cat's Reviews > An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in My Own Country

An American Radical by Susan Rosenberg
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May 19, 11

bookshelves: 100-in-2011
Read from May 18 to 19, 2011

2011 Book 55/100

Having recently read "Orange is the New Black", Piper Kernan's memoir of a year in prison, Susan Rosenberg's book "An American Radical" came from a different time and a different world, despite having overlapped at Danbury Federal Correctional Facility. While Kernan took her incarceration as an opportunity to make friends with folks different than herself and to get fit by running laps around the yard, Rosenberg's experience was filled with abuse, rape, intimidation, and dehumanizing treatment aimed at breaking the spirit of a "radical terrorist". Susan Rosenberg was an active part of the antiwar and black-power movements, and after her arrest for transporting explosives Rosenberg and her partner maintained that they “were part of an organized illegal resistance movement [and] acting out of conscience.” She says early in the book that as movements began challenging the draft, the war, their social relations, gender roles, and all the norms of society, she was responding to a call that she believed in, to "put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all of the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop".

Her indictment in 1982 for participation in the prison break of Assata Shakur and a Brinks robbery drove her underground, and it was 1984 when she was arrested and tried for transporting 740 pounds of explosives that were being moved to a storage space. Upon her conviction, she was sent to prisons in Tuscon, Ariz., Lexington, Ky., Washington, D.C., Marianna, Fla., and Danbury, Conn., where she was repeatedly housed in solitary-confinement units and subjected to physical and emotional abuse, including an experimental "isolation unit" based on Stammheim Prison in Germany.

The stark realities of incarceration were laid out eloquently in her memoir and she details the multiple ways that those who were in charge of the prisons that housed her attempted to break her spirit, and the spirits of those incarcerated with her.

"What I was learning in those endless days at the jail was the relentlessness of prison and oppression and the constant abuse of authority as a way of life. To lessen one's expectations about the quality and content of life is a terrible thing. In prison one faces a direct attempt to destroy the human spirit."

The book's explicit descriptions of the ways that they attempted to break her spirit - endless time in solitary confinement, degrading strip searches and lack of privacy, anal and vaginal rape, ceaseless insults against her femininity, lesbianism, and her Jewish identity - were incredibly painful to read. They were also beautifully written and important to bear witness to in a society that prefers to lock 'em up and pay no attention to what happens next.



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