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Abstract

This article outlines two graphic novels and an accompanying activity designed to unpack complicated intersections between racism, poverty, and (d)evolving criminal-legal policy. Over 2 million adults are held in U.S. prison facilities, and several million more are under custodial supervision, and it has become clearly unsustainable. In the last decade, there has been a shift in media conversations about criminality, yet only a few suggest decreasing our reliance upon incarceration. In meaningfully different ways, the two novels trace the development of incarceration from its roots in slavery to its contemporary anti-democratic iteration and offer an underpublicized alternative.

Critical and community engagement pedagogies mobilize classrooms as exigencies of change. The use of illustrations alongside narration in both texts and this activity allow activist-scholars, both those who contributed to the texts and those in our classrooms, to approach incarceration with the breadth of an introductory overview yet achieve a depth and emotive power only possible through contextualized examples and striking visual storytelling. By explicitly highlighting the language of justice and incarceration and revealing their instability and contingency, students can not only visualize an array of alternatives to incarceration but also better understand the invisible yet powerful ways discourses construct meaning and leverage political power.