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Book Club

Reading is a major part of prison work in many ways. The men at the Oregon State Penitentiary read a variety of books meant to further their knowledge on prison, violence, and transformation. Students at Willamette taking Professor Michaux’s classes such as American Politics, Reforming Criminal Justice, Transformative Justice, and others also read similar pieces. Reading about the experiences of people who are incarcerated, victims of crimes, lawyers, and more can help everyone to deepen their understanding of the criminal justice system and begin to develop ideas on how to rebuild what is broken within it. Below is a reading list if you are interested in reading the same or similar works that the men inside OSP read for their classes with Professor Michaux.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy is written by lawyer and advocate Bryan Stevenson who has dedicated his life’s work to getting prisoners off of death row. He is a Harvard Law graduate and his work is primarily based in Alabama, which has some of the most historically racist and punitive criminal justice sentences. He has also begun the difficult work of educating the public on America’s racist roots and how slavery has led us to mass incarceration. Bryan Stevenson has also opened a museum that shows this history, as well as a lynching memorial. You can read more about his work at (Equal Justice Initiative). 

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton is Ray’s personal story about his 30 years spent on death row in Alabama after being falsely accused of murder. In spite of his ironclad alibi, the state still charged him for a string of robberies that resulted in murder. Even though these crimes continued while he was in jail awaiting trial, he was still pronounced guilty and grossly mistreated by police, correctional officers, the judge, jury, and prosecutor at his trial. The way he was treated by these people all showed the deeply ingrained racism within the criminal justice system, and yet Ray remained hopeful that he’d be released and chose to forgive the people involved in his cruel sentencing. Bryan Stevenson ultimately picked up Ray’s case, and successfully freed him.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson is a book about America’s racial caste system. Wilkerson discusses the way that people of color have been mistreated throughout American history as a consequence of our racial caste system. She also compares it to other caste systems around the world including India’s caste system, and Germany’s caste system during World War II. Caste discusses a wide array of subjects, including police brutality, corruption within the criminal justice system, our culture and politics in relation to racial identities, and explains these topics and more throughout historical and modern contexts.

Until We Reckon by Danielle Sered

Until We Reckon by Danielle Sered is a book about the cycles of violence, trauma amongst victims and survivors of violence, and the ways in which the criminal justice system is not adequately helping or protecting victims of violence. Sered writes about how most perpetrators of violence are also survivors themselves, and that if we could help victims to heal we would have less harm in the world altogether. With some narratives and examples of individual cases as well as studies on trauma itself, Sered strongly convinces her readers that prison continuously perpetuates harm, rather than helping us all to heal from it.

To the End of June by Cris Beam

To the End of June by Cris Beam is not a book about prison, but rather a book about foster care. The reason why it’s included in this list is that foster care is often a pipeline to prison, especially when children are being bounced around multiple homes, experiencing abuse, or just feeling neglected or like their environment is unstable overall. Foster care in its current form is often traumatic for the many children that have to endure it, and some of the care facilities for children without parents or guardians even resemble prison structure and prison life. Beam studies multiple families, children, and birth parents navigating the heartbreaking situation of foster care, and many of these children or their families are impacted by mass incarceration. To the End of June is an important book to read for those who are interested in trying to take preventative measures in regards to the funneling systems we have into prison, with foster care being a major contributor.

Free Cyntoia by Cyntoia Brown-Long

Free Cyntoia by Cyntoia Brown-Long is Cyntoia’s story about being prisoned for killing a man who bought her as a sex-slave from her boyfriend at the time when she was only 15 years old. In order to escape the man that captured her, she killed him in his sleep after he had repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her. While one would assume and hope that any child in this situation would be cared for, Cyntoia was imprisoned for 15 years for killing the man who tortured her. She was originally sentenced to life in prison or a 51-year minimum. She was released due to clemency that was strongly pushed by the media and public attention after hearing about the horrific details of this case, and the crimes that her abuser committed against her which led her to take the actions that she did. Cyntoia’s story is yet another prime example of the injustices in our criminal justice system, and how unfairly victims of a sex offense, people of color, and women are often treated in their current state.

Other Good Reads

The Will to Change by Bell Hooks the Love Prison Made and Unmade by Ebony Roberts

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