Fiction is my favorite genre - it's a great escape to get lost in a book. That being said, I do also like to read non-fiction titles that challenge my beliefs, expose me to lives outside of my own perspective and have an impact on society. It is books about people that draw me in the most. Chris Hedges' new book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison is my latest listen - and its powerful.
Hedges is a Presbyterian minister, a former war correspondent and a Pulitzer prize winning author. In 2013 he started teaching in the college degree program offered by Rutgers University at the East Jersey State Prison. In that first class at the prison, the students started reading Black American playwrights, poets and leaders, with the goal being to write and stage their own play.
The students share their own histories, hopes, dreams and disappointments and these experiences form the basis of the play. Their recounting of life in the prison system are hard to listen to. The treatment inside the prison walls is degrading, cruel, racist, appalling and dehumanizing. The writing of the play, the learning, the discussion, the interior soul searching and being part of a dynamic group with the same goal, and the continued success of those who took part is a testament to the program and the ideology behind it. And cathartic for the participants.
I enjoyed hearing each man's story - they are raw and powerful. Hedges weaves other articles, history and other leader's lives into the book. "It exposes the terrible crucible and injustice of America’s penal system and the struggle by those trapped within its embrace to live lives of dignity, meaning, and purpose."
I've said it before and I'll say it again - there are times when listening draws me deeper into a book, rather than reading a physical copy. Our Class is one of those cases. Prentice Onayemi was the reader and his performance was excellent. Onayemi has a rich, full, resonant tone to his voice that is so pleasant to listen to. His speaking is modulated and his pacing is perfect. There are many emotional elements to this audiobook and Onayemi captures them without losing that resonance or becoming strident. Instead, that low tone seems to underline and emphasize the work with quiet power. He was the perfect choice for the narrator. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Our Class.