A riveting, groundbreaking account of how the war on crime has torn apart inner-city communities. Forty years in, the tough-on-crime turn in American politics has spurred a prison boom of historic proportions that disproportionately affects black communities. It has also torn at the lives of those on the outside. As arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance criminalize entire blocks, a climate of fear and suspicion pervades daily life, not only for young men entangled in the legal system but for their family members and working neighbors. Alice Goffman spent six years in one Philadelphia neighborhood, documenting the routine stops, searches, raids, and beatings that young men navigate as they come of age. In the course of her research, she became roommates with Mike and Chuck, two friends trying to make ends meet between low-wage jobs and the drug trade. Like many in the neighborhood, Mike and Chuck were caught up in a cycle of court cases, probation sentences, and low-level warrants, with no clear way out. We observe their girlfriends and mothers enduring raids and interrogations, "clean" residents struggling to go to school and work every day as the cops chase down neighbors in the streets, and others eking out livings by providing clean urine, fake documents, and off-the-books medical care. This fugitive world is the hidden counterpoint to mass incarceration, the grim underside of our nation's social experiment in punishing black men and their families. While recognizing the drug trade's damage, On the Run reveals a justice system gone awry: It is an exemplary work of scholarship highlighting the failures of the war on crime and a compassionate chronicle of the families caught in the midst of it.
"A remarkable feat of reporting.... The level of detail in this book and Goffman's ability to understand her subjects' motivations are astonishing - and riveting." (The New York Times Book Review)
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A view from one side of the street......
Alice Goffman undertook a massive project for her academic dissertation in sociology - an ethnographic study documenting the lives of a group of people living in a predominately black, crime ridden neighborhood in Philadelphia. She ended up doing more than documenting - she lived in and around the 'hood for six years, becoming roommates with two of the young men who figure prominently in her book.
Goffman ends up being accepted as part of the scenery in the pseudonymous 6th Street, welcomed by a group of young men and their families to document their lives. And those lives are full of trouble - crime, drugs, poverty, arrests, warrants and any other number of hardships. Goffman immerses herself in part their lives, crossing the impartial observer line in many cases to become a participant.
Her statistics regarding young, poor black men are frightening. This book does serve to underscore what we see almost every day on news feeds. We also get to know the friends and families of this core group. Goffman does also make connections with people in the neigbourhood who are 'clean' and trying to make a good life without the crime, guns etc. These subjects are just as interesting, but receive less focus.
I did find that some stories were repeated in more than one chapter - Goffman seems to be using certain compelling incidents to illustrate numerous points she wants to highlight. I found the appendix of her own journey to and through the book quite fascinating.
On the Run is an accounting from one side of the street. There are some questions as to the veracity of some of the anecdotes and interactions that Goffman describes. Some of her own motives, behaviors and recollections have been called into question. Despite that, On the Run does provide much food for thought - and discussion.
Robin Miles was the narrator. She has a voice that is easy to listen to, clear and well modulated She is able to emphasize and empathize with a change in tenor and tone. She's also able to provide suitable voices when one of the subjects of the book is 'speaking'. I thought she interpreted the book well
- Luanne Ollivier
The Only Bad thing about this book.