Baz Dreisinger has crossed oceans and boundaries—both figuratively and literally—in her new book, Incarceration Nations, which provides a first-hand account of Dreisinger’s two-year quest to penetrate the walls of some of the most notorious correctional facilities around the globe. Dreisinger maintains a dual purpose in her pilgrimage and her account. She hopes to inject small doses of hope and creativity into the inmates she encounters, as well as provide an account to the world that will foster awareness and spur a cause-to-action mentality for the prison crisis that exists in today’s world. Dreisinger’s work seems to accomplish both purposes, as the impact that she has made in the lives of the people who reside in “The Houses of the Living Dead” is evident. The astounding facts and accounts of the inmates’ lives that are carefully crafted into this book have and continue to invoke necessary changes in the global prison system.
Amidst a serious and controversial topic, Dreisinger’s personal account of her prison pilgrimage is artfully and skillfully carried out. The book is intimate and engaging from the point that Dreisinger walks past the uzi-wielding guards in Africa, to the moment when she reaches the Norwegian ferry boat and its “criminal” crew. She dedicates ample page space to thorough descriptions of the areas of the world that she is encountering, as well as the human beings that make up the populations of the facilities she is exploring. Throughout the book, Dreisinger emanates an honest and insightful tone, and weaves an abundance of figurative language into the selfless-but-memoir-style narratives that she is recounting for each of the areas she describes. Her work is filled with facts and statistics, but never has the semblance of a stagnant informational text.
Much of the content in Incarceration Nations is provided in a poetic and illustrious way. In many cases, the use of literary devices such as metaphors and vivid imagery could seem out of place in an informative nonfiction piece, but Dreisinger’s creative writing style is perfectly suited for the people and the places that she is describing. Dreisinger’s descriptions draw the reader into each of the scenes that she depicts, and help to create a mental picture that allows one to fully appreciate the unique situations of the facilities and the people that they house. For example, when depicting Pollsmoor Prison in South Africa, Dreisinger makes note of the stark difference that often typifies an institution and its surroundings with this statement: “The backdrop of exquisite mountain ranges is staggering: the whole prison is reminiscent of refuse discarded in the middle of Eden.” A description of the view outside a Bangkok women’s facility window delineates the same sort of contrast: “The scene outside the window steals my attention; its lush green mountains and rice paddies opening their arms to eternity. Why is the road to hell, around the world, paved with magical vistas? It makes their dramatic disruption by concrete towers and shimmering barbed wire that much more unsettling, a startling marriage of ugliness and beauty.” The use of figurative language such as this is an effective avenue for Dreisinger to accurately share the experiences of her expedition.
Every person that Dreisinger meets along her journey is fully characterized in a way typical of literary work, but generally atypical of nonfiction informational pieces. The character descriptions that Dreisinger provides foster humanity and individualism in the people whose accounts she is giving. This careful characterization allows the reader to be reminded that the people who are incarcerated are not merely statistics, but human beings. For example, in a prison in Uganda, Dreisinger meets Wilson, a leader and positive role-model to his fellow prisoners. Dreisinger provides a fitting description of Wilson through careful exposition and dialogue, as appropriate in this nonfiction informational work as it would be in any literary work. The reader learns that Wilson is an intelligent and sensible man with an extremely disadvantaged upbringing, and is part of an interesting group of diverse personalities participating in the creative writing program that Dreisinger is incorporating during her visit to this prison. This type of carefully crafted narrative style and characterization is utilized in the descriptions of all the prisons that Dreisinger visited on her pilgrimage. Dreisinger invites the reader to become intimately involved with each of the prisoners she describes, and potentially evokes a bit of appreciation for the lives to which they are bound.
All of the accounts of Dreisinger’s two-year pilgrimage are presented in a way that utilizes figurative language and creative literary devices. This style adds to the impact of what Dreisinger experienced, and allows the reader to sense the reality and the urgency of the global prison crisis, as well as recognize the need for change. Throughout Incarceration Nations, a sometimes forgotten sub-society is brought to light, and Dreisinger is able to share and foster the entity that keeps her mission and her work alive: hope.