Chris Hedges Prisoners' Rights Video

Hugh Hamilton and Chris Hedges on Trauma & Transformation in an American Prison

In a brilliant two-part interview for "On Contact," journalist Hugh Hamilton discusses Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges’ new book "Our Class."

In the first part of a two-part interview for “On Contact,” which you can watch in the player below, journalist Hugh Hamilton and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges discuss the saga of trauma and transformation in an American prison as chronicled in Hedges’ new book “Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison.”

[Read an excerpt of “Our Class” on ScheerPost.]

The United States imprisons more of its people than any other country in the world. According to the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative, the American prison industrial complex currently holds captive nearly 2.3 million people in more than 6,000 prisons, penitentiaries, jails, detention centers and correctional facilities across the country. In his newest and positively riveting page turner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges takes us behind the forbidding bars of steel at East Jersey State Prison, into a world where prisoners are people. Together, as students in Hedges’ College-level prison class, they embark on a journey of artistic and personal discovery. Tasked with the challenge of writing a dramatic play of their own, these students deliver eloquent, original and often painful voice to the heartbreaking grief and suffering that they and their families have endured.

In the second of a two-part interview, Hamilton discusses with Hedges the role of race and poverty in mass incarceration, as chronicled in his new book. The pipeline that fuels our system of mass incarceration runs through the intersection of race and poverty in all too many of our neglected and marginalized urban centers. In his new book, Our Class, author Chris Hedges describes the impact of this debilitating poverty that pervades many of our cities and towns. He writes: “The social hell of urban America is the great destroyer of dreams. It batters and assaults the children of the poor. It teaches them that their dreams, and finally they themselves, are worthless. They go to bed hungry. They live with fear. They lose their fathers, brothers and sisters to mass incarceration – and, at times, their mothers. “This social hell is relentless. It wears them down. It makes them angry and bitter. It drives them to hopelessness and despair. The message sent to them by the dysfunctional schools, the decrepit housing projects, the mercenary financial institutions, gang violence, instability, and ever-present police abuse, is that they are human refuse.”


  1. We are all slaves in a prison now. The only difference between us and those incarcerated is that our cell is a little more spacious. When you have no freedom and others tell you how you can live and what you can and cannot do, you live in a prison no matter how pretty the decorations might be.

    This country is fracturing right now and soon it will break altogether. It will break with no direction, no higher ideals, no unity or purpose and a population in which critical thought and reason has been bred out of the herd. The only guiding principle in our society is greed and the cult of me. That is ultimately our doom. Those who stand for nothing….are nothing. That is my opinion and my prognosis.

    Have a great day!

    1. JustAMaverick:

      I am pretty pessimistic at times, but you keep saying we are doomed, so there must still be a life in which you find some meaning, to care enough to come back and post. If things do get bad, people will still fall in love and raise families, or try to, and find some joy and meaning in their lives. There will still be the connections to those around us, family, friends (furry and otherwise), and all of Nature.

      1. Thanks Cynical Rex for your efforts to give me a bit of perspective. But I am already there. I have come to terms with what is ahead and have found peace within myself and an acceptance that what will be will be. I am also highly educated with a background in history and philosophy and when I talk of doom I do so from the perspective of someone who has studied human nature individually and in large groups my entire life.

        This time when civilization goes down it will be global and likely it will never recover from it. We are dealing with a multitude of existential threats and we are not only rudderless, but instead have madmen and psychopaths at the helm.

        Yes life will go on and people will try desperately to maintain a normal existence…and they will fail.

        I shout to the sky everyday in the hopes that one or two people out there might take steps to protect themselves individually because as a group we are screwed. I will also add that life without freedom, dignity, and justice is really no life at all. There are worse things then dying.

    2. Say what? The only difference between my “prison” and an actual prison is my prison is more spacious? Too funny. I get home from work, make a nice meal for myself, play the guitar and make music, walk outside at my leisure, and sleep in a nice warm bed. I have air-conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.
      I don’t get sexually assaulted, or physically and mentally tortured and abused, ever, in my “prison.” Your metaphor is ill-chosen, ill-considered. Do you really not understand how awful, how vile and soul-crushing a real prison is? The perfect capper to your “statement” is the vacuous new-age command to “have a nice day.”

