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This is the sheet that you
will use to write comments on the rough draft of another student from our
class. There are two important guidelines: first (and this probably goes
without saying): be
respectful with your comments. You will each be writing a set of comments and also will be receiving a
set of comments from another student, so you should write the sort of comments
that you would like to receive from someone else. But, at the same time, you should aim at making constructive
criticisms. If all you do
is say, “This is a great essay, I really enjoyed reading it,” you aren’t
helping the writer find ways to improve it. So please follow the prompts below,
and try to write as much as possible in response to each one. Also, try to be
specific and cite some examples: rather than just saying, for example, “I
really liked the way you used quotes from the text,” try something like: “I
thought the way you used quotes in the first paragraph on page two was really
effective, because it helped the reader understand your argument a lot more
clearly.” Finally,
please DO NOT make any comments about sentence-level issues like spelling, grammar,
punctuation, etc. These are important issues, but you should not be worried
about them yet at this stage; they will come later.
Meir Levin
KBCC, English 24
Professor A. Alessandrini
3/25/2021
Challenging the Norm in the Prison System

For many of us the idea of prison is normal and uncomplicated one. To some, it may even be encouraged and considered the standard for punishing individuals who committed various criminal acts. However, after reading through and analyzing several points of Angela Davis’ book, “Are Prisons Obsolete”, my view on the prison system has changed. Going from a position of taking the norm for granted Davis’ has shed the light on this complex and dark history of the United States prison system. Utilizing almost every possible way to elucidate for us through her analysis, undertaking a thorough investigation through the murkiness enshrouding prisons. Davis gives us the facts and does not dilute hard to discuss topics, while taking care to question and analyze every aspect of what constitutes a prison nowadays. Why do we accept this system that supposedly protects us from criminals, when in retrospect many who organized the prisons initially, profited off the backs of prisoners and ex-slaves?
This argument, among many more, are strewn throughout her book along with many direct quotes from visionaries, activists, politicians, and even correction officers. An evocative example of this is by Charles Dickens, “I believe that a very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony that this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers…” (p.48). When discussing something this substantial and influential upon peoples lives, it becomes necessary to ascertain from multiple sources the actual practices taking place in prison.
Quote based analysis is an unbiased form of information, it gives the reader a chance to digest and work through the mind of someone who lived through this experience. For example, in chapter two when discussing prisoner treatment post-civil war era, Davis quotes a passage from the records of a Mississippi plantation, “The prisoners ate and slept on the bare ground, without blankets or mattresses and often without clothes” (p.32). Without an understanding of how these prisons developed, we would never comprehend the necessity to question its origin. With Angela Davis’ question and perhaps argument for the abolishment of the prison system, we can then begin to repair the injustices done to those caught in this punitive structure.
Another technique used by Angela Davis is her use of historical background information. Many ideas and implementations used for prisons and incarceration complexes were used by slave owners preceding the abolishment of slavery. This coupled with the laws applied to the lands governed by previous plantation owners brought about horrific conditions for an oppressed people who had never been truly free. Clearly this was the situation, “…black people were imprisoned under the laws assembled in the various Black Codes of the southern states, which, because they were rearticulations of the Slave Codes, tended to racialize penality and link it closely with previous regimes of slavery” (p.31). These cases of harsh injustices were formed and observed by the local populace who would not ordinarily question the law. Profit and gains made on the backs of convicts was the major agenda of those in charge of the prisoners.
With continued questioning and challenging, through historical analysis, the original idea of a penitentiary is revealed. It was initially to serve as detention until the time for punishment was brought upon the individual. This was eventually nullified. A new breed of prison took its place. Pennsylvania’s Walnut Street jail, which was instituted in 1790, focused on isolation of prisoners and the punishment was the incarceration itself. While the other model of imprisonment, Auburn prison, that we use till today, focused on prison labor with isolation. These two cruel practices were both supposed to set free and emancipate said criminals to evolve in better versions of themselves. This ruthlessness did not stem from an area of righteousness. Convict labor forces became popular because they were a source of cheap labor to rising corporate America. When scrutinizing and digging up the facts of this dreadful alliance between capitalists and government agencies, their ideology becomes clear. Thus, the need for citing this historical background is strong evidence that this is a system that needs restructuring. As Angela Davis puts it, “We should therefore question whether a system that intimately related to a particular set of historical circumstances that prevailed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can lay absolute value upon the twenty-first century” (p.43).
An additional argumentative approach that Angela Davis employs is the analysis of numerous statistical facts that do not support the continuance of a prison system as is currently set in place. ‘Data never lies’ is a truism that becomes apparent in this situation. In chapter five, Davis delves into the demography of the prison population and quotes the Bureau of Justice, “In the ten years between 1990 and 2000, 351 new places of confinement were opened by the states and more than 528,000 beds were added, amounting 1,320 state facilities, representing an eighty one percent increase” (p.92-93). During the period between 1990 and 2000 homicide rates in fact dropped, so why the sudden increase in facilities and prison space? The privatization of the prison complex only furthered the private sector’s greed and its mercenary reason for keeping people incarcerated. The number of privately owned and operated prisons was truly astonishing, “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the numerous private prison companies operating in the United States own and operate 91,828 federal and state prisons” (p.95). Eventually, every single prisoner has just become a number and no distinction of what type of crime committed is necessary. To this day, this remnant of the post-civil war era, where profit was generated by using punishment and therefore gaining “free” laborers, remains.
Incarcerations for women has also seen a dramatic increase. Primarily in chapter four, Angela Davis points out how women have a longstanding and current history of experiencing abuse, mistreatment, and neglect at the hands of the prison complex. To highlight one such statistic, Davis quotes Elliot Currie a criminologist, “For most of the period after World War II, the female incarceration rate hovered at around 8 per 100,000, it did not reach double digits until 1977. Today it is 51 per 100,000…At the current rates of increase there will be more women in American prisons in the year 2010 than there were inmates of both sexes in 1970” (p.73). Showing obvious problems with the female incarceration system today in America, Davis factually proves the violence that takes place against women on the inside of these prisons. She quotes one report from the 1996 Human Rights Watch report, “Our findings indicate that being a women prisoner in U.S state prisons can be a terrifying experience. If you are sexually abused, you cannot escape from your abuser” (p.78). The repressive and brutal authority existing in these systems should be identified and an imminent reorganization of these oppressive facilities should ensue.
Each of the techniques utilized by Angela Davis in her book, “Are Prisons Obsolete”, are forceful and create a strong impact. The use of historical evidence, the quote-based analysis, and the scientific data are all powerful tools in convincing the reader of the veracity of her message. She brings to the forefront previously unknown historical discrimination and abuse within the judicial system. Once the facts and experiences are so expertly divulged by Angela Davis, a moral and righteous individual would certainly lean towards promoting an overhaul and reconstruction of the punitive system. Through her powerful techniques she has succeeded in showing the injustices perpetrated and to conclusively be an instrument in spearheading and establishing true justice in our American society.

