Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander is the author of a book that has been shaped by his experiences teaching at Parchman. The book was published by Temple University Press and is titled From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel (2018). It is the first monograph to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights. The book is indebted, in part, to imprisoned students in the South who pushed further Dr. Alexander’s thinking on prison and African American literature through courses that he has taught during the past decade at Orange Correctional Center (OCC) in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and at Parchman. The imprisoned students’ provocative inquiries on a wide range of African American literary works helped Dr. Alexander to refine his book’s thesis.
In From Slave Ship to Supermax, Dr. Alexander argues that the disciplinary logic and violence of the Middle Passage and slavery haunt depictions of prison in late twentieth-century novels authored by James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, and Ernest Gaines. Throughout the book, Dr. Alexander makes the case that these Black fiction writers, through their personal engagements with the lives and literature of imprisoned intellectuals like George Jackson, Angela Y. Davis, and Willie Francis, depict racial terror as a centuries-spanning social control practice that is disciplinary and thus ordinary, rather than exceptional; in sum, these Black fiction writers literarily expand free society’s view of our contemporary prison system in which discriminatory laws and the institutionalization of secrecy have mass-produced—and massively racialized—slavery behind bars.
In addition, Dr. Alexander and his fellow Prison-to-College Pipeline Program co-founder Dr. Otis W. Pickett (Associate Professor of History, Mississippi College) have either individually or collaboratively written scholarly articles about their experiences teaching at Parchman that are published in Humanities, south: a scholarly journal, and The Journal of African American History.
Dr. Alexander and Dr. Pickett also accepted invitations to present their research on teaching in prison at the University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture Fall 2014 Brown Bag Lecture series, at the Southeastern American Studies Association Conference in February 2015, and at Delta State University’s Winning the Race Conference in March 2016. During the 2016-2017 academic year, they presented their research on teaching in prison on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, at the American Studies Association Conference, and at the UM Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies Radical South Lecture Series. Additionally, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Pickett, Dr. Stephanie Rolph (Associate Professor of History, Millsaps College) and Dr. Robby Luckett (Associate Professor of History and Director of the Margaret Walker Center for the Study of African American Experience, Jackson State University) presented on their experiences with teaching in the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at the Organization of American Historians Conference in April 2017. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Dr. Alexander and/or Dr. Pickett presented their scholarly work on teaching in prison at Mississippi College, the St. George Tucker Society Conference, the Covenant College Constitution Day Program, the American Studies Association Conference, and the College Language Association Convention. During the 2018-2019 academic year, Dr. Alexander and/or Dr. Pickett presented their scholarly work on teaching in prison at the Prison University Project’s “Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reform” National Conference at San Quentin State Prison in California, at the Southeastern American Studies Association Conference, and at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Relatedly, Dr. Pickett was asked by Dr. John Fea to create an article for The Way of Improvement Leads Home about a 2017 Organization of American Historians (OAH) Annual Meeting panel titled, “Teaching History Within the Carceral State,” in which Dr. Pickett, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Robby Luckett, and Dr. Stephanie Rolph presented their research on teaching in prisons in Mississippi. The Way of Improvement Leads Home is an important site for scholars of American history, religion, politics and academic life. The article provides an overview of the PTCPP, as well as a description of the papers presented by the aforementioned scholars at the 2017 OAH Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA.