Writing Out (from) Prisons: Critical Literacy, Prison Abolition, and a Queer(ed) Public Pedagogy
Sutcliffe, Michael George
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This dissertation will demonstrate how normative discourse and neoliberal ideology have contributed to the construction and maintenance of a prison literacy complex. Justice has been swept out of the prison system in favor of a rhetorical apparatus of hegemony and capitalism, while education, particularly the acquisition of specific literacies, has been positioned as the solution to crime and the means of securing social mobility. I contend that while most writing, literacy, and arts programs do help a handful of current prisoners to better deal with their situations, they do little to challenge the systems of distribution, surveillance, and control that incarcerate millions, and, in some cases, educational programs reinforce these mechanisms. By assuming deficits in the prisoner and positing literacy as remediation or as therapy, these programs mask systemic privilege and stratification as (an exigency of) crime. Teaching prisoners to counter racist exclusion by accepting their plight or changing their behavior perpetuates the neoliberal apparatus of mass incarceration. By rhetorically analyzing two interconnected community literacy programs in the Pacific Northwest, this project will demonstrate how, through an ideological reframing, literacy programs can "queer" their pedagogy to interrupt the ideologies necessary to the maintenance of the prison industrial complex. The counter-hegemonic memories of marginalized communities can reveal inconsistencies and instabilities in popular "truths." By bringing excluded, silenced voices out from behind bars, critical, community literacy efforts can effect a queer(ed), public pedagogy to inspire the widespread, historicized criticism necessary for sustainable change.