Punishment in Black and White: Penal "Hell-Holes," Popular Media, and Mass Incarceration

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Recently the prison has been compared to slavery transport (Davis, 2000), the Jim Crow system (Alexander, 2010), the urban ghetto (Wacquant, 2002), a new apartheid (Massey, 2007), and an embodiment of state power and security apparatus (Drake, 2012). In these analyses, imprisonment is explicitly linked to racially motivated processes of criminalization and segregation. The focus of this article is a further analogous framework by which prisons might be understood: that of Hell. Drawing from Dante's Inferno, the cultural purchase of which remains undiminished 700 years after it was written, this article argues that the social exclusion and mass imprisonment of young Black men is related to broad historical and cultural practices of discrimination and to contemporary discourses of "othering." It suggests that not only can the prison be understood through the lens of darkness and lightness, Heaven and Hell, but also such metaphors serve to justify and authorize the prison as hell-hole.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-60
Number of pages19
JournalAtlantic Journal of Communication
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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