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Larson Essay Highlights Prison Archive in The Conversation


Doran Larson
Doran Larson

Professor of Literature and Creative Writing Doran Larson’s essay, appearing on both The Conversation and the Associated Press News websites, addressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recently announced return to a pre-Obama policy of seeking maximum penalties for all drug crimes as well as the misguided and flawed prison system. Titled Digital database captures voices from inside America’s prisons, the article appeared on July 17 and featured the Digital Humanities Initiative’s American Prison Writing Archive.

“In 2009 I sent out a call for essays, asking incarcerated people to describe their experience inside prisons and jails,” wrote Larson. “The final deadline passed in the fall of 2012. Seventy-one of the initial pool of 154 essays would become Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, published in 2014.

“But essays never stopped coming. The call had opened a vein that would not be stanched. Writers documented the lives that led them to prison, a broken judicial system and staff cultures committed to humiliation and dehumanization, as well as the labor of living among damaged and broken men and women.

“The resulting digital American Prison Writing Archive now holds more than 1,300 essays in its paper files – the equivalent of 18 volumes the size of Fourth City, with 739 essays now posted online.

In closing paragraphs, Larson noted, “When incarcerated people’s objections are echoed by prosecutors, you know you have a bad policy. … the voices that do reach out exhibit a resilience that is humbling.”

Doran Larson is the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Literature & Creative Writing; Director of the Program in Jurisprudence, Law, and Justice Studies; and director of The American Prison Writing Archive (APWA), part of the Digital Humanities Initiative at Hamilton.  

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