Linacre Adjunct Fellow Ian O’Donnell’s latest book, Prison Life: Pain, Resistance, and Purpose, has been awarded the 2023 Outstanding Book Award, given by the American Society of Criminology’s Division of International Criminology. Professor O’Donnell will collect his prize in Philadelphia next month.
Prison Life offers a fresh appreciation of how people in prison organize their lives, drawing on case studies from Africa, Europe and the US. The book describes how order is maintained, how power is exercised, how days are spent, and how meaning is found in a variety of environments that all have the same function – incarceration – but discharge it very differently. It is based on an unusually diverse range of sources including photographs, drawings, court cases, official reports, memoirs, and site visits.
Professor O’Donnell contrasts the soul-destroying isolation of the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado with the crowded conviviality of an Ethiopian prison where men and women cook their own meals, seek opportunities to generate an income, elect a leadership team, and live according to a code of conduct that they devised and enforce. He explores life on wings controlled by the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland’s H Blocks, where men who saw the actions that led to their incarceration as politically-motivated moved as one, in perpetual defiance of the authorities. He shows how prisoners in Texas took to the courts to overthrow a regime that allowed their routine subjugation by violent men known as building tenders, who had been selected by staff to supervise and discipline their peers.