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Doing Time in the DepressionEveryday Life in Texas and California Prisons$
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Ethan Blue

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814709405

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814709405.001.0001

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Work in the Walled City

Work in the Walled City

Labor and Discipline in California’s Prisons

(p.53) 2 Work in the Walled City
Doing Time in the Depression

Ethan Blue

NYU Press

This chapter discusses labor in California prisons in the 1930s. California prisoners' labor was a coercive meritocracy of promotion and demotion geared toward social control, and it mimicked many of the class and race structures of the state's political economy. It was also wracked by corruption. Though racial hierarchies could work at cross-purposes to putatively color-blind redemptive ideologies, in practice, racial hierarchy and redemption commonly interwove. Moreover, the association between masculinities and labor created a key tension in the struggle for officials to control prisoners' labor, and for prisoners to control themselves. Notions of manhood figured centrally in officials' justification of forced labor but also in prisoners' opposition to that labor. Prisoners, too, had their own understandings of the work they did and only sometimes did they coincide with what officials intended.

Keywords:   prison labor, prisoners, California prison system, social control, racial differentiation, racial hierarchy, forced labor

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