While in no way supporting the systemic injustices and disparities of mass incarceration, Gifts from the Dark: Learning from the Incarceration Experience argues that we have much to learn from those who have been and are in prison. Schwartz and Chaney profile the contributions of literary giants, social activists, entrepreneurs, and other talented individuals who, despite the disorienting dilemma of incarceration, are models of adult transformative learning that positively impact the world. The authors interweave narratives with both qualitative and quantitative research references to analyze the role of solitude, writing, non-verbal communication; race and gender; physical exercise; education; technology; family and parenting; and the need to “give back” that precipitate transformative learning. The prison cell becomes a counterspace of metamorphosis. In focusing upon how men and women have chosen the worst moments of their lives as a baseline not to define, but to refine themselves, Gifts from the Dark promises to forever alter the limited mindset of incarceration as a solely one-dimensional, deficit event.
Joni Schwartz is professor of humanities at the City University of New York – LaGuardia Community College and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Graduate Studies Program.
John R. Chaney is assistant professor and director of Criminal Justice programs for City University of New York -- LaGuardia Community College.
Part I: Adult Transformative Learning and the Prison Experience
Chapter 1: Prison Writing: A Literary Tradition
Chapter 2: Incarceration: The Disorienting Dilemma toward Transformation
Chapter 3: Transformation: A Brave Act
Chapter 4: Understanding the Role of Race and Gender
Part II: Learning that Transforms the Self
Chapter 5: Sitting with Yourself: Cells of Silence and Solitude
Chapter 6: The Organic Intellectual
Chapter 7: Higher & Continuing Education: Attracting the Best Students
Chapter 8: Exercising Body and Mind: Habits and Flow
Chapter 9: Emotional Intelligence and the Prison Experience
Part III: Learning in Relation to Others
Chapter 10: The Black Family and the Incarceration Experience
Chapter 11: The Prison Experience and Technology
Chapter 12: Non-verbal Communication
Part IV: Learning that Transforms the World
Chapter 13: Giving Back
Chapter 14: Criminal Justice Reform: Everyone’s Responsibility
Compelling, eye opening, and captivating. Schwartz and Chaney provide a fresh look on an age-old phenomenon: Incarceration. Their unique approach of inviting diverse voices through primary sources and testimonies of formerly incarcerated persons who spanned geographic space and time, racial and gender identity location, as well as type of conviction offers the reader a different perspective on the prison experience. This perspective highlights the transformative learning potentiality born from the dark recesses of imprisonment. It reminds us that saving the soul of America hinges on rescuing our humanity from the inhumanity of a justice system built on racist ideology and practices.
Gifts from the Dark sounds a valuable and timely call to heed the voices of those who have experiences of incarceration, especially when it comes to reforming the criminal legal system and advancing racial and social justice. As this book makes abundantly clear, those with lived experience of prison have much to offer based on the insight and wisdom that can be attained, and the personal transformation that can take place, in the face of deeply challenging and disruptive circumstances. Chaney and Schwartz persuasively show that our society has much to gain from these illuminating perspectives.
The authors of Gifts from the Dark masterfully navigate the reader’s intellectual dissonance against the existence of physical, emotional, and psychological experiences of incarceration serving as counterpaces for transformational learning to occur. The is a timely and compelling analysis of the economic and social politicization of prison experiences; forcing the reader to grapple with this paradox.