  2. Thank you Chris Hedges (and Scheerpost) for these informative and deeply meaningful interviews. I am very fortunate to not have fallen into the dark and hopeless places that some men and women in our society were born into. These are not “bad people” , they are people that have been thrown away by a heartless and misguided system. Chris Hedges brings their humanity to our attention and makes this world a better place by doing so.

  3. Thank you, Chris, always for telling us the truth ABOUT power. I so admire your capacity to walk into the worst horrors that humans inflict on the world and tell us living in air conditioning with potable water about want “American exceptionalism is doing. Your calling out of the hypocrisy of the powerful from your days in Roxbury through the Middle East, Sarajevo, and the evangelical movement here is peerless and invaluable.

    I’ve read all your books (“Losing Moses on the Freeway, and “American Fascists“ are my favorites — so far…) so I’m hoping that since you have the guts to write about this that I’ll have the guts to read it. My best friend’s in the middle school mother worked in the New Jersey state penitentiary finding soon-to-be-released inmates jobs upon their release. She befriended three of them and so I, too, was a friend of theirs. Our penal system may be currently the worst abuse of power. Thank you for shining your light on it and helping those fellows see it and find their voices.

  4. Looking forward to Chris doing a deep dive on the societal effects of untreated and undiagnosed PTSD, the other pandemic. Perpetual war condemns generation after generation to PTSD. Women don’t have to go to war (though some do) to get PTSD. Those who send partners off to war can suffer the trauma of loss or be exposed to PTSD when combat vets return home. Parents who have PTSD parent as parents who have PTSD. Like alcoholism and addiction, with which it is often associated, PTSD is a family disease, generation after generation. The cost is incalculable, but it is not unfathomable.

    My Old Man –

  5. If the right to vote or to hold public office were restricted just to those
    who understand what this country is really like, then only those who are
    now incarcerated or who have been incarcerated would qualify.

  6. JustAMaverick:

    This is meant to continue the thread from your last reply, but there was no reply link oddly:

    If I may be allowed to engage with you on this basis, you mentioned a background in philosophy and history. You stated that a life without freedom, dignity and justice is no life. Assuming I understand your ideas of freedom or dignity, is not Hedge’s story about the inmates struggle for humanity an example of creating meaning under conditions of physical trauma, psychological and therefore spiritual trauma? I have a copy of the Discourses with the teachings of Epictetus, and he argues freedom depends on our self-awareness and can be achieved no matter the external conditions: this is true for our sense of justice and dignity, which is argued depends on our own choices and how we respond to outside forces.
    Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning offers some similar advice, going so far as to say a life of meaning is one of service to others.

    I can’t say that you are likely wrong about where we are headed as a society: I agree with many of your statements. I would offer that it is dangerous to be fatalistic or nihilistic, because it assumes a kind of omnipotence, which I certainly don’t have. Part of my background is in the tech industry, and if I may speculate on other possibilities, the development of AI and androids is creating a new species of intelligent life. Much imagination has gone into science fiction, predicting how the future of this technology could play out, and I feel there is much value there. Just because our genetic line comes to and end, does not mean the end of intelligent life, necessarily.

    I really appreciate the contributions of people like Carl Sagan, who had an optimism and wonder about the universe and its potential: hundreds of billions of galaxies, and billions of worlds that can develop life. Perhaps the Universe is a great experiment, and we are one, small, but precious part of that.

    As a thought experiment, say that humanity was further evolved, and we enjoyed a kind of utopia, where society had high technology but also virtue and wisdom. If we become like the God of Christianity, what is the purpose of life when you have solved every problem, and do not struggle physically, mentally or morally like we do at this time? Or, if humanity could remain as small tribes living in harmony with Nature, but still susceptible to to Nature’s wrath? Would it be better to remain as our ancestors lived and not be capable of the harm that our technology allows today?

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