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By James Braxton Peterson

Illustrated by John Jennings and

Stacey Robinson

Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

B/W Illustrations

ISBN-13: 978-1-939994-31-8
Price: US $15.95
6x9, 184 pp
eBook ISBN: 978-1-939994-32-5
eBook Price: US $15.95
September 23, 2016

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This book is a sublimely useful powder keg – an explosive gathering of insight, information and, yes, inspiration, for us to act on what Peterson has learned, and what he so valiantly teaches us.

- excerpt from the foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

As an American citizen, it is important to be informed about the egregious contemporary civil rights violations entrenched in the past, current, and future history of the Prison Industrial Complex.

In Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners, author and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University, James Braxton Peterson does just that. Peterson boils down the PIC to its insidious core – a collection of social structures, systems, and policies – especially institutional racism, the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Together with illustrator John Jennings, Peterson distills these multi-layered components that make up what activists deem the Mass Incarceration Movement that has, and continues to imprison and dehumanize convicted individuals in the United States.


James Peterson, Ph.D. is a writer, educator, and consultant. Dr. Peterson is the Host of “Evening WURDS” on WURD (900AM and 96.1FM) in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of several books, including The Hip Hop Underground and African American CulturePrison Industrial Complex For Beginners, and Hip-Hop Headphones: A Scholar’s Critical Playlist. He is a columnist for The Philadelphia Citizen and has written for,, The Guardian, The LA Times, Reuters, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and  



John Jennings is an Associate Professor of Art and Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo-State University of New York.  His work centers around intersectional narratives regarding identity politics and popular media. Jennings is co-editor of the Eisner Award nominated collection The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art and co-founder/organizer of The Schomburg Center's Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem. He is co-founder and organizer of the MLK NorCal's Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco and also SOL-CON: The Brown and Black Comix Expo at the Ohio State University. Jennings is currently a Nasir Jones Hip Hop Studies Fellow with the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Jennings' current comics projects include the Hiphop adventure comic Kid Code: Channel Zero, the supernatural crime noir story Blue Hand Mojo, and the upcoming graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler's classic dark fantasy novel Kindred.

Stacey Robinson is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s an Arthur Schomburg fellow who completed his Masters of Fine Art at the University at Buffalo. Stacey is originally from Albany, NY and graduated from Fayetteville State University with a Bachelor of Arts. His art speculates futures where Black people are free from colonial influences to explore the possibilities of what that means. His recent exhibition ‘Binary ConScience’ explores ideas of W.E.B. Du Bois’s “double consciousness” as a Black cultural adaptation and a means of colonial survival. He along with John Jennings is part of the collaborative duo ‘Black Kirby’ that explores Afro Speculative existence via the aesthetic of Jack Kirby. He recently art directed ‘Unveiling Visions: the alchemy of the Black Imagination’ for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, NY. He was part of the exhibition Invisible Ink: Black Independent Comix, at University of Tennessee at Beyond the Frame: African American Comic Book Artists, Presentation at the Flint Institute of Arts. Stacey’s collected works reside: Modern Graphics in Berlin, Bucknell University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.


A truly indispensable book, especially for educators across the disciplines. One cannot understand America today without understanding the monstrosity that is the Prison Industrial Complex, and this slim volume helps readers not simply understand the PIC but feel righteous rage about it.

—Baz Dreisinger, Associate Professor of English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Founding Academic Director, Prison-to-College Pipeline; author, Incarceration Nations (2016)


In his penetrating Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners, Dr. Peterson shines a bright and relentless spotlight on the social catastrophe that is America’s sprawling criminal justice system. As only an educator with a deep and personal knowledge of their subject material can, Peterson topples the myths and reveals the racist machinery that lies at the heart of that system. For too long, liberals and conservatives alike have labored under the delusion that the Prison Industrial Complex—when they even acknowledge its existence—is merely an unfortunate accident of history. It’s as if it were a sort of natural disaster that, despite our best intentions, we’ve wandered aimlessly into. In clear and persuasive writing, Dr. Peterson argues that the human-ravaging machinery of the carceral state is the result of deliberate and racist policy, developed and strengthened at every level of government. Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners is essential reading for anyone curious about the origins of the harrowing path we’ve walked and hungry for the sort of clarity needed to lead the way out.

—Glenn E. Martin, JustLeadershipUSA

In a highly engaging and straightforward manner, James Peterson locates, narrates, and critiques the massive apparatus that is today’s American carceral state—one that has contained more black bodies, and has ensnared more black lives, than at any other point in U.S. history. For scholars and lay readers alike, Peterson’s book makes clear that our nation’s staggering rate of incarceration is not rooted in a disinterested policy response to violence or crime, nor has it become just some “rite of passage” for black youth. In short, mass incarceration’s origins are deeply rooted in our nation’s racialized past and, as importantly, it is today but one part of a massive Prison Industrial Complex that serves very specific interests, devastates communities, and therefore must be dismantled.

—Heather Ann Thompson, Historian, University of Michigan, and author, Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (2016)


Dr. James Braxton Peterson’s Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners seamlessly patches together the complex development of the PIC, which is an overwhelming social and political force with many complicated causes and contributors.  As a roadmap for understanding the United States’ path to becoming known as Incarceration Nation, the book tracks why and how the US chose the road for implementing increasingly harsh punitive responses to crime instead of the route of embracing social solutions to address crime.  Peterson’s analysis illustrates how racism drove the choice to create and sustain a PIC that uses prisons for punishment and oppression as opposed to rehabilitation or social justice.  By identifying policies related to the war on drugs, solitary confinement, life sentences for juveniles, exploitative inmate labor, prison privatization, as well as political verbiage that refers to prisoners as animals, Peterson’s work highlights the dehumanization of people who are incarcerated as a central theme of American correctional policy.

-Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, La Salle University, Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice

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