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Abramsky, Sasha 1972-

Abramsky, Sasha 1972-

PERSONAL:

Born April 4, 1972, in England; married; children: one daughter and one son. Education: Balliol College, Oxford University, B.A., 1993; Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, M.A.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Sacramento, CA. Office—University of California, Davis, University Writing Program, 280 Voorhies Hall, Davis, CA 95616. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Academic and freelance journalist. University of California, Davis, lecturer. Demos, New York, NY, senior fellow; Soros Society, Crime and Communities Media fellow, 2000.

WRITINGS:

Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness, Human Rights Watch (New York, NY), 2003.

Conned: How Millions Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House, New Press (New York, NY), 2006.

American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Village Voice, American Prospect, L.A. Weekly, Rolling Stone, and the Nation.

SIDELIGHTS:

Sasha Abramsky is an academic and a freelance journalist. Born in England on April 4, 1972, Abramsky earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1993 from Balliol College at Oxford University. He then moved to New York and earned a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He moved across the country and became a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, in the University Writing Program. He contributes widely to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Village Voice, American Prospect, L.A. Weekly, Rolling Stone, and the Nation.

Abramsky published his first book, Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation, in 2002. The study looks at the mismanagement and problems facing the U.S. penal system. Citing statistics revealing that around one percent of the American population lives behind bars and that the majority are for nonviolent crimes, Abramsky illustrates how the system of imprisonment as opposed to rehabilitation is counterproductive to its entire purpose. He gives specific examples of how certain politicians exploit the prison system for personal gain and asks questions as to how politicians can flaunt the success of incarceration schemes despite statistics indicating no progress has been made in reducing crime in this manner.

A contributor to Kirkus Reviews mentioned that, "though the author sometimes makes it sound as if no one had ever before leveled these criticisms, his strik- ing portrayal of Ochoa," as well as the events that led to the formation of "the three-strike-law, provides valuable ammunition for reformers." Frances Sandiford, writing in Library Journal, "highly recommended" the book, opining that "Abramsky's well-researched, easy-to-read study should be an eyeopener for many readers." A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that "Abramsky delivers a carefully rendered, emotionally charged portrait of America's embrace" of the U.S. prison system. The same contributor said that "the vibrant personal accounts in Abramsky's jeremiad distinguish it in a crowded field." Booklist contributor Mary Carroll described the work as "an involving study of an important social issue."

Abramsky published his second book, Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness, the following year. In 2006, he published Conned: How Millions Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House. The account looks into twelve U.S. states and shows how their local laws allowed for the disenfranchisement of a large number of voters, and how this is continued each year. Abramsky indicates that this trend makes it easier for Republican candidates to win elections as statistically, many former convicts would be inclined to vote for the Democrat party. In his travels to each of the states, Abramsky incorporates his travelogue with policy information about each locale and how it leads to voter disenfranchisement. In an interview in 4&20 Blackbirds, Abramsky explained his interest in the topic: "I got interested in the subject in 1999, when I started reading data on the numbers disenfranchised, and in particular on those disenfranchised in southern states, including closely fought ones such as Florida…. In terms of talking with ex-cons, or present prisoners, it depends on the person. Some, obviously, are less approachable than others. On the whole, though, the interviews are like most other interviews I do; a series of questions, a series of answers. The institutional setting, conducting interviews inside prisons, is frequently quite intimidating, but, with time and practice, you get somewhat used to it."

Jonathan Stein, writing in Mother Jones, commented that "Abramsky's most persuasive material is his interviews with former prisoners who see voting as a way to become whole again." Stein determined, however, that the author did not "convincingly prove that a large percentage of ex-felons would vote" had they been given a proper opportunity to do so, such as in Florida during the 2000 U.S. presidential elections. Alec Ewald, writing in the Political Science Quarterly, disagreed with Stein, countering that "Abramsky leaves no doubt that many disenfranchised people very much want to vote." Ewald commented that "Abramsky's mobile method captures an important truth about disenfranchisement: its real impact depends on legal, administrative, and political details. Such details are the best thing in Conned." Ewald pointed out, however, that "this book's weakness is that Abramsky too often injects himself into the narrative in a distracting way." He also noted political bias throughout the text. Ewald concluded: "Such asides limit the book's power as policy critique, because readers who do not share Abramsky's view of the American political landscape will not be inclined to learn from his insights about disenfranchisement's damaging effects."

In 2007, Abramsky published American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment. In the book, Abramsky aims his criticism at the U.S. penal system, claiming that increasingly harsher punishments are being used in favor of rehabilitating inmates and preparing them to rejoin society when their term in jail is completed. In this, he relates the connection between the American culture of violence and that which is exercised in its prisons. Abramsky also points to mandatory sentencing laws, arguing that they are oftentimes irrelevant to the crime. Abramsky admits that politicians make use of a ‘tough-on-crime’ approach to win elections, appealing to people's fears and also the benefits that opening new prisons in economically recessed communities provide. Abramsky interviewed prison guards, inmates, politicians, corrections officials, academics, and incorporated his findings with that of Foucault and other scholarly writings and theories on the prison system.

A contributor to Buzz Flash described the book as "a scathing, impassioned indictment of the American prison industry," adding that it is "infuriating to read" due to its "knowledgeable" viewpoints. A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that some sections could have more details included, but overall, remarked that "this remains a well-researched book on a significant American problem that's often locked away behind bars." A contributor to Reference & Research Book News said that Abramsky's "account of a hidden subculture, both inside and outside the walls" of prison is at once "elegant but harrowing." A contributor to AScribe Law News Service described the book as "a call for reform both behind bars and in society at large, as well as for the preservation of American democracy." The same contributor noted that, based on the mixing of academic theories and firsthand accounts from inmates and prison guards Abramsky puts in the book, "the result is an informed expose of the dynamics in American prisons and their interplay with the nation's cultural and political agendas."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

AScribe Law News Service, May 11, 2007, review of American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment.

Booklist, December 15, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation, p. 686.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December, 2007, D.O. Friedrichs, review of American Furies, p. 710.

Election Law Journal, January 1, 2007, review of Conned: How Millions Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House, p. 104.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2001, review of Hard Time Blues, p. 1525.

Library Journal, January, 2002, Frances Sandiford, review of Hard Time Blues, p. 126.

Mother Jones, May 1, 2006, Jonathan Stein, review of Conned, p. 77.

Nation, April 17, 2006, Mark Sorkin, review of Conned, p. 42.

Political Science Quarterly, summer, 2007, Alec Ewald, review of Conned, p. 319.

Publishers Weekly, December 10, 2001, review of Hard Time Blues, p. 65; January 22, 2007, review of American Furies, p. 171.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2008, review of American Furies.

ONLINE

Buzz Flash,http://www.buzzflash.com/ (March 4, 2008), review of American Furies.

Conned Web site,http://www.connedthebook.com (March 4, 2008), author profile.

DMI Blog,http://www.dmiblog.com/ (March 4, 2008), author profile.

4&20 Blackbirds,http://4and20blackbirds.wordpress.com/ (May 17, 2006), author interview.

Sasha Abramsky Home Page,http://www.sashaabramsky.com (March 4, 2008), author profile.

University of California, Davis Web site,http://www.ucdavis.edu/ (March 4, 2008), faculty profile.

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