On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. By Alice Goffman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 261 pp. $25.00 hardcover.

Published date01 September 2016
Date01 September 2016
On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. By Alice Goffman.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 261 pp. $25.00
Reviewed by Robert Costello, Criminal Justice Department, State
University of New York Nassau Community College
For an undergraduate ethnography class, author Alice Goffman
chose to work in a campus cafeteria where she met Miss Deena, a
30 year employee who supervised it. Goffman quit her job once the
class concluded, but she remained in touch with Miss Deena and
even offered to tutor her grandchildren Ray and Aisha who were
high school students. She began to tutor them two or three nights
per week in Miss Deena’s home, which afforded her a close perso-
nal relationship with the teenagers and over the ensuing months
their family members. Goffman furthered her relationship with
these family members from tutor to neighbor and friend by moving
into the neighborhood of Aisha’s mother. Goffman eventually met
Aisha’s cousin Ronny, a 14-year-old freshly released from a juvenile
detention facility, who lived about 15 blocks away on 6th Street.
Ronny played matchmaker and set up a date between Goffman and
Mike who grew up on 6th Street next door to Ronny’s grand-
mother. Goffman primarily agreed to go on the date to pacify the
concerns of Aisha’s family as to her motivation for spending so
much time with the adolescent, but Mike continued to remain in
contact with her afterward even though there was no romantic link.
Goffman soon began visiting Mike and his circle of friends on 6th
Street, and in March 2003 Mike agreed to Goffman’s request of
allowing her to use his life as the subject of her undergraduate the-
sis due the next year. Eventually, she spent 8 years on 6th Street liv-
ing and socializing with young urban black males who are the
subjects of this fascinating book.
In an Introduction that references Sociologists David Garland,
Loic Waquant, and legal scholar Michelle Alexander, Goffman links
the rise of mass imprisonment to life on 6th Street with special
emphasis on the distinction between “clean and dirty” people. The
difference pertains to the risk of arrest, and those who assist or
remain with “dirty” people such as grandmothers, mothers, and
girlfriends who are called “riders.” The first opening chapters
revolve around people considered “dirty” as they consistently face
arrest for various reasons. Chapter One introduces the young men
she observed—Chuck, Tim, Mike, Reggie, Anthony, Ronny, and
Alex who are all African American living at or below the poverty
level. Goffman informs readers about the scope of this problem—
living on the run—by reporting on a household survey she
Book Reviews 807

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