Reading Resolution: “On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City” by Alice Goffman

11. A non-fiction book: On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman


List Progress: 11/25

This is a book review by a young white woman about a book by a young white woman studying the societal impact of over-policing on young black men. I have no lived experience concerning the subject matter of this book, and neither does Alice Goffman really, but she spent six years trying her best to learn as much as she could living in a lower-class, predominantly black neighborhood in Philadelphia. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City was published in 2014 as writer Goffman’s doctoral thesis on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in black neighborhoods. It is a powerful book and thankfully one that reads with the rigour of an academic text but none of the dryness. It is a hard read at times, but never hard to read, and worth putting in the time.

On the Run is about the time that Goffman spends in an anonymous neighborhood given the name Sixth Street in Philadelphia and her time with the 6th Street Boys, young black men who live in the neighborhood and are almost all somehow caught up in the legal system. Violent crimes, drug possession charges, parking violations, and any other myriad thing drags out into months and years of court dates, fines, arrest warrants, imprisonments, parole hearings and probations, which quickly snowball and consume a huge portion of their lives and the lives of those around them. Goffman tracks not only the personal impact on these young men, but the ways the entire neighborhoods around them change and how the culture of these communities comes to revolve around some aspect of law enforcement or another. It is a deeply depressing picture of a social condition that has only gotten worse since 2014.

I do not have much more to say other than that this book is a moving study and very well composed and arranged. Goffman includes a long post-script about her own approach to the work and dealing with her own privilege in the study, which I respect despite it not being as interesting to read as the work itself. It was very eye-opening as a middle class white woman and a book I think should be read by a lot more people. And due to some smooth prose, it is thankfully not a slog to get through.

Would I Recommend It: Yes

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