Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xiv

I first went to prison at age nineteen. It was the spring of 2001, and the United States had passed a dystopic milestone one year earlier: more than two million people were now incarcerated in prisons and jails around the country, a higher rate of incarceration and a higher number of people in prison than anywhere else on the planet. Unlike the thousands of other teenagers who went to prison that year, however, my trip was voluntary and brief. I was just a visitor. I was a...

Abbreviations

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pp. 16-19

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Introduction

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pp. 1-19

On November 3, 1970, prisoners at California’s Folsom State Prison launched a work strike. For the next nineteen days, more than twenty-four hundred men—almost the entire prison population— refused to leave their cells or participate in any way in the routine functioning of the prison. At the outset, the men released a “Manifesto of Demands and Anti-Oppression Platform” that amounted to an auspicious challenge to the...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Jailhouse in Freedom Land

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pp. 20-48

It was unlike any testimony the committee had heard before. Then again, there was little typical about the August 1964 Democratic National Convention. Gathered in Atlantic City, the Democratic Party was experiencing the most profound political challenge imaginable as a group of black Mississippians, most of them tenant farmers, worked to unseat the openly white supremacist delegation of that state. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic...

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CHAPTER TWO: America Means Prison

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pp. 49-90

Willie Robert Tate was like a lot of young black men in California. He was born in Alabama and had lived in Texas before migrating with his family to the Golden State in the 1950s. As a teenager, his anger at the pervasive racism he encountered, especially from police, made him headstrong. And like many men of his age, race, and class, he soon found himself on the wrong side of the law....

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CHAPTER THREE: George Jackson and the Black Condition Made Visible

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pp. 91-138

There was plenty of champagne and good cheer at the book party held outside the gates of San Quentin on October 15, 1970. Friends and colleagues from Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco extolled the author. So did the book’s editor, Gregory Armstrong of Bantam Books, who flew out to Marin County from New York City to speak at the celebration. The event organizers gave everyone in attendance a free copy of the book, which soon...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Pedagogy of the Prison

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pp. 139-176

His parents named him Luis Talamantez, but everyone called him Bato, a Mexican Spanish colloquialism for a respected man, a comrade. He had been in and out of California state institutions since the age of twelve. In 1965, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Joseph Wapner (the same Judge Wapner who later became famous on the television show The People’s Court) sentenced the twenty-three-year-old Talamantez to two five-year-tolife sentences stemming from two robberies that netted him $130. No one was...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Slavery and Race-Making on Trial

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pp. 177-222

Ruchell Magee was angry but focused as he rose to denounce the courtroom proceedings. It was June 1971, and Magee was on trial for his role in the Marin County Courthouse escape attempt the previous August, when Jonathan Jackson armed three prisoners. Jackson and two of the prisoners were felled by San Quentin guards before they could escape, and now Magee, the only surviving participant, stood trial for the death of Judge Harold Haley, the one hostage killed in the incident....

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CHAPTER SIX: Prison Nation

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pp. 223-267

George Jackson’s death gave many people imprisoned in the early 1970s a new life. Jackson had been the most effective spokesperson for prisoner grievances, and his death meant that new voices of discontent would need to emerge. One person who took up this challenge was Robert Lee Duren, who had been in prison since 1968. Prior to his incarceration, he had not expressed any interest in politics. His story was an increasingly familiar one: reared in poverty, he came of age amid gangs and widespread violence...

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EPILOGUE: Choosing Freedom

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pp. 268-280

Freedom, as an idea and as a practice, has been an enduring paradox of the United States from its origins to the present. Freedom and the various principles it is said to encompass have been encoded into the national origin story of the United States through genocide and enslavement. Violence does not just undermine the goal of American freedom; it is one of its central tenets. As a result, violence and freedom have together constituted the...

Notes

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pp. 281-336

Bibliography

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pp. 337-376

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 377-380

I was sitting in a grimy doughnut shop near downtown San Francisco, reading a yellowing and long-forgotten 1971 affidavit from a prisoner that someone had chased down for me while cockroaches scurried across the table, and next to me an employee chastised a would-be patron for falling asleep, when I realized that I truly and completely loved my life. I have many people to thank for that, not least among them the many people over many years who have taught me about race, prison, politics, and the world....

Index

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pp. 381-402