Prison Profiles from Walla Walla
- PUBLISHED: December 2018
- SUBJECT LISTING: Pacific Northwest / History, Art / Photography, Politics
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 288 Pages, 9 x 8 in, 128 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295743981
Journalists John McCoy and Ethan Hoffman spent four months inside the walls of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla in 1978, just as Washington, once a leader in prison reform, abandoned its focus on reform and rehabilitation and returned to cell time and punishment. It was a brutal transition.
McCoy and Hoffman roamed the maximum-security compound almost at will, observing and befriending prisoners and guards. The result is a striking depiction of a community in which there was little to do, much to fear, and a culture that both mimicked and scorned the outside world. McCoy’s unadorned prose and Hoffman’s stunning black-and-white photographs offer as authentic a portrayal of life in the Big House as “outsiders” are ever likely to experience.
Originally published in 1981, Concrete Mama revealed a previously unseen stark and complex world of life on the inside, for which it won the Washington State Book Award. Long unavailable yet still relevant, it is revitalized in a second edition with an introduction by scholar Dan Berger that provides historical context for the book's ongoing resonance, along with several previously unpublished photographs.
Authors & Contributors
John A. McCoy is the author of A Still and Quiet Conscience, a biography of Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen. He was a reporter and editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and has taught writing courses at the University of Washington–Tacoma and Seattle University. Ethan Hoffman (1949–1990) was a photographer for the London Sunday Times and Paris Match, and his photo essays appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Esquire, and Life. His photography has been exhibited in several museums, including the Smithsonian. Dan Berger is associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell, and an interdisciplinary historian focusing on critical prison studies. He is the author of several books, including Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, and coauthor most recently of Rethinking the American Prison Movement.
[McCoy and Hoffman] went inside the walls, they looked, they listened, they learned, they sought to understand not just the kept but the keepers, and to pass on that understanding in words and pictures. . . . In these gripping pages they do not fail to make upon us the most human of claims—that there, save for the grace of an unfathomable God, might go any of us.- Tom Wicker, from the foreword to the first edition
Concrete Mama is an intensely human portrait of the inhumane practice of caging. In their powerful images and text, McCoy and Hoffman document the end of one era in the history of incarceration in America and the crushing onset of another. With Dan Berger’s brilliant introduction, the return of this classic is an important contribution to the critique of the prison today.- Regina Kunzel, author of Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality
Concrete Mama reveals the social life, power relations, and practices of intimacy in Walla Walla prison in the 1970s, a prison in the state of Washington known both for progressive reform and brutal acts of administrative violence. Through striking photographs and rich narrative text, Hoffman and McCoy offer a window into life inside the prison that has much to teach us about a critical moment in US prison history, as the book marks the eve of mass incarceration and the prison boom that would reshape and expand the reaches of the carceral state.- Nicole R. Fleetwood, professor of American studies, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Nearly forty years after its original publication, Concrete Mama remains one of the most powerful accounts of life, power, and resistance behind bars. This timely edition, with an insightful new introduction by historian and activist Dan Berger, is essential reading for all of us.- Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America