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The aesthetics of redemption. Released prisoners in American film and literature

Nellis, M. (2009) The aesthetics of redemption. Released prisoners in American film and literature. Theoretical Criminology, 13 (1). pp. 123-146. ISSN 1362-4806

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Abstract

The released prisoner was a stock figure in American popular culture throughout the 20th century, and there is an enduring aesthetic associated with such narratives. Despite the artifice of the aesthetic, the best of them attempt to say serious things about the perils and pleasures of 'straight time'. This paper explores the way in which a cluster of books and films, dating from the 1990s, has addressed the experiences of released prisoners and notes an emergent focus on the personal agony of redemption. This has a contingent rather than an integral relation to the concern with rehabilitation and control espoused by criminal justice officials, but none the less enables the communication of culturally enriching stories to audiences who might not otherwise be interested in the problems of released prisoners. Academic criminology should take heed of these stories, and make more use of them, pedagogically and politically.