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Doran Larson

Inside Knowledge: Incarcerated People on the Failures of the American Prison, by Doran Larson, the Edward North Chair of Greek and Greek Literature and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, was published this week by NYU Press.

Larson is also the founder of the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA), an open-source archive of first-person narratives created by incarcerated individuals and prison workers that illustrates the reality of imprisonment in the U.S.

Started at Hamilton following the publication of Larson’s book Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America in 2014, the APWA continues to grow and includes thousands of non-fiction works. With grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation aiding its expansion and digitization, the archive is now housed at Johns Hopkins University.

Doran Larson, Inside Knowledge: Incarcerated People on the Failures of the American Prison book coverThe publisher’s description calls Inside Knowledge “the first book to examine the American prison system through the eyes of those who are trapped within it.” The volume includes a collection of works from the APWA that show “how mass incarceration does less to contain any harm perpetrated by convicted people than to spread and perpetuate harm among their families and communities.”

In a review, The Marshall Project’s founding editor Bill Keller called Inside Knowledge “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.”

Vesla Mae Weaver of Johns Hopkins University said the book is “one of the most compelling accounts of prison writing to date,” and that “Larson has given us a tremendous gift … based on one of the deepest collections of prison writing ever compiled.”

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