PEER REVIEW WORKSHEET

Your Name:_________________________________________________________________

Essay Writer’s Name:_________________________________________________________

NOTE: This is the sheet that you will use to write comments on the rough draft of another student from our class. There are two important guidelines: first (and this probably goes without saying): be respectful with your comments. You will each be writing a set of comments and also will be receiving a set of comments from another student, so you should write the sort of comments that you would like to receive from someone else. But, at the same time, you should aim at making constructive criticisms. If all you do is say, “This is a great essay, I really enjoyed reading it,” you aren’t helping the writer find ways to improve it. So please follow the prompts below, and try to write as much as possible in response to each one. Also, try to be specific and cite some examples: rather than just saying, for example, “I really liked the way you used quotes from the text,” try something like: “I thought the way you used quotes in the first paragraph on page two was really effective, because it helped the reader understand your argument a lot more clearly.” Finally, please DO NOT make any comments about sentence-level issues like spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. These are important issues, but you should not be worried about them yet at this stage; they will come later.

1. The strongest thing about this essay is (please write at least 3 sentences):

2. The thing in this essay that needs the most improvement is (please write at least 3 sentences):

3. Here is what I think the main idea/central argument of this essay is (summarize this in one sentence):

4. Identify all the places in the essay where the writer uses a quote from Are Prisons Obsolete? or from another text we have read. Then comment on how well the writer is using quotations. Is it clear why the quotations are there? Is the author doing some work to analyze these quotations and to make them part of her/his argument? Is the writer focusing on the techniques that Angela Davis uses to make her argument?

5. Write some comments on how well the writer has organized her/his essay—if there are places where you got confused while you were reading or where the transitions seemed shaky, please write these down. Also, does this essay effectively address the assignment?

6. When the writer revises this essay, s/he should (please make two specific and concrete suggestions):

TO THE WRITER OF THE ESSAY: Now that you have read these comments, write one paragraph in response to them. Summarize what your peer reviewer has to say about your essay, and what you plan to work on in your next revision.

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