Reentry after release from incarceration is often presented as a story of redemption. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. Those being released must navigate the reentry process with diminished legal rights and amplified social stigmas, in a journey that is often confusing, complex, and precarious. Making use of life-history interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic fieldwork with low-income urban residents of color, primarily Black men, Calvin John Smiley finds that reentry requires the recently released to negotiate a web of disjointed and often contradictory systems that serve as an extension of the carceral system. No longer behind bars but not fully free, the recently released navigate a state of limbo that deprives them of opportunity and support while leaving them locked in a cycle of perpetual punishment. Warning of the dangers of reformist efforts that only serve to further entrench carceral systems, Purgatory Citizenship advocates for abolitionist solutions rooted in the visions of the people most affected.
Purgatory Citizenship Reentry, Race, and Abolition
About the Book
"Calvin John Smiley simultaneously exposes the cruelty and injustice of the reentry system and the human struggles for redemption and stability of those caught up in it. In the end, we hear those voices demanding nothing less than a world beyond prisons."—Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing
"Smiley's new book Purgatory Citizenship is a much-needed exploration of postincarceration reentry from the point of view of the people experiencing it firsthand, offering important insights into this often ignored and misunderstood part of our carceral system. This is an important addition to the growing canon of works trying to understand and dismantle the prison industrial complex."—Hugh Ryan, author of The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison
"Purgatory Citizenship powerfully juxtaposes the humanity of people navigating reentry with the inhumanity of the varying parts of the criminal legal system (e.g., police, courts, halfway houses). The narratives of individuals 'doing' reentry poignantly describe their lives prior to, during, and after incarceration, while placing them squarely in historical, legal, political, and psychological contexts and legacies. The multiple, overlapping, and often insurmountable quagmires Smiley documents explain to any reader why reentry is so difficult. Smiley closes with a detailed description of what abolition requires and would mean. This is ethnography at its best, addressing the harrowing, complicated, significant, and timely problem of reentry with stunningly beautiful writing."—Joanne Belknap, author of The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice
"Smiley's book is a critical analysis and unique contribution to the reentry literature about diminished rights. By weaving together the voices of those most harmed by the criminal justice system and the story of how progressive reforms have fallen short, Smiley shows how individuals living in purgatory are citizens without rights, which supports his argument that abolition is the next logical step."—Keesha M. Middlemass, author of Convicted and Condemned: The Politics and Policies of Prisoner Reentry
"This is ethnography at its finest. Smiley offers a critical, abolitionist perspective on reentry that is birthed in and through his revealing interviews with formerly incarcerated men and women as they navigate a system they know is designed to entrap them."—Jill McCorkel, author of Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment