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Moundsville Penitentiary Reconsidered: Second Thoughts on Hyperreality at a Small Town Prison Tour

 Author: Allen Mendenhall  Date Published: 2010  File Size: 161.4 KB  Download

On a cold, windy day in October, equipped with nothing but a pen and some 3×5 inch notecards, I toured Moundsville Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia, bent on writing an article. Enrolled in a graduate course on prison literature, I’d spent the last two months reading a wide variety of works by authors like Richard Wright, Jeremy Bentham, Albert Camus, Piri Thomas, Etheridge Knight, and Henry David Thoreau. I’d read dozens of articles on America’s incarceration culture, and watched at least two chilling documentary films. At some point, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see for myself how one local prison was dealing with its fraught history of escapes, riots, abuses, and executions.2 I took the official tour, explored the grounds for some two hours, and chatted with other tourists, all the while cobbling together observations on my notecards. That night I dashed off brief reflections, which I later willed into something of a narrative.

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