Melanie Page's Reviews > College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration

College in Prison by Daniel Karpowitz
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Why I read this book: my college is mentioned in this book (Holy Cross/Notre Dame) as one of the schools Karpowitz helped start a prison in college program. I met him briefly at the 2016 commencement ceremony for the graduates of Holy Cross by way of the prison. I'm going to teach in my school's prison in college program for the first time this coming fall and wanted to read College in Prison before I attended training.

This is truly a short book if you ignore the index and further reading sections (I don't have the book in front of me right now to be specific on what extras there are). It's about 175 pages of introduction and chapters. However, at times it felt like I was going in circles, with the same concepts repeated in a way that didn't feel introductory or conclusive, but like the book possibly needed a better timeline of information. I also wasn't convinced the focus was reading in prison. Much of it was about the liberal education in general, though Karpowitz does give examples of some of his students addressing a text they discuss in class. There were several points I pulled from the book, however, that I felt were important to remember, so I wrote them down:

"By an 'objective' educational emphasis I mean a tendency to call on students to focus their attention on the objects of study--the texts, controversies, concepts, and narratives put forward--prior to reflexivity, to a reflection on their own individual subject position and its particular relationship to the material at hand."

"Regardless of whether or not we have 'college in prison,' the two institutions share parallel roles in the reproduction of American privilege and inequality."

"The private liberal arts college enrolls only about 1 percent of American college students, but it retains its disproportionate role in the selection and formation of government elites."

"A comprehensive commitment is made to weave remedial or developmental work into the very fabric of the full, broad, liberal arts training."

"...too often academics who venture inside prison turn it into an opportunity to create something new, a chance to experiment with pedagogies or topics that are not found on the main campus." This is argued as a NEGATIVE; the college in prison experience should be as closely replicated to the home campus as possible.

"...the [Bard Prison] Initiative was not conceived as a special intervention on behalf of a particular 'population.'"

"Almost none of those admitted would have made it up to, let alone through, the college's 'normal' screening process."

"[Bard Prison Initiative] typically engages students convicted of serious and often violent crimes."

There were moments in the book when I felt like wasn't smart enough to engage with the author's arguments, but when I showed certain passages to my spouse and we discussed them, I realized there were places in the text that could have been worded more tightly to reduce confusion. For example, "Liberal education allows each student to analyze race and other pressures of structural inequality in the learning that unfolds." If the sentence starts with "liberal education," why must that idea be repeated with "in the learning that unfolds." Education implies learning, so make the sentence come full circle threw me for a loop. There are also a number of typos throughout, for instance, "...of creeating networks...." and "...the truly democratic ambitiom..." that frustrated me. What's even more exasperating is someone like me who wants more work and would is qualified and excited to work in editing cannot find a job doing as much because...well, who knows. Small presses that publish academic work don't make tons of money, and their editors may be underpaid, not paid, or possibly overworked in other academic pursuits and haven't given as much attention to a book as it needed.

The anecdotes about students Karpowitz meets are the most interesting for the connections readers can make to populations they'll likely never encounter, at least, not in the same setting, but it's not always clear what the purpose of the anecdotes is. The last story, though moving and deep, tells the reader little about college in prison.

I'm glad I read this book to get some ideas about my future role as a college instructor in prison, but I've mostly boiled down the main points to a bulleted list.
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Reading Progress

July 20, 2017 – Started Reading
July 20, 2017 – Shelved
July 25, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Jenny (new)

Jenny What an interesting program Melanie! Good luck to you when you start your work in the prison system, I'd love to hear a little more about it after you get started!

Melanie Page Hey, Jenny! Confidentiality prevents me from talking a lot about it, but I can give some basic ideas of what the program and classroom are like. How are things wherever you are these days?

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