‘Docile bodies shuffling in unison’: The Prisoner as Worker in Canadian Prison Writing

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Focusing on recent life writing by Canadian prisoners, this article explores the relatively unexamined representation of the prisoner as worker. Drawing together prison memoirs as well as works published in prison serials, anthologies, and volumes of poetry, it examines incarcerated authors’ depictions of prison labour. In their emphasis on the alienating, numbing effects of such work, these texts present a counter-narrative to the vision more commonly promoted by the state — and by liberal society generally — of the rehabilitative value of prison labour. This body of literature provides a direct counterpoint to the way in which CORCAN, the federal agency that employs prisoners, represents the value of prison work. The writings not only serve as counter-narratives to the state's representation of prison labour, but they also desire to be read as statements about the world beyond the prison. The prison, these authors insist, provides a unique vantage point from which to critique the capitalist economy controlling the lives of people both inside and outside the prison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-327
Number of pages15
JournalLife Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Canadian literature
  • Class
  • Prison labour
  • Prison writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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