Panel: The Prison-Spirituality Complex

Saturday, May 1, 2010
7:00 – 9:00 PM
(Cocktail hour begins at 6:00)
The Tank Space for Performing and Visual Arts
354 W. 45th Street (between 8th and 9th Ave.)
New York, NY

Where lies the soul of the supermax? From the Quaker-inspired architecture of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1820s to Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship today, religion has shaped America’s penal system and the writing that emerges from it. Why are testimonies of captivity so captivating? In the country with the world’s highest incarceration rate, to what extent has prison memoir become today’s spiritual autobiography? Can prisoners serve as latter-day prophet-poets?

“The Prison-Spirituality Complex,” an event organized by Killing the Buddha, will be a public conversation to explore the role of religion in American prison culture—from the solitary confinement cell to life outside the razor-wire fences.

Mark Dow, a poet who spent ten years reporting on immigration detention, will address the voyeurism of wanting to see inside prisons. His 2005 book American Gulag: Inside US Immigration Prisons was “briefly noted” by The New Yorker, misrepresented by The Weekly Standard, criticized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Public Affairs, and used as a resource by Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

Jamel Massey, a former prisoner who is now the outreach coordinator for the Exodus Transitional Community, will talk about how the biblical liberation story informs his work to motivate ex-prisoners to pursue successful re-entry and redemption. He brings seventeen years of prison time and five years work experience with human-service agencies to his community outreach programs

Caleb Smith, a Yale English professor who edits, will discuss the resurrection narratives that have shaped the history of incarceration. His 2009 book The Prison and the American Imagination traces the theological and literary roots of prison-reform projects that imagine solitude as a means to redemption.

Rima Vesely-Flad, a social ethicist and activist who’s taught religion at Sing Sing, will talk about the role of race in the continuing expansion of America’s prison-industrial complex. She is the founder of the Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment, a grassroots advocacy organization focused on changing systemic barriers encountered by people with criminal convictions.

The discussion will be moderated by Killing the Buddha associate editor Ashley Makar.

RSVP on Facebook.