American Prisons: A Critical Primer on Culture and Conversion to Islam




American Prisons

American Prisons: A Critical Primer on Culture and Conversion to Islam, is an anthology that represents over a decade of investigating, researching and writing on prison culture. This critical exploration of prisons in contemporary America pieces together how problems in prison are not isolated from society; unlike the Las Vegas slogan, what happens in prison doesn’t stay in prison. Prisons are not neatly cornered off from society, but rather, are partners in toxic relationships with the communities to which ex-prisoners return. Against these sinister cultural developments, the book juxtaposes the quest for God and religious conversion. More specifically, widespread conversion to Islam over many generations has made prisons an important factor for the growth of Islam in America.

The book draws on a range of data and sources, including interviews and written correspondence with current and ex-prisoners, documentary research, and congressional hearings on topics that include criminal justice and religion, culture, conversion, radicalization, and reform.


Reviews of the book

"For me personally, reading this body of work has been a gift especially because of the systematic attention throughout the work to the place of religion. I have come to believe that religion is perhaps the most important and least understood or studied of all the significant cultural inputs to our present punitive complex. Few legal scholars today know their biblical sources of punitiveness nearly as well as SpearIt. Yet here almost certainly lies some of the deepest and least understood sources of our appetites for extreme punishments."

Jonathan Simon, Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law, and author of Governing through Crime.

"In the world of specialized, reading-list nonfiction, it is rare that a book comes along that transcends all audiences...this is a book that should be read by many. This book, its answers, and the integrity with which it presents a template for informed questioning should be available to every student, no matter their field of study (or how long it’s been since they left campus for their journey through life)."

Stephen McGrath author of Enso and Bound in Neon. Review from Goodreads.

"American Prisons is a clear voice that can sing in multiple keys of culture, policy, law, history of prisons, religious practice and polemics, rap music and prison mysticism, a harmonious case for why we cannot isolate one discipline from the other."

Chris Hoke, author of WANTED and Founding CoDirector of



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