Cuz by Danielle S. Allen
The Life and Times of Michael A.

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Among the most valuable contributions Allen makes is forcing us to ask: To what end are we locking up our children? Are we not foreclosing their options before their lives have even begun?
-NY Times

Synopsis

So tender yet courageous is this fierce family memoir that it makes mass incarceration nothing less than a new American tragedy.

In a shattering work that shifts between a woman’s private anguish over the loss of her beloved baby cousin and a scholar’s fierce critique of the American prison system, Danielle Allen seeks answers to what, for many years, felt unanswerable. Why? Why did her cousin, a precocious young man who dreamed of being a firefighter and a writer, end up dead? Why did he languish in prison? And why, at the age of fifteen, was he in an alley in South Central Los Angeles, holding a gun while trying to steal someone’s car?

Cuz means both “cousin” and “because.” In this searing memoir, Allen unfurls a "new American story" about a world tragically transformed by the sudden availability of narcotics and the rise of street gangs―a collision, followed by a reactionary War on Drugs, that would devastate not only South Central L.A. but virtually every urban center in the nation. At thirteen, sensitive, talkative Michael Allen was suddenly tossed into this cauldron, a violent world where he would be tried at fifteen as an adult for an attempted carjacking, and where he would be sent, along with an entire generation, cascading into the spiral of the Los Angeles prison system.

Throughout her cousin Michael’s eleven years in prison, Danielle Allen―who became a dean at the University of Chicago at the age of thirty-two―remained psychically bonded to her self-appointed charge, visiting Michael in prison and corresponding with him regularly. When she finally welcomed her baby cousin home, she adopted the role of "cousin on duty," devotedly supporting Michael’s fresh start while juggling the demands of her own academic career.

As Cuz heartbreakingly reveals, even Allen’s devotion, as unwavering as it was, could not save Michael from the brutal realities encountered by newly released young men navigating the streets of South Central. The corrosive entanglements of gang warfare, combined with a star-crossed love for a gorgeous woman driving a gold Mercedes, would ultimately be Michael’s undoing.

In this Ellisonian story of a young African American man’s coming-of-age in late twentieth-century America, and of the family who will always love Michael, we learn how we lost an entire generation.

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About Danielle S. Allen

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Danielle Allen, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, is a political philosopher widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America. She lives in Princeton.
 
Published September 5, 2017 by Liveright. 252 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Crime. Non-fiction
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NY Times

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Reviewed by Jennifer Senior on Aug 30 2017

Among the most valuable contributions Allen makes is forcing us to ask: To what end are we locking up our children? Are we not foreclosing their options before their lives have even begun?

Read Full Review of Cuz: The Life and Times of Mi... | See more reviews from NY Times

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