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Book Nook: Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison by Chris Hedges

Cover of the book, "Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison

Chris Hedges returned to the program with another powerful book. Here's Vick Mickunas' review of the book, which ran recently in the Cox Ohio newspapers.

In this reviewer's opinion the journalist Chris Hedges is the closest
approximation to a conscience that our country has these days. He's
fearless, never reluctant to speak out about what he believes is wrong
within our culture, our society, and our nation.

I think his book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, is the most
powerful anti-war book that's yet been written. Over twenty years as a
foreign correspondent Hedges reported from conflict zones around the
world. He understands wars but wishes that he didn't have to.

War correspondents suffer high mortality, so often in harm's way. Hedges
knows what it feels like to be held as a prisoner. He was captured in
war zones and has been incarcerated. His empathy for those being held
behind bars seems deeply personal.

In his latest book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an
American Prison, he recalls how his reporting from El-Salvador derailed
his first attempt to be a minister. Eventually, Hedges did become an
ordained Presbyterian minister. Although, he rarely dons his ministerial

He's also a teacher and teaches in prisons. His latest book takes
readers inside the walls of a prison in New Jersey where Hedges taught a
class about how to write a play. It took him a while to earn the trust
of his students. When he initially asked them about trying to create a
play just a few of them expressed any interest in writing parts for it.
Ultimately, as their enthusiasm for the project grew, all the men in the
class wanted to write their own parts.

We get to know some of his students. We learn their stories. Many of
them grew up in poverty-stricken, ravaged communities. We find out about
their incarceration factors; their shattered families, their lack of
lawful opportunities to obtain jobs, the scourge of drugs, the violence,
and abuse that has constituted a figurative pipeline flowing straight
into a prison system that's gotten swollen with many more inmates over
the last several decades.

We discover how difficult it is for those who manage to get out of
prison to be able to remain free. The system seems set up for many of
them to fail. The burgeoning incarceration industry has become a
lucrative enterprise which depends upon a never-ending supply of

Prisoners get exploited. They work at jobs and are paid virtually
nothing. Corporations reap profits from what is essentially slave labor.
These are virtual sweatshops producing profits that the laborers never
receive. And the situation is only getting worse.

Hedges makes the case that the Civil War didn't really end slavery, it
merely changed the form that slavery takes in our country, and that our
enslaved citizens exist within prison walls.

The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.

Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities. Listen to the Book Nook with Vick Mickunas for intimate conversations about books with the writers who create them. Vick Mickunas reviews books for the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News Sun.