What Prison Takes Away
The Atlantic
April 21, 2016

“’Certain kinds of black men’s stories are ever in vogue, stories that offer the easy paradigm of criminality and putative redemption.’ This warning, from the poet Elizabeth Alexander’s essay ‘A Black Man Says ‘Sorbet,’ ’ was aimed at the prison memoirist. It challenged and haunted me as I wrote my own memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison. What I wanted to say about the eight years I spent in prison (from the ages of 16 to 24) was inevitably tied up in stories that have become all too familiar today, when one in three black boys in the United States can expect to go to prison. Assuming the role of redeemed witness to the chaos of incarceration poses a danger: You risk reinforcing the stereotype of black criminality and fueling a notion that the worthy will emerge from the hell of imprisonment the better for it.”

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