cover image Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison

Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison

Chris Hedges. Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982154-43-1

Journalist Hedges (War Is a Force) delivers a raw and intimate chronicle of his experiences helping a group of inmates at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, N.J., to write, act, and stage an original play. Describing mass incarceration as “the civil rights issue of our time,” Hedges notes that the U.S. “imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than did apartheid South Africa.” He sketches his students’ backgrounds to explain how “the social hell of urban America” can lead to incarceration at a young age, and documents stirring classroom discussions of plays by Amiri Baraka and August Wilson. Throughout, Hedges’s frustration with how U.S. society treats inmates and the formerly incarcerated as “second class citizens” shines through, and he persuasively argues that after his students completed their play and performed it in the prison chapel for an audience including philosopher Cornel West, “it did not matter how the world looked at them. It mattered only how they looked at themselves.” Combining searing, well-informed critiques of the U.S. criminal justice system with sympathetic character profiles and inspirational accounts of intellectual and emotional breakthroughs, this is a powerful look at how creative expression can provide “a taste of freedom.” (Oct.)