The literature, art and reality of prisons in the U.S.
Instructor: Ken Ehrlich
CalArts School of Critical Studies
Wednesdays 12 – 2 in Cafe A
This class will examine the transformation of the prison system in the United States following the 1960's through an in-depth look at the experiences of prisoners, including modes of self-expression and resistance and through the lens of scholars dedicated to understanding the political dynamics of the Prison Industrial Complex. The emphasis on prisons themselves, the broader dynamics of policing, the war on drugs and social attitudes about criminology is designed to expose students to the network of social and political forces that shape the criminal justice system. Particular focus will be given to the racial dynamics of policing, sentencing and prison life; the historical roots of contemporary criminal and legal issues; and the broad reach of the Prison Industrial Complex.
The first section of the class is devoted to writing by prisoners about prison life. Students will examine various narrative and literary strategies employed to communicate about life in prison. In the second part of the course, historical and scholarly writing contextualizes the social and political implications of a nation that has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The final section looks at the ways that prisons are visually represented in the work of contemporary artists and the ways that prisoners engage in significant forms of cultural and expressive activities. Students will be expected to participate actively in course discussions and complete a final research project. Attendance and participation are a crucial aspect of this course.
Week one: Introductions: definitions and critical discourses.
Week two: Prison education and writing letters from inside
Week three: Writing recidivism
Reading:Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women's Prison Writings, 200 to the Present edited by Judith A. Scheffler (selections)
Week four:Live from death row
Reading: America's Condemned: Death Row Inmates in Their Own Words by Dan Malone (excerpts) and Mumia Abu-Jamal, “Teetering on the Brink between Death and Life,” The Yale Law Review 100 (January 1991): 993ff.
Week five: The case for prison abolition
Reading: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
Week six: Social control
Reading: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander Introduction and Ch. 1 – 3.
Week seven: Social control continued
Reading: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Ch. 4 – 6.
Week eight: The lure of profit and the matrix of power
Reading: Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces by Radley Balko
Week nine: Thinking inside
Week ten: The War on Drugs
Week eleven: Invention and improvisation as intervention and resistance
Week twelve: Building cages and/or alternatives
Reading: The Human Cage: A Brief History of Prison Architecture by Norman Bruce Johnston and After the Crime: The Power of Restorative Justice Dialogues between Victims and Violent Offenders (selections) by Susan L. Miller
Week thirteen: Picturing Incarceration: The art of Alyse Emdur, Josh Begley, Katie Herzog, Ashley Hunt and Paul Rucker
Reading: Prison Landscapes by Alyse Emdur
Week fourteen: Student presentations
Week fifteen: Student presentations
CalArts does not grade on the A-F scale. We grade using:
The following changes to the grading policy have been in effect since Fall 2013:
NC (no credit) grades will appear on a student's permanent academic record
NC grades must appear on external records to ensure accurate reporting to peer institutions and for financial aid reporting. While CalArts does not use a Grade Point Average (GPA) as part of its marking system, the following formula will be used for external purposes: HP =4.00, P=3.00, LP=2.00, NC=0.00.
Students will no longer receive NX grades, but the longer withdrawal period (through the 10th week of the semester) will provide an option for students to exit a course without receiving a failing grade. To drop a course during the extended withdrawal period, a student will obtain the Course Withdrawal form from the Registrar’s Office, consult with his or her mentor, obtain the course instructor’s signature verifying the last date of attendance, and return the form to the Registrar’s Office. The course will remain on the student's record with a "W" grade, but the grade of "W" will have no effect on the grade point average.
If a student misses more than 3 sessions of class and does not pursue the withdrawal option, a NC will be given and will appear on external records.
To read the revised Grading Policy in its entirety as well as frequently asked questions, click on the link below:
In the interests of operating an equitable grading system, Critical Studies stringently enforces CalArts’ change of grade policy. Students have one semester upon receiving an “Incomplete” grade to make up any missing coursework and/or projects. If this work has not been completed by the end of the semester, the Incomplete converts automatically to a “No Credit”. After that time, changes require the approval of Deans Council. Deans Council will approve such grade changes only in the case of extreme, extenuating circumstances or in cases of administrative/faculty error.
CalArts will provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities who have registered with the Student Affairs office. Registration with the Office of Student Affairs is on a voluntary, self-identifying basis. Services are available only after a student has presented certified, current documentation of the disability from an appropriate medical or educational specialist, and this documentation has been reviewed and accepted as complete. Please go to http://calarts.edu/student-services/disabilities for extensive information on services for students with disabilities.
Critical Studies endeavors to teach students the essential skills and basic ethics involved in any academic enquiry. To this end, we are committed to observing the policy on plagiarism set out in the CalArts Course Catalog. This stipulates that plagiarism is the use of ideas and/or quotations (from the internet, books, films, television, newspapers, articles, the work of other students, works of art, media, etc.) without proper credit to the author/artist. Critical Studies holds to the view that plagiarism constitutes intellectual theft and is a serious breach of acceptable conduct. It is also the policy of CalArts that students who misrepresent source material as their own original work and fail to credit it have committed plagiarism and are subject to disciplinary action. In the case of Critical Studies, any student caught plagiarizing will immediately be given a ‘no credit’ for that class. The student will not be allowed to re-write the paper, and if there is further evidence of plagiarism, Critical Studies will recommend more severe disciplinary action, including suspension or dismissal.
If you have any questions regarding plagiarism or want direction on how to credit source material, ask the member of faculty and refer to reference guides on permanent reserve in the CalArts library. The CalArts reference librarians may be able to offer additional information as well.