A RIVETING, GROUNDBREAKING ACCOUNT OF HOW THE WAR ON CRIME HAS
TORN APART INNER-CITY COMMUNITIES
Forty years in, the tough on crime turn in American politics has spurred a prison boom of historic proportions that disproportionately affects Black communities. It has also torn at the lives of those on the outside. As arrest quotas and high tech surveillance criminalize entire blocks, a climate of fear and suspicion pervades daily life, not only for young men entangled in the legal system, but for their family members and working neighbors.
Alice Goffman spent six years in one Philadelphia neighborhood, documenting the routine stops, searches, raids, and beatings that young men navigate as they come of age. In the course of her research, she became roommates with Mike and Chuck, two friends trying to make ends meet between low wage jobs and the drug trade. Like many in the neighborhood, Mike and Chuck were caught up in a cycle of court cases, probation sentences, and low level warrants, with no clear way out. We observe their girlfriends and mothers enduring raids and interrogations, "clean" residents struggling to go to school and work every day as the cops chase down neighbors in the streets, and others eking out a living by providing clean urine, fake documents, and off the books medical care. This fugitive world is the hidden counterpoint to mass incarceration, the grim underside of our nation's social experiment in punishing Black men and their families. While recognizing the drug trade's damage, On The Run reveals a justice system gone awry: it is an exemplary work of scholarship highlighting the failures of the War on Crime, and a compassionate chronicle of the families caught in the midst of it.
"A remarkable feat of reporting . . . The level of detail in this book and Goffman's ability to understand her subjects' motivations are astonishing—and riveting."—The New York Times Book Review
When University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist Goffman, at the time a sophomore college student, moved into a lower-income black neighborhood in Philadelphia, she began a six-year immersion in the swelling world of fugitives in America, where nearly five million people are on probation or parole. In her first book, Goffman offers an ethnographic account focusing on the impact of probation and parole practices on one community, where living under "fear of capture and confinement" transforms lives. Opportunities for employment, access to medical care, and availability of housing are affected, and relationships are stressed by heavy surveillance, as well as by police threats and violence directed at people linked to former prisoners. Residents fashion ingenious coping methods: the bail office may serve as a bank; a hospital janitor may mend a broken arm; an underground economy provides essential documents. Though Goffman is white, this is markedly not a tale about a white woman in a black world; "A Methodical Note," appended to the text, details her gradual, intimate access to this community. This is a remarkable chronicle, informed by Goffman's scholarship, detailed from personal experience as "participant observer," and related with honesty and compassion.