The Beautiful and the Unsightly: the Role of Education in an Incarceration Nation

This talks draws upon my nearly 15 years of teaching in California prisons and argues that education is one component of the strategy necessary to make California's and the United States' hyper-incarceration practices obsolete. The paper turns to analyses of literature as justice as well as an array prison education programs and their respective philosophies. 

According to Jody Lewen, executive director of the Prison University Project, “long before we ever realize it, we are learning to imagine people in prison as grotesque, subhuman caricatures – ‘Criminals,’ ‘Prisoners,’ ‘Ex-convicts,’ ‘Parolees’ – they’re the stuff of horror movies, nightmares, Halloween costumes, prime time television, and off-hand jokes.  One of the most powerful and potentially world-changing aspects of the program at San Quentin, is that it allows outsiders to actually meet, and get to know, human beings who are literally subject to these categories.”

Lewen, drawing upon a verse from Hebrews and certainly Dante, suggests we should, “Step across those lines, and above all:  remember every person in prison as if they were bound to you.” It is does not mean we forget what they have done; rather, we want to embrace them, have dialogue about how we can remove and prevent further injustice in the world, restore beauty, and stop the fast flow of human beings into the inferno.

Presentation Date: 

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Social Justice in the Central Valley Conference, California State University, Stanislaus

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