Feb 8, 2022
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and the author of many bestselling nonfiction books. He began his career as a war correspondent, and was a reporter for the New York Times for fifteen years, reporting from over 50 countries. He has written books on religion, culture, poverty, and war.
For the last ten years, Hedges has been teaching a class in a New Jersey state prison. His latest book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in An American Prison, is about his experiences as an educator among the incarcerated. It is a searing indictment of the way the humanity of prisoners is denied, but it is also a moving testament to the way that culture and curiosity can flourish even in conditions of extreme deprivation. Hedges' class, all of whom were serious offenders, studied drama and wrote a play together. His book chronicles the development of that play, Caged, which was eventually performed to sold-out audiences in Trenton.
In this episode, we discuss both Hedges' time reporting on war and his experiences as an educator in prisons. There are connections here: both the battlefield and the prisons are places of terrible human deprivation and suffering—suffering that is imposed by violent institutions based on stories about why it is justified and necessary. Hedges has dedicated his journalistic career to going to the places that most people prefer not to go, seeing the things we prefer not to see, and forcing us to confront them.
We talk about:
- The petty cruelties of prison officials and the thirst for knowledge among the incarcerated
- How evil institutions are created by perfectly normal people who think they are doing good
- How those we think of as killers and criminals, whether in battle or in the criminal punishment system, are often more similar to ourselves than we might like to admit
- How even in a seemingly morally simple case, World War II (the "good war"), America' s actions were more morally ambiguous than it is comfortable to think about
- How the realities of violence and suffering are kept carefully hidden from a population that would rather not question simple stories about who the world's evildoers are