The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

Hachette Audio. May 2022. 13:23 hrs. ISBN 9781668605035. $26.98. SOC SCI
Award-winning author Ryan (When Brooklyn Was Queer) brings forward the history of women’s prisons in this country, highlighting how they disproportionately affect lesbians, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people. Specifically, Ryan chronicles the history of the Women’s House of Detention in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The jail helped shape the queer culture of the Village and vice versa. Through Janet Metzger, we hear the voices of some memorable detainees, such as Angela Davis and Afeni Shakur, along with many forgotten ones. Metzger’s matter-of-fact delivery relays the sense of “what you see is what you get” that the women and men who found themselves there came to accept. Ryan states in his introduction that the Women’s House of Detention and all prisons throughout our history “are a monstrously efficient system doing exactly what it was designed to do, hide every social problem we refuse to deal with.” Opened in 1929, the detention house hid poor women, women of color, nongender-conforming people, lesbians, queer women, and women who protested injustices of every kind.
VERDICT Ryan’s historical research and clear writing and Metzger’s matter-of-fact presentation are a must-listen.
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