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American Studies Colloquium: Dr. Chin Jou

October 27 @ 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

The Department of American Studies Fall 2022 Colloquium Series

When: Thursday, October 27, 2022, 11:30 AM

Where: Donovan Lounge (Greenlaw 223)

“‘I Find It Amazing That the Riot Would Be Based on Food’: U.S. Prison Uprisings Since the 1970s.”

On August 21, 2009, people incarcerated at Kentucky’s Northpoint Training Center set fire to six buildings on the prison compound. The fire injured 16 people and the costs of rebuilding totaled nearly $11 million. After the fire, Kentucky state lawmakers held hearings to determine the causes of the Northpoint uprising. When one Northpoint correction officer testified that poor food was responsible, a state legislator replied, “I find it amazing that the riot would be based on food.” This talk is a response to that sentiment. Numerous U.S. prison uprisings in the mass incarceration era have implicated inadequate food, and food has been central to the morale of incarcerated people—a reality many correction officials have readily acknowledged. These uprisings have been the culmination of long-simmering grievances over food that have gone unaddressed, and they have been occasions for incarcerated people to draw attention to what they deem their broader dehumanization by the carceral state. Focusing on food in prison uprisings also prompts a reconsideration of some of these events not as instances of spontaneous, senseless violence conforming to the worst stereotypes of incarcerated people, but arguably as the maneuvering of rational actors whose seizure of available direct action has, in some cases, borne fruit.

Dr. Chin Jou is a senior lecturer in twentieth-century U.S. history at the University of Sydney. She is the author of Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017. She has published on a range of topics related to the prison industrial complex, African American history, American foodways, and obesity, in the American Quarterly, the Journal of Urban History, Gastronomica, the New England Journal of Medicine, and other journals, as well as in media outlets like The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Scientific American, and HuffPost. She is currently the Founders’ Fellow at the National Humanities Center, where she is completing a book manuscript titled, Captive Consumers: Prison Food in the Era of Mass Incarceration.