Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America. By Doran Larson (ed.). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2014. 338 pp. $34.95 paper.

Date01 June 2015
Published date01 June 2015
Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America. By Doran Larson
(ed.). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2014.
338 pp. $34.95 paper.
Reviewed by Miriam L. Wallace, Division of Humanities and Queen
Meccasia Zabriskie, Division of Social Sciences, New College of Florida
Doran Larson’s collection, Fourth City, represents the first collec-
tion of essays written entirely by authors incarcerated within the
U.S. prison system at the time of writing. The title indicates its
ambition—to represent the frequently unheard voices of those
from a population exceeding that of Houston, Texas. Organized
into two large sections, “Part One: Life on the Streets of Prison
City” and “Part Two: The Rules of Law, Policy, and Practice in
Prison City,” essays in this collection discuss individual experien-
ces, interpersonal relationships, and institutional-level problems
within prisons. Smaller subsections address issues such as
“Coping with Life in Prison City,” “Family Life in and from
Prison City,” “Civil Dysfunction and Its Critics,” or “Mental and
Physical Health Care.” In Part One, each of these subsections is
followed by a short “Ticket In” essay detailing the route that led
to the writer’s imprisonment. Part Two subsections are followed
by a “Kite Out,” prison slang for a note passed between prison-
ers, but here addressed to young people outside prison “to help
them towards better paths” (p. 5). The collection opens with Lar-
son’s introduction discussing the concept of “Prison City” and
mass incarceration, and each subsection is introduced by a short
overview highlighting issues raised by essays in the section. The
book closes with suggestions for further reading (other prison
writing and responses to American mass incarceration), a glossary
of prison jargon, short notes on contributors, and an index.
Some of the world’s great writings witness the carceral expe-
rience: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Martin
Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” The Autobiography
of Malcolm X, Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Letters, and Min
e Okubo’s
Citizen 13660. Larson’s introduction argues for the value and
power of these writers’ witness as well, claiming “Prison City may
best be understood as the city of violent longing” (p. 5). In this
collection, each writer bears witness, as each seeks to humanize a
population that is often stereotyped and subjected to symbolic
violence by media and the popular imagination.
A few of these essays (Danner Darcleight’s “Concrete
Carnival” and Running Water’s “Prison or Kids: It’s Not a Joke”
for example) have seen print in other venues, but most are new
in print. These essays are not a representative sampling of
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