In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, forging a new language, the modern anti-slavery movement became one of the first awakenings of the public moral conscience in the Western world. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, anti-prison movements offer the same possibilities to confront the quest to be fully human by dismantling the machinery of incarceration and dehumanization. Abolitionists struggle to address what matters most in human conduct—obedience or justice? discipline or compassion? the struggle for freedom?
In “Democracy and Captivity,” James reflects upon contemporary social and political crises, and racial fears and tensions, by examining a selection of contemporary prison writings within a larger body of work—(neo)slave narratives. “(Neo)slave narratives” refer to any discourse that has shaped, expanded or contracted the parameters for enslavement not only in the United States but in its territories, “colonial possessions,” and foreign penal sites.