The first interdisciplinary study of mass incarceration to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights
From Slave Ship to Supermax
Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel
Search the full text of this book
Patrick Elliot Alexander
In his cogent and groundbreaking book, From Slave Ship to Supermax, Patrick Elliot Alexander argues that the disciplinary logic and violence of slavery haunt depictions of the contemporary U.S. prison in late twentieth-century Black fiction. Alexander links representations of prison life in James Baldwin's novel If Beale Street Could Talk to his engagements with imprisoned intellectuals like George Jackson, who exposed historical continuities between slavery and mass incarceration. Likewise, Alexander reveals how Toni Morrison's Beloved was informed by Angela Y. Davis's jail writings on slavery-reminiscent practices in contemporary women's facilities. Alexander also examines recurring associations between slave ships and prisons in Charles Johnson's Middle Passage, and connects slavery's logic of racialized premature death to scenes of death row imprisonment in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying.
Alexander ultimately makes the case that contemporary Black novelists depict racial terror as a centuries-spanning social control practice that structured carceral life on slave ships and slave plantations-and that mass-produces prisoners and prisoner abuse in post-Civil Rights America. These authors expand free society's view of torment confronted and combated in the prison industrial complex, where discriminatory laws and the institutionalization of secrecy have reinstated slavery's system of dehumanization.
"The haunting of social life by transatlantic slavery is never far from sight or sound in U.S. cultural life. In From Slave Ship to Supermax , Patrick Elliot Alexander traces the afterlife of black journeys across the Atlantic in and through the carceral state. Reading Baldwin, Morrison, Johnson, and Gaines, Alexander reminds us, with searing ethical commitment and intellectual acumen, that forgetting how we came to be here is both ill advised and dangerous. This book will spark a different kind of conversation about work on the prison-industrial complex."
"From Slave Ship to Supermax presents a highly accessible set of ideas to engage Black creative works beyond the literary realm. This work contributes a fresh perspective to the emerging discourses of U.S. and global carceral studies."
Patrick Elliot Alexander is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi and co-founder of the University of Mississippi Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at Parchman/Mississippi State Penitentiary.