Journalists John McCoy and Ethan Hoffman spent four months inside the walls of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla in 1978, just as Washington, once a leader in prison reform, abandoned its focus on reform and rehabilitation and returned to cell time and punishment. It was a brutal transition.
McCoy and Hoffman roamed the maximum-security compound almost at will, observing and befriending prisoners and guards. The result is a striking depiction of a community in which there was little to do, much to fear, and a culture that both mimicked and scorned the outside world. McCoy's unadorned prose and Hoffman's stunning black-and-white photographs offer as authentic a portrayal of life in the Big House as "outsiders" are ever likely to experience.
Originally published in 1981, Concrete Mama revealed a previously unseen stark and complex world of life on the inside, for which it won the Washington State Book Award. Long unavailable yet still relevant, it is revitalized in a second edition with an introduction by scholar Dan Berger that provides historical context for the book's ongoing resonance, along with several previously unpublished photographs.
About the Author
John A. McCoy is the author of A Still and Quiet Conscience, a biography of Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen. He was a reporter and editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and has taught writing courses at the University of Washington-Tacoma and Seattle University. Ethan Hoffman (1949-1990) was a photographer for the London Sunday Times and Paris Match, and his photo essays appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Esquire, and Life. His photography has been exhibited in several museums, including the Smithsonian. Dan Berger is associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell, and an interdisciplinary historian focusing on critical prison studies. He is the author of several books, including Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, and coauthor most recently of Rethinking the American Prison Movement.