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The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict
Austin Reed was born to a free black man in Rochester, New York in the 1820s. As a child, he was sent to Manhattan’s House of Refuge, the first juvenile reformatory in America, where he learned to read and write. In the decades that followed, Reed would be repeatedly incarcerated in the world-famous and often copied model industrial prison, New York’s Auburn State Prison. His memoir excavates patterns of racial segregation, exploitation, and bondage that link the prison to plantation slavery in the decade before the Civil War. The handwritten draft of Reed’s memoir was hidden away in private archives for nearly a century and a half. It is a very rare example of a document from this period by an African-American writer–especially one with so much to say about questions of captivity, race, freedom, and human rights. At a time when new debates and movements are taking shape around mass incarceration and militarized policing in America, Reed’s narrative offers insights into the connection between race and the penal system.
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