Rethinking PIC Librarianship after Michelle Alexander


This week Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, came to campus.

As she explained her book’s thesis, it made me consider how prison librarian could be more aware of how we can better support our patrons trying to survive the PIC.

But as a correctional employee, prison librarians live, breathe, and work within the myths of incarcerated persons and the effectiveness of the PIC. So, how can we balance the PIC and providing library services that needs to satisfy the two extremely different world views of the PIC administration and those who are incarcerated?

How can we provide programming that offers support to patrons when being honest about the PIC can be seen as threatening to administration and guards and could put our positions in jeopardy?

In my short experience of being within the PIC, I feel that there is a lot of heavy communication for staff to view people behind bars as lazy, not to be trusted, and other stereotypes.

Michelle suggested that we need to embrace those who are incarcerated as their genuine selves, not solely based on the behavior that the criminal justice system deemed appropriate for incarceration. She continued to assert that the PIC operates with the core belief that some of us are not worthy of genuine concern, care, and compassion. In comparison to the PIC, we need an approach that cares for the victim for the victim, offender, and community. The idea of care is extremely drastic when we realize that shame and blame is placed on communities and individuals for incarceration.

I was able to briefly speak about this with Michelle afterwards. Though I didn’t have a specific question for her, she told me that being inside of the PIC, you have to try to navigate as much as you are able to in order to provide the service that is envisioned. It is important,  she stressed, to treat those behind bars with dignity. As librarians in training, we often think that we always treat patrons with respect and dignity, but within the PIC having to stress this shows how the institution operates.

Bringing Down the New Jim Crow – Radio Series

Today on Facebook, Michelle Alexander reminded us about the radio documentary series Bringing Down the New Jim Crow.

I did not realize that it was already out. They had been raising money this summer (Crowdfunded Radioshow to Illuminate the Intersection of Race and Incarceration) and they made their goal. We have some catching up to do, so gather your friends or set up your listening station as you do the dishes (my favorite!) and tune in!

The radio series “explores the intersection of the drug war, mass incarceration, and race in the contemporary U.S.”

There are three episodes out:

  1. A Bitter Harvest: California, Marijuana, and the New Jim Crow
    A Bitter Harvest views Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” through the lens of California’s marijuana industry.
    Marijuana is the single largest agricultural commodity in California and it is the primary vehicle for the war on drugs’ racialized arrest and incarceration system, which has our prisons bursting at the seams nationwide. Great numbers of predominantly white men and women grow, harvest, and process marijuana in California for distribution throughout the United States. Local law enforcement and the communities they represent – communities whose economies are marijuana-dependent – benefit from letting this part of the illegal process go mostly undetected, while the crackdown happens almost exclusively in poor inner-city neighborhoods of color.
    Through interviews with Michelle Alexander, Stephen Gutwillig (Drug Policy Alliance), and Vincent Harding (renowned veteran of the African-American Freedom Movement), this program cracks open the question of why and how this discrepancy exists, and it explores some of its devastating consequences. It’s a show that grapples head on with the reality of white privilege in the United States.
  2. On the Other Side of the Myth: A Conversation with Michelle Alexander and Tim Wise
    This second installment in the series titled Bringing Down the New Jim Crow features the first ever dialog between legal scholar Michelle Alexander and anti-racism educator Tim Wise. An engaging, provocative interchange touching on the prison-industrial complex, white privilege, Trayvon Martin, and the unceasing quest for racial justice in the United States. Produced by Chris Moore-Backman, with music by Joe Henry.
  3. Children of the Same Sorrow: The U.S./Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes on the Drug War
    This moving and provocative documentary chronicles the historic journey of the “U.S./Mexico Caravan for Peace,” which from August 12th to September 12th, 2012, crossed the entire United States calling for an end to the war on drugs and bearing witness to the human rights nightmare unfolding in Mexico. Radio documentarian Chris Moore-Backman travelled with the caravan for 5 days, capturing the spirit and message of those on board, and examining the deep connection between the struggle for peace in Mexico and the struggle to end the racist system of mass incarceration in the United States. The show features a dialog between Michelle Alexander (author of “The New Jim Crow”) and Javier Sicilia (renowned Mexican poet and leader of the “Mexican Movement for Peace, with Justice and Dignity”). It also includes heartbreaking testimonies of mothers of victims of Mexico’s horrific drug war violence, and interviews with the U.S. and Mexican activists who launched this historic bi-national effort. A powerful testament to twin justice movements, which points to the crucial need for movement unity across races, and across borders.

New project trying to get underway with the work of Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow. Check out Prison Photography’s blog post for more information!

Prison Photography

Measured by any metric, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness is a scathing and utterly contemporary critique of American laws.

Now, a crowdfunding effort wants to bring the bestseller to the airwaves.

Alexander has argued that the confluence of many new sentencing laws in recent decades has created an inescapable web of penalty, deprivation and economic traps against the poorest Americans. As we know a disproportionate number of poor Americans are black and brown. A pervasive racial bias in law, particularly Drug War legislation has hit minority groups and resulted in stark, debilitating and unjust institutional racism.

NPR set up its interview with Alexander as follows:

“Alexander argues many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off…

View original post 504 more words