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“It’s a Trap”: Captivity and the Possibility of Escape in a San Francisco County Jail

Samuel Maull
Dissertation Writer. Department of Anthropology, Stanford University
Date and Time: 
Monday, February 24, 2020 - 12:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Incarceration is not the only trap in the lives of poor Black men in San Francisco County Jail 5, it’s not necessarily even the most pressing one. From the police use of bait tactics and entrapment, to welfare laws and the ‘invisible punishments’ of legalized discrimination against people with felony convictions, these men are under no illusions that they were never meant to succeed. Captivity, which is only manifested most openly in prisons and jails, is a definitive characteristic of life for these men and for their families in ways that precede, succeed, and supersede the jail itself. A carceral logic extends across American society, presenting captivity as the dark mirror in which the freedom and security enjoyed in American society are reflected – and against which they are defined. Using Damien Sojoyner’s conception of fugitivity and scholarship from musicology on Trap music, I examine the possibility of moments of escape in the lives of my interlocutors which register neither as heroic resistance nor as succumbing to the (impossible) rehabilitative ideals of the jail.



Samuel Maull is writing up his dissertation which explores the relationship between intergenerational dynamics, anti-blackness, and responsibility in a San Francisco county jail.