Angels with Dirty Faces is no romanticized tale of crime and punishment. The three lives in this creative nonfiction account are united by the presence of actual harm—sometimes horrific violence. Imarisha, dealing with the complexities of her own experience with sexual assault and accountability, brings us behind prison walls to visit her adopted brother Kakamia and his fellow inmate Jimmy “Mac” McElroy, a member of the brutal Irish gang the Westies. Together they explore the questions: People can do unimaginable things to one another—and then what? What do we as a society do? What might redemption look like?

 

Imarisha doesn’t flinch as she guides us through the difficulties and contradictions, eschewing theory for a much messier reality. The result is a nuanced and deeply personal analysis that connects readers emotionally with the lives of people caught up within, and often destroyed by, our criminal justice system.

 

“Walidah Imarisha has written a brave book. It demonstrates both the universality and distinctiveness of three lives enmeshed through the US prison system. Imarisha pushes us to give up easy distinctions between innocence and guilt, good and evil, and to experience punishment and imprisonment as the messy, complex systems they are. And she reminds us that, while there are no winners in this game, it is one replete with compassion, care, and resistance enough to permeate walls and cages.” —Rachel Herzing

 

Angels with Dirty Faces is a powerful exploration of America’s prison nation. Using three disparate yet interconnected stories, including her own, Walidah Imarisha gives us an unvarnished take on prison abolition. Beyond slogans or strategy, we are left with people, in all our imperfections and possibilities. This is a bold, beautiful, and absolutely necessary book, told with urgency and passion.” —Dan Berger, author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era

Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption

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  • AK Press 2016

    New paperback

    241 pages