Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Amor  Towles

Sophia  Tirabassi 

Presidential Policies of the 1980s: The Creation of the Prison Industrial Complex

Amor Towles: The Search for Identity Amidst Societal Pressure to Conform

During the 1980s War on Drugs and President Ronald Reagan's administration, mass incarceration and an increase in harsh prison sentencing became the catalyst for the privatization of prisons. Private prisons are run by wealthy corporations with selfish pursuits for profit. As a result, private prisons have disregarded the humanity of prisoners, making their well-being and safety a last priority, while capitalizing on a cheap source of labor. This has become known as the prison industrial complex in which the incarcerated create greater revenue for their shareholders. This wave of mass incarceration revealed the War on Drugs’ facade as its true intention was a war on race. Therefore, the prison industry is not simply a form of punishment but rather a “redesigned racial caste.” The prison industrial complex not only strips individuals of their dignity and rights, but embraces the helpless cycle of exploitation that never dies. Such a cycle is celebrated by the dominance of white policy makers, rich corporate owners, and the American public, who even if unaware of it, have accepted the institutions of the past in their current forms. Through targeting communities of color, the oppression of the past has been brought back to life, and slavery has ultimately been reinvented.

Similarly, in Amor Towles’ works, the main characters are oppressed by their societies and the people who govern them, causing them to be stripped of their individual identities. In Rules of Civility , A Gentleman in Moscow, and Eve in Hollywood, the pressure to conform is rooted in societal expectations, especially the attainment of the material aspects of the American dream. These pressures cause individuals to lose their sense of self, therefore searching for their identities in their relationships with others, or in the ways of the past. This search for self is further hindered however, as Towles’ characters always desire more. In the face of their confinement whether physical government control, or society's rigid expectations, the characters are only able to shed their conformity once they escape the restraints of their aristocracy, letting go of their wealth and social status.

Major Works Consulted:

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow. New York: New Press, 2012.
DuVernay, Ava. 13th. Dir. Ava DuVernay. Sherman Oaks: Kandoo Films, 2016.
Towles, Amor. A Gentleman in Moscow. London: Windmill Books, 2016.
---. Rules of Civility. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.
Photo Credit: “Amor Towles: Bio.” Amor Towles.