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In Furor Over Poet With Child Porn Conviction, Prison Abolitionists Debate the Limits of Mercy

[theintercept.com – 2/14/21]

Is Poetry magazine “platforming toxicity” or promoting the “practice of freedom”?

A bedrock principle of the prison abolitionist movement is that you don’t ask an incarcerated person what they’re in for. It’s more than etiquette. To eschew the identity that the punitive state assigns — which could be false — is to see someone whole. “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” says Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson. Even a murderer is somebody’s baby.

That’s the way guest editors Tara Betts, Joshua Bennett, and Sarah Ross — poets, abolitionists, and educators behind bars and in the free world — approached the submissions to “The Practice of Freedom,” the February 2021 issue of Poetry magazine. The issue features the work of people who are or were incarcerated, their families, and those who work in “carceral spaces.” The contributors had already been judged and punished; the editors would judge the work, no rap sheet attached, not its makers.

And this is how a poem by Kirk Nesset made it into the pages of Poetry. Nesset, a 63-year-old former Allegheny College English professor, pleaded guilty in 2015 to possession, receipt, and distribution of child pornography; he was sentenced to 76 months in federal prison and released this fall. He is now on the sex offender registry in Arizona.

Read the full article

 

Join the discussion

  1. The Outspoken Offender

    This article makes me so upset. Why are all other crimes besides sex crimes okay? Why don’t the victims from the other poet writers demand the removal of their entries? I just don’t get what is going through these people’s minds.

    This man has done his time. End of story. He should be just as equal as anyone that served time. I am happy to hear that the editors did not remove the poem in question. Good for them! Way to stand up!

    Of course, I’m sorry for what victims have to go through. But this isn’t a debate about criminals vs. victims. It’s about a poem. It’s about literacy. Who gives a shit what the writer has done. Let him/her speak through poetry and get off your high-horse.

  2. Bill

    It’s not like the poem is inciting criminal behavior. I think it’s absurd in silencing the Registrant’s voice in the arts and literature from society. If anything we need to be heard more.

    I think as a whole society have put too much emphasis on covering up uncomfortable truths: that we are more than the sums of our past charges. The refusal for this “victim society” to humanize the Registrant only keeps the healing process from occurring between the victim and the perpetrator.

    And what about those with CP charges that have no victims? I’m one of those Registrants. Should I never be heard so we can mollycoddle these “perpetual victims” so they can never heal and be the continual mascot for militant activists? I know that’s a harsh thing to say…but there’s truth in harsh things.

  3. Dustin

    I’ll say again – there was not ONE SINGLE COMPLAINT about the poem, only the author. The same people would tell AIDS patients not to take the cure if the person who discovered it was a registrant.

  4. Brandon

    I believe part of the problem is sex something all humans engage in at some point; which way to many people are outraged while they have sexual fantasies or sex skeletons in their closet. Don’t look at my sex life, it’s those people. Nobody mentioned his poem just his crime causing outrage. If people are outraged by someone then don’t engage with that person; but don’t project your outrage on others to influence them.

    • @ Brandon

      It’s called projecting. They point to others to distract from their own issues. It seems to be the national pastime of the U.S.
      We are the most accusatory, judgmental, projectionist society I have ever been around. And I have travelled extensively.
      Personally, I feel it has to do with the saturation of religious pompousness in this population. Everyone uses it to justify and hide at the same time. I give you the southern states as example #1.

  5. Facts should matter

    In America, there’s NO escaping the weaponized hatred that the label “sex offender” fosters. Because of the emotional hysteria and toxic climate the label promotes, you’re simply unable to live your life to the fullest all because of fabricated controversy and manufactured outrage. Once on the registry, there’s no lower bar to set. Talented and want to contribute and give back? Sorry, you’ll always be a gutter ball no matter how hard you aim for a strike.

    Banishment. Disenfranchisement Disinclusion Censorship.

    All in the name of “public safety.”

  6. Joe123

    Poor guy had 76 months of HIS LIFE removed for digital images of what has already occurred in the past.

    Now THAT is the true tragedy!

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