From Slave Ship to Supermax

Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel

Patrick Elliot Alexander
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1415-1
Publication: Nov 17

HC: $99.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1414-4
Publication: Nov 17

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1416-8
Publication: Nov 17

260 pages
6 x 9
5 halftones

The first interdisciplinary study of mass incarceration to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights

Read an excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).


In his cogent and groundbreaking book, From Slave Ship to Supermax, Patrick Elliot Alexander argues that the disciplinary logic and violence of slavery haunt depictions of the contemporary U.S. prison in late twentieth-century Black fiction. Alexander links representations of prison life in James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk to his engagements with imprisoned intellectuals like George Jackson, who exposed historical continuities between slavery and mass incarceration. Likewise, Alexander reveals how Toni Morrison’s Beloved was informed by Angela Y. Davis’s jail writings on slavery-reminiscent practices in contemporary women’s facilities. Alexander also examines recurring associations between slave ships and prisons in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, and connects slavery’s logic of racialized premature death to scenes of death row imprisonment in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying.

Alexander ultimately makes the case that contemporary Black novelists depict racial terror as a centuries-spanning social control practice that structured carceral life on slave ships and slave plantations—and that mass-produces prisoners and prisoner abuse in post–Civil Rights America. These authors expand free society’s view of torment confronted and combated in the prison industrial complex, where discriminatory laws and the institutionalization of secrecy have reinstated slavery’s system of dehumanization.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Antipanoptic Expressivity and the New Neo-Slave Novel
1. Talking in George Jackson's Shadow: Neo-Slavery, Police Intimidation, and Imprisoned Intellectualism in Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk
2. Middle Passage Reinstated: Whispers from the Women's Prison in Morrison's Beloved
3. "Didn't I say this was worse than prison?" The Slave Ship–Supermax Relation in Johnson's Middle Passage
4. "tell them im a man": Slavery's Vestiges and Imprisoned Radical Intellectualism in Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying
Epilogue: The Prison Classroom and the Neo-Abolitionist Novel


About the Author(s)

Patrick Elliot Alexander is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi and co-founder of the University of Mississippi Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at Parchman/Mississippi State Penitentiary.