1st Edition

Voices from American Prisons Faith, Education and Healing

By Kaia Stern Copyright 2014
    238 Pages
    by Routledge

    238 Pages
    by Routledge

    Voices From American Prisons: Faith, Education and Healing is a comprehensive and unique contribution to understanding the dynamics and nature of penal confinement. In this book, author Kaia Stern describes the history of punishment and prison education in the United States and proposes that specific religious and racial ideologies - notions of sin, evil and otherness - continue to shape our relationship to crime and punishment through contemporary penal policy. Inspired by people who have lived, worked, and studied in U.S. prisons, Stern invites us to rethink the current ‘punishment crisis’ in the United States.

    Based on in-depth interviews with people who were incarcerated, as well as extensive conversations with students, teachers, corrections staff, and prison administrators, the book introduces the voices of those who have participated in the few remaining post-secondary education programs that exist behind bars. Drawing on individual narrative and various modern day case examples, Stern focuses on dehumanization, resistance, and community transformation. She demonstrates how prison education is essential, can provide healing, and yet is still not enough to interrupt mass incarceration. In short, this book explores the possibility of transformation from a retributive punishment system to a system of justice.

    The book’s engaging, human accounts and multidisciplinary perspective will appeal to criminologists, sociologists, historians, theologians and scholars of education alike. Voices from American Prisons will also capture general readers who are interested in learning about a timely and often silenced reality of contemporary modern society.

    Preface, Charles J. Ogletree  Introduction  1. Our will to punish  2. A history of punishment  3. Dehumanization  4. "Seeking the Shalom": the Masters program at Sing Sing  5. Transformation  6. Prison education that heals  Epilogue: Prison education is only part of the solution.


    Kaia Stern is Director of the Prison Studies Project and visiting faculty in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. Kaia’s work focuses on transformative justice, human rights, and education in prison. She is ordained as an interfaith minister, holds a doctorate in religion from Emory University, and a master’s of theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. Kaia has been working as a student/teacher inside US prisons for the last twenty years.

    ‘This is a truly necessary book, a deeply challenging and insightful exploration of the religious and political belief systems that have made it possible for us, as a nation, to deny the humanity of millions and to build a massive penal system unprecedented in world history. It places the voices of those we have caged at the center and, in so doing, opens our minds and hearts to the transformative possibilities of education, faith, and community. This is a book to be read and shared, over and over again.’ - Michelle Alexander, Professor of Law, The Ohio State University, USA

    ‘In this important new book Kaia Stern takes us inside the prisons that incarcerate millions of Americans, to reveal their hardships and suffering, as well as their hopes and aspirations. By exposing us to their voices and humanizing their experience we are reminded that mass incarceration has come at a cost, not only to those who waste away behind bars, but to those of us who sit idly by and pretend it doesn't concern us. This book will be an invaluable resource for educators, policymakers and activists who seek to create and advocate for prisons that are humane, offer genuine opportunities for rehabilitation and provide those housed within a basis for hope.’ - Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University, USA

    ‘Our fears of those who are, or have been, incarcerated lead us to forget our common humanity. Kaia Stern’s book is a phenomenal guide to understanding how an inclusive beloved community becomes possible. Voices From American Prisons points us to the path of true justice, rooted in non-violence, faith and transformative educational opportunities for those caught in our punishment system.’ - Leslie M. Harris, Winship Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities, Emory University, USA

    'Heretofore, 'voices' from US prisons were usually angry men (white and black) who had axes to grind with whomever they blamed for their imprisonment. It is, therefore, refreshing to see in this small volume by sociologist Stern (Harvard) not angry voices, but rather uplifting, spiritual, and deeply thoughtful words examining the humanity of men and women locked up inside of the many prisons across the US... The author's epilogue explains that education programs alone will not end the inhumanity of punishment, nor will it end mass incarceration. Stern is an advocate of the Project Half initiative, which she believes can offer cost-effective policies that will eventually end both incarceration and recidivism... Especially for graduate students in sociology, criminology and social work, and criminal justice professionals working to rehabilitate prisoners.Suming up: Recommended' - Earl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Sociology,Wake Forest University, Choice Reviews, January 2015