The Women's House of Detention - A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison Book (Paperback)
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RELEASE DATE - 26 MAY 2023
The Women's House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women's imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City's Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it was a nexus for the tens of thousands of women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people who inhabited its crowded cells.
Some of these inmates-Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur-were famous, but the vast majority were incarcerated for the crimes of being poor and improperly feminine. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women's prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher.
Historian Hugh Ryan explores the roots of this crisis of queer and trans incarceration, connecting misogyny, racism, state-sanctioned sexual violence, colonialism, sex work, and the failures of prison reform. And he reconstructs the little-known lives of hundreds of incarcerated New Yorkers, making a uniquely queer case for prison abolition in the process. From the lesbian communities forged through the House of D to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of one building and so much more-the people it caged, the neighbourhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.
"Ryan has created a valuable new lens for queer and carceral history."--Booklist
"Ryan dives into the archives created by those incarcerated in the House of D and the people who put them there, giving us the gift of rich context for these stories and countless hidden queer histories. Placing the prison in a quintessential queer community, The Women's House of Detention illuminates prisons as queer spaces and queer resistance through acts of autonomy, care, and collectivity, offering queer abolitionist organizers working to close jails and prisons across the country a glimpse into the long legacy they are living--and the inspiration to keep fighting until there are no more houses of detention."--Andrea Ritchie, co-author of Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States
"Hugh Ryan is one of the most important historians of American life working today. The Women's House of Detention resets so many assumptions about American history, reminding us that the home of the free has always been predicated on the imprisonment of the vulnerable. Of vital importance to those interested in criminal justice reform, prison abolition, gender history, the history of sexuality and the history of poverty, as well as anyone who declares themselves knowledgeable about New York City history, this account does what history is supposed to--looking to the past to understand our broken present and possibly help us plan for a better future."
Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of Libertie
"Part history, part horror story, and part blistering critique of the country's 'criminal legal system'.
"A fascinating, lively, and devastating story reverberates in the pages of The Women's House of Detention. Hugh Ryan reveals the vital realities of people confined to the margins, whether behind the walls of the notorious House of D in the heart of the Village in Manhattan, or at the edges of complex communities in the tumult of twentieth-century New York City. Ryan's engrossing and rigorous history of one jail documents an intersection of gender politics, evolving queer identity, and brutal racial repression, and is essential reading in a nation that now incarcerates 30 percent of the world's women prisoners."
Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison