I began working in the California prison system in 2008, the year Barack Obama won his first election. In the prison, the response to the news of his victory was quiet. About two‐thirds of the men in the outpatient program where I work are African‐American, and about as many have spent or will spend much of their adult lives locked up, many of them serving terms of twenty‐five years to life for nonviolent crimes. Asked how they felt about the election, inmates in the program answered that it didn’t matter. The response wasn’t skeptical — it was bitter. Now, in Obama’s second term, their attitudes toward Obama continue to be ambivalent: they express a clear sense of the irony of their position at the present historical moment — a moment in which the laws of this country continue to deny equal protection to a large...

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