criminal justice, institutions, murder, prison

One mean mutt

Pep, the dog who was sentenced to life in prison in 1924 for killing Pennsylvania governor’s cat
The Daily Mail Online, by Daniel Miller

He was known as the Pennsylvania cat-murderer, a vicious hound sentenced to life imprisonment at Eastern State Penitentiary for the grisly killing of the governor’s moggie. In his prison mugshot from 1924, he is seen with ears drooping backwards, an identification number hanging form around his neck looking decisively guilty.

According to newspapers stories at the time, Pep the Black Labrador attacked and killed a cat belonging to the wife of Pennsylvania’s then governor Gifford Pinchot.

Showing absolutely no remorse for his despicable crimes, Pep was sent down for life with no chance of parole.

But he was framed. Pep was actually entirely innocent, and his actual offence was nothing more serious than chewing the cushions of the sofa on the governor’s front porch.

The account of him killing the cat was entirely fictitious, made up by a newspaper reporter taking a touch more than his fair share of journalistic licence.

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Among Murderers, interview

My favorite prison books

For her article “Beyond ‘Orange is the New Black’: 8 eye-opening prison books” Carolina Miranda interviewed Patricia Zamorano, Pete Brook and me for the Los Angeles Times:

Like a lot of people, I got sucked in by the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black”: the totally backstabby soap operatic twists, Lea DeLaria’s comedic awesomeness as Big Boo, the luminosity of Samira Wiley as Poussey (memo to execs: please cast her in everything!), all of the inventive tampon sculptures, and the fact that there exists a buzzed-about show with a bunch of African American women and Latinas. (…)

“With all of that in mind, I thought this represented a perfect time to take a look back at the body of literature about incarceration. Rather than choose the books myself, however, I’ve turned to three cultural figures who are interested in the topic of prisons, and they each share works that they consider insightful or influential. They include…

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prison, reading, writing

A bookworm in prison

Nice essay in The New Yorker about a compulsively reading prisoner. From “A Prisoner’s Reading List” by Alex Halberstadt:

He also remarked, offhandedly, that his authentic education as a reader began not while he was a history major at N.Y.U. or working at a literary agency in Manhattan but at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, in Stormville, New York. There, he offered, he had read a thousand and forty-six books.” 

(By the way, the subject of this essay is the writer of an another article posted on my blog: Daniel Genis wrote about “Keeping Kosher in Prison” for The Daily Beast a few months back.)

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criminal justice, faith, institutions, outsiders, prison

Keeping Kosher in Prison

The Daily Beast:

A Jewish Ex-Con Recalls Keeping Kosher with the Faithful in Prison

By Daniel Genis

As of 2014, 1,500 of New York’s 56,000 prisoners are Jews that keep kosher. If you really believe that all 1500 were avoiding pork before they got behind the wall, you’ve got another thing coming. I am a real Jew, albeit a bad Soviet one, and know something about the community of Jews in prison.

Prison is much more receptive to skinheads and the Nation of Islam, than it is to Jews; and the cops I encountered weren’t too fond of us either. I had to decide very quickly, upon arrival, whether I would practice or not. But my Bar Mitzvah rabbi survived the camps, camps he could have probably avoided because of his Aryan looks. How could I forget his dictate to always be proud to be a Jew, even in circumstances when it might not seem to ones advantage? Perhaps the prisons of New York state were not quite what he meant, but in the end practicing my faith and never denying it only sharpened my will and sense of self. And the community inside, which clings to its rituals and traditions, is strong and cohesive enough that it draws curious new converts. Only in America do prisoners convert to Judaism. Poor old Yakov Smirnov would have said, ‘Vat a country!’

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Among Murderers

YIPPIE! AN IPPY!

I am extremely happy to announce that my book Among Murderers: Life After Prison has won a 2014 Gold IPPY Award in the category current affairs/social issues. To see the full list of winners, click on the image below.

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Among Murderers, criminal justice, fantasies, institutions, murder, press, prison, rehabilitation, writing

Maximum Sentence

Just out on The Paris Review Daily:

I mailed a copy of my book Among Murderers, about the struggles three men faced when they returned to the world after several decades behind bars, to Richard Robles, a pen pal serving an indeterminate life sentence in New York’s Attica Prison. Prison reading and mailing policies are designed to reinforce the feeling of punishment. Family and friends cannot simply send books; they have to come directly from the publisher or an online bookstore. Most prisons only allow paperbacks—Attica, a rare exception, permits hardcovers. I couldn’t find detailed mailing instructions on Attica’s website, so I called the prison. “Send it through the publisher—and don’t hide no weapon in it,” the employee blurted. Richard wrote me that he almost had to return the book.

[My] name wasn’t on the “buyer’s side” of the invoice. The guard said something about a new rule that prisoners have to buy the book. But as you can see I did get it, after another guard said something to him. Miracles, right?

I did consider it a small miracle when, a few weeks later, I began to receive letters from men who had borrowed the book from Richard. Prison is a dark world far away from ours, and communications travel slowly. We may have forgotten “them,” but they never forget us. My book quickly made its way around Richard’s cell block; several prisoners mailed me their reviews, chronicling their ambitious attempts at self-improvement and their struggle to prepare themselves for a world that doesn’t want them back.

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Self-portrait by Richard Robles, pencil, 2013

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