Roosevelt House is pleased to present a discussion of the new book Purgatory Citizenship: Reentry, Race, and Abolition by Hunter College Associate Professor of Sociology Calvin John Smiley. In this eye-opening and urgent analysis, Smiley delivers a powerful and deeply researched critique of the prison reentry system as well as a moving portrait of those most impacted by it. The author will be in conversation with associate professor of sociology at Hostos Community College, Sarah L. Hoiland.

The reentry process that follows release from incarceration is often portrayed as a story of redemption. Unfortunately, writes Smiley, this is not the reality. As he shows in his new book, recently released individuals must navigate the reentry process with diminished legal rights and amplified social stigmas—in a journey that is often confusing, complex, and precarious.

Making use of life-history interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic fieldwork with low-income urban residents of color, primarily Black men, Purgatory Citizenship shines a light on the disjointed and often contradictory systems that recently released people must negotiate—and how they serve as an extension of the carceral system. Included are the poignant stories of individuals who exist in a state of limbo that deprives them of opportunity and support while leaving them locked in a cycle of perpetual punishment—no longer behind bars, but not fully free either.

Warning of the dangers of reformist efforts that it sees as serving only to further entrench carceral systems, Purgatory Citizenship advocates for abolitionist solutions rooted in the visions of the people most directly affected.

According to previous Roosevelt House guest and author of The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison, Hugh Ryan, Smiley’s new book is “a much-needed exploration of post-incarceration reentry from the point of view of the people experiencing it firsthand, offering important insights into this often ignored and misunderstood part of our carceral system. This is an important addition to the growing canon of works trying to understand and dismantle the prison industrial complex.”

Calvin John Smiley is a faculty member of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Program and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, where he teaches courses on the sociology of law, race and ethnic relations, and criminal justice policy. With research that spans law enforcement, social justice, social media, popular culture, inequality, and race, his scholarship has appeared in peer-reviewed book chapters and academic journals including The Prison JournalRace Ethnicity and EducationPunishment & SocietyDeviant Behavior, and Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. He is the author, with Keesha Middlemass, of Prisoner Reentry in the 21st Century: Critical Perspectives on Returning Homeand the forthcoming book Defund: Conversations Towards Abolition.

Sarah L. Hoiland is an associate professor of sociology at Hostos Community College. She has taught for the Bard Prison Initiative at several correctional facilities and currently teaches for the John Jay Prison-to-College Pipeline. She has been a member of several justice-related organizations and consortiums at Hostos, CUNY, and beyond. Her forthcoming book, Righteous Sisterhood, is an ethnographic account of a woman’s motorcycle club that identifies a new kind of woman biker—the “righteous sister”—as one who contests the misogynist subculture but also refutes traditional feminism.

Calvin John Smiley — Purgatory Citizenship: Reentry, Race, and Abolition | Posted on October 30th, 2023 | Book Discussions, Public Programs