Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a senior fellow at Demos and a writer on social justice issues. His latest book is The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

Recent Articles

Today's Other America

A large indentured class of workers is struggling to escape debt
rather than build a better life.

(Flickr/The Retro Gigolo)
Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do by Gabriel Thompson, Nation Books, 298 pages, $24.95 American Dream Dying: The Changing Economic Lot of the Least Advantaged by Peter D. McClelland and Peter H. Tobin Rowman & Littlefield, 127 pages, $32.95 Weeks into a year-long project working the dirty, exhausting, repetitive jobs disproportionately done by undocumented immigrants, Brooklyn-based writer and activist Gabriel Thompson comes to a realization. "It's simply not possible," he writes in his new book Working in the Shadows , "to do this work for decades and not suffer noticeable body modifications, such as a permanently hunched back, crooked fingers, and hands so swollen that they look as if someone has attached a valve to a finger and pumped vigorously." In the shadows, Thompson picks up work alongside Mexican laborers in the winter lettuce fields of Yuma, Arizona, earning $8.37 per hour to pick, trim, and package thousands of lettuce heads per...



Watching Steven Soderbergh?s Che as Obama begins his presidency was a curious experience -- a chance to ponder both the power of personality and the seductive notion that change can be embodied in one individual. Ernest ?Che? Guevara was of a different moment, of course ? the Argentine doctor-turned-revolutionary was an uncompromising man more interested in blowing up bridges than building them, more interested in war-tinged rhetoric than that of service. Che earned his revolutionary stripes in his campaign, alongside Fidel Castro, to liberate Cuba from the despotic US-backed leader Fulgencia Batista. His record in the wake of peace is spottier, however -- he had disastrous turns as the commander of La Cabana prison, in charge of purging Batista?s ranks, and as head of Cuba?s National Bank and the minister of industry. He left behind those positions to foment revolution in other countries, including the Congo and Mozambique -- victory in Cuba seemed conditional and fraught with the...

The Misshapen Mind

Two new books argue that the human brain's haphazard evolution has left us at the prey of irrational behaviors and self-defeating instincts.

The human mind, we like to think, is an embodiment of perfection. For those with a religious inclination, our ability to think through issues logically, to construct narratives about our surroundings, and to recall events that happened decades earlier is proof positive of a divine hand at work. For the nonreligious, the mind is a secular miracle, an indication that, left to its own devices, evolution produces something akin to a Panglossian vision of the best outcomes in the best of all possible worlds. Two new books beg to differ. The first, New York University psychologist Gary Marcus' Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind (Houghton Mifflin, April 2008) sets out to show the many ways in which the human mind is an evolutionary hodge-podge, a series of good-enough solutions to the problem of understanding and responding to our environment. The second is The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't -- and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger (Dutton, June 2008), by...

A Worthy Diversion

Pennsylvania has developed a model program to keep offenders with mental illness out of the criminal-justice system.

One night last winter, Sally Judson was arrested for prostitution and disorderly conduct. She was also charged with resisting arrest and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Judson, who has schizophrenia as well as a heroin addiction, is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans clogging the criminal-justice system for drug offenses. Many, like Judson, are also mentally ill, and the system often fails to treat the mental illness and instead ends up just submerging it in the criminal behavior. But Judson (not her real name) was fortunate to be arrested in Pittsburgh, one of several U.S. cities pioneering a new and promising approach to treating mentally ill offenders that uses a diversion strategy supervised by newly created mental-health courts. After being arrested and placed in the intake area of the jail, Judson was identified as mentally ill by staff of the Allegheny County Office of Behavioral Health, according to the office's Amy Kroll. Two hours later, Judson went for...

Reforming a Prison Nation

Two students of mass incarceration in America discuss the current political moment and the prospects for rolling back the carceral state.

Sasha Abramsky is the author of American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment and a senior fellow at Demos. Marie Gottschalk is the author of The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America and associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. In the e-mail exchange below, they discuss the current political climate surrounding issues of crime and imprisonment and the prospects for changing American criminal justice policies. --- ABRAMSKY: Marie, one of the common themes in both of our books is the notion that the past always haunts the present. Political, racial, and economic divisions from bygone eras influence contemporary social attitudes toward crime and punishment and affect which individuals and groups are most likely to fall under the control of one or another criminal justice agency. Institutional legacies also matter. Today's experiment with wholesale incarceration in the...