criminal justice, prison, reading, writing

MY BEAUTIFUL OUBLIETTE

A few months ago I encouraged my prison pen pal Dean Faiello to write about the difficulties of being a writer in prison. Correctional officers had just destroyed his typewriter, and he had to go back to writing by hand. We went back and forth for a while, with me editing his piece and making suggestions on what to add and what to leave out. His essay just got published in Lithub.

“As I write this piece, March Madness is taking place. It is 7 am and my fellow prisoners are gathered in the dayroom of the Cayuga Correctional Facility around a flatscreen TV, reliving last night’s basketball game. The final score was tallied eight hours ago, but the men are still fighting for points and disputing calls. Last night, a battle took place on the basketball court and in the dayroom. Men cheered, jeered, shouted and cursed.

“Because it was still too dark in the dorm room to write—on the weekends, the lights don’t come on until 2 pm—I chose the dayroom, a raucous romper room of men watching sports, arguing and playing dominoes by slamming the plastic tiles down onto a Formica table. Here, even chess is a trash-talking contact sport.

“Prisons are not set up to inspire writers; I have few choices of where to put down my piece of paper and write. That’s the whole idea of prison rehabilitation—limit the choices and temptations that daily life offers, and hopefully, men will learn to make the right decisions. But the reality is that many of us simply find a way to get what we want. Prison makes us smarter criminals.”

Read more…

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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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literary journalism, outsiders, reading, review, stereotypes

Of Long-Winded Female Writers and Role Models

hairpin copy

Just out on The Hairpin (very fitting considering the title of this blog):

One recent morning I awoke cranky and tired due to one too many Cosmos and a third night of insomnia. My first book was published a few months ago and I naively thought I would finally have some time to relax, some time for “pure happiness.” But it suddenly seemed like the real work had only begun. For months now I’ve been struggling with… let’s call it exhaustion. Yet again the difficult question loomed: how do we writers experience and accept obstacles without being buried alive?

As I sat on the couch griping, my husband tossed me The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan (1917-1993), an old-time New Yorker writer of the kind they don’t make anymore. Or if they do, theNew Yorker doesn’t publish them.

“You’ll love it,” he said. This would not be a workday, I resolved guiltily. I grabbed the book and one of the cats and went back to bed, sulking.

I was surprised to catch glimpses of an answer to my question in Brennan’s short sketches of life in New York, the city she called “half-capsized (…) with the inhabitants hanging on, most of them still able to laugh as they cling to the island that is their life’s predicament.” Somehow her short profiles of the invisible, the fragile, the mean, the lost and the lonely—the seen-but-immediately-forgotten—lifted my mood. They are the types we run into on the subway or at the bodega, mostly bypassing them, the way we try to bypass our own opaque emotions. In Brennan’s work a broken heel, a sudden rainstorm, a collapsed stranger, provide a window into her complex inner and outer worlds.

Read more…

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Among Murderers, discussion, Quakers, reading

Returning to