AMST 261
America Inside Out Spring 2025
Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity

Class Details

Why does the land of the free put so many people in prison? The United States of America has more prisoners than any other country in the world and one of the highest rates of incarceration. During the Cold War, prison writings such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago were held up as the truest literature to escape the USSR. But could the same be true of the USA? Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as a prophet and peacemaker who spoke to America’s soul. But in his own lifetime, he was famous for being a political prisoner locked in a Birmingham jail. What does it say about America when advocates of freedom and democracy end up behind bars? To be sure, there are people in prison who have committed crimes we would all consider heinous. But the plurality are non-violent offenders serving time on drug-related charges. This crackdown has continued regardless of rates of drug use and disproportionately targets poor people of color. In this class, we will explore the origins of the carceral state, starting with Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. From there, we will read the writings of US prisoners, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson, in comparison with literature from that other vast prison empire, the USSR. We will conclude by confronting the War on Drugs with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 3947
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Assignments include a daily free writing activity (graded on participation), two curated media "playlists," one 2-3-page book report, and three five-page term papers.
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Enrollment preference goes to AMST majors, then sophomores
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
WS Notes: Class assignments include a daily free writing activity, a 2-3-page book report, three term papers, and two curated and annotated media "playlists." Students will be encouraged to develop an ongoing, reflective writing practice in response to the readings.
DPE Notes: This class is focused on the US prison system, which disproportionately incarcerates poor people of color. We will trace the roots of this policy outcome from the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow to the War on Drugs and the current regime of mass incarceration.
Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives
AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives

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