Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America

The Los Angeles Review of Books described Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America as “an important work” in an Oct. 8 review titled “Locked Up in America: The Essay in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Edited by Walcott-Bartlett Chair of Ethics and Christian Evidences Doran Larson, Fourth City is a collection of 71 essays by current and former prisoners on a wide range of topics about prison life, solicited over approximately five years.

“Fourth City is undoubtedly interesting, and an uninformed, unincarcerated public would likely benefit itself, and perhaps prisoners, by reading it,” wrote an enthusiastic reviewer Ben Merriman. “To the extent that it intervenes in an ongoing public debate about prisons, it does so by providing space for prisoners themselves to enter the discussion. In this sense, the book can be understood as a literary response to the growing scientific literature on mass incarceration, which includes popular books such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, as well as scholarly work by sociologists like Bruce Western, Loïc Wacquant, and Devah Pager.”

Later in the review, Merriman added, “Of course, one book can no more describe all of the prison system than one book could exhaustively describe the life of a major city like Chicago or Philadelphia. But Fourth City comes much closer to a representative view of incarceration in America than most previous anthologies of prison writing.”

Larson was also quoted on Oct. 7 in and International Business Times article titled “Prisoners Who Beat Harvard Debate Team Made Headlines, But Support For Prison Education Still Lagging.” He discussed how many states dropped funding for prisoner education programs after the 1994 banning by Congress of Pell grants for prisoners. 

Discussing possible prison reform, Larson said, “You basically get a 500 percent return of the investment in prisoner education. It also makes for more peaceful institutions; [prisoners] clean up their behavior to be able to take part in the institution.”

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