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Wood Soft Time in a Hard Place: My Kind of Prison LIfe
by Denis Wood

An inside view of life in prison unlike any other.

Denis Wood is one of the world's leading historians of cartography and environmental psychology. In 1995, he made a personal mistake, plead guilty, lost his university job, was divorced by his wife, and spent nearly three years in North Carolina prisons at every custody level: minimum, medium, and maximum security plus a month in the hole. No writer or scholar, until now, has written a book about prison as a place, from the inside as an inmate, and Wood will surprise many readers with his quick wit and unexpected perceptions about life in prison that refute common understandings of incarceration in America. Despite widespread images of prison as a hellhole that all of us receive from books, TV, and movies, Wood encountered almost no bars in prison, no sadistic guards, and practically no violence of any kind. Instead the most common sound he heard was laughter.

That laughter is the dominant sound of prison life in America should come as no surprise, argues Wood, for U.S. courts lock up an absurd proportion of the population, the majority of them people of color, almost all of whom get out and most of them soon. America has long been #1 in the world for its incarceration rate. Ex-cons are everywhere in public life—coast to coast, in towns and in cities—and there's no way to recognize them because they carry few if any scars from their experience inside—the scars come from the outside. How and why this is the case are key to what Wood observes and writes about.

Wood shares his story about life in prison as no other writer or scholar has or could. Readers will soon see why the first chapter won first place in the non-fiction category of the PEN American Center's Writing Award for Prisoners. His prose is fast-paced and his insights unusual if not enlightening. As Wood was about to re-enter society, having paid his dues, and begin a new life, he reflected on what he did the most during his time in prison: make a lot of new friends, none of whom he would have met otherwise or elsewhere because of race, education, opportunity, and zip code. What was life in prison? Laughter and friends and doing time.


$29.95 U.S. (short, though trade discount available)
E-book TBD.
Softcover with gatefold flaps
224 pages with 17 black-and-white drawings, 4 color plans, 2 color photographs, 2 black-and-white cartoons, and 1 watercolor = 28
7.0" x 9.0" upright
ISBN: 978-1-938086-71-7

Forthcoming in June 2024

Published in association with the Center for the Study of Place.

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