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Behind the Razor Wire: Portrait of a Contemporary American Prison System (Review)

by Michael Jacobson Hardy.

136 pp, 50 BW photos. New York University Press

Reviewed by Paul Wright

"Prisons do their dirtiest work in the dark. The evil they perpetrate depends on a kind of willed ignorance on the part of the public. To prevent the worst abuses and realign our prison system with enlightened notions of justice and rehabilitation as well as punishment, the public must play an active role: awareness of what happens behind the walls is a crucial first step."

The above statement from an essay by John Edgar Wideman illuminates Behind the Razor Wire . The book consists of essays by Angela Davis, Wideman, Marc Mauer and James Gilligan, accompanied by a series of black and white photos of prisons and jails, prisoners and guards in Massachusetts.

The essays focus on putting the photos into a socio-political context. The heart of the book are its stark photos of the prison world itself. The photos serve to put a real, human face on the American gulag. I was disappointed that in the photo captions the people pictured are not identified by name, instead they are identified only as "prisoners" or "guards." I think this continues the dehumanizing process of prisons where people are not seen as individuals. Behind the Razor Wire helps shine some light behind prison walls. Cost is 129.95. To order contact: NY University Press, 70 Washington Square South, New York, MY 10021-1091. (212) 998-2575.

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