What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
There are a couple issues I had to tackle head-on. Since the 1970s, Americans have witnessed the increasingly retributive spirit of this country’s prisons. It was imperative to show that while there have always been debates about reformation and retribution, the current environment is an historical anomaly.
For people who had any knowledge of prison history, I wanted to deal with some false notions about Quakers and Calvinists. Some scholars have posited accounts of the early prisons in which kind-hearted Quakers were just lovely to prisoners while bloodthirsty Calvinists wanted inmates to suffer deeply for their crimes. This simply is not the case.
Quakers, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and other interested religious reformers shared in a fairly unified approach to prisons and prisoners. They wanted reformative prisons. They wanted inmates to be led through a series of experiences that prompted their redemption. They all disavowed torture and abuse. Really, their only disagreements were about corporal punishment, namely whipping. Some Protestant reformers affirmed the limited use of whipping. But even Quakers who disavowed whipping found other ways to enact discipline on the body, such as gagging. . .
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