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Reviews: Voices From Within the Prison Walls

by D.A. Shelton, News and Letters, 71 pages

Reviewed by Rick Card

"Criminals have become the 'bogeyman' so that corporate America can continue to commit atrocities against the proletariat throughout the nation and around the world," says David Shelton in Voices From Within the Prison Walls. In a book that covers the breadth of our nation's massive prison explosion, Shelton delivers a concise and lively look behind the walls.

By explaining the characteristics of who is really rotting behind bars in our nation, Shelton unsheathes a fact that lawmakers and enforcers would rather remain hidden. While demonstrating that minorities are imprisoned disproportionately, an article of virtual common knowledge, Shelton doesn't stop there. He points out that economic conditions are also a huge factor, and specifies that in 1994 79% of those imprisoned lived in poverty and 67% were unemployed at the time of their arrest.

Another factor often missed by writers reporting on the prison industrial complex is the educational status of those imprisoned. Shelton points out that 40% of prisoners are unable to read or write and that 73% never completed high school. If illiteracy is a characteristic of those incarcerated, the continuing deterioration of our public schools is bound to create another round of explosive prison growth.

David Shelton is an Iowa State prisoner and PLN subscriber who uses the voices of prisoners to take us on a guided tour of the wretched conditions of confinement. Along the way he manages to dispel some popular myths. For example, the media often portray prisoners as litigious people. However, Shelton exposes this fable by showing that in 1992 prisoners filed only 1 civil lawsuit for every 33 prisoners, while civilians filed lawsuits at nearly double that rate.

The book addresses a litany of inhumane prison conditions, including sexual abuse of women prisoners, brutality, control units, and the death penalty. Surprisingly, considering the brevity of the book itself, the author managed to leave few stones unturned.

Despite the wealth of information contained in Voices From Within the Prison Walls, Shelton's real purpose is a call to action by prisoners in the name of Marxist-Humanist ideology. Using the vast and sweeping oppression endured by prisoners, Shelton condemns capitalism and points us all toward the revolutionary light of socialism--presented as the path to liberation and equality.

It isn't clear in this writer's mind whether socialism is the answer to our nation's crisis of confinement, but it is clear that Shelton has powerful ideas for changing the collective minds of prisoners about what it means to struggle. That by itself sets this work apart from others.

The book is available from News and Letters, 36 S. Wabash, rm.1440, Chicago, IL, 60603. The price is $5, which includes postage. News and Notes also publishes a newspaper which is available upon request.

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