An excellent overview of cross-cultural and ethnic comparative analysis of crime and responses to crime in the Western world. Countries covered include the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Australia. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Crime: Twenty-Eight Leading Experts Look at the Most Pressing Problem of Our Time
edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia
An interdisciplinary criminal justice primer that still holds up as an excellent introduction to the many facets of criminal justice. Contributers include economist Richard Freeman, and the noted criminology professors Alfred Blumstein, Joan Petersilia, Mark Moore, and Todd Clear. Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1995.

Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice
by Howard Zehr
Recognized as the "Father of Restorative Justice," Howard Zehr details the justice model that draws from traditional and ancient models of justice that are "restorative" instead of "retributive." The restorative model turns the attention to how crime affects the victim and the community and to repairing the harm done through techniques such as sentencing circles and victim offender mediation. Herald Press, 1990.

Changing Lenses
Incapacitation: Penal Confinement and the Restraint of Crime
by Franklin Zimring
This book serves as an introduction to the concept of incapacitation, the use of confinement as the central force behind lowering crime. The variables that comprise this complicated issue are myriad, and no one is better suited to explain them than Franklin Zimring, one of the most cited thinkers in modern criminology. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America
by Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins
A groundbreaking book that calls to question the love affair that American culture has with guns and the deep impact it has on violent crime. Oxford University Press, 1997.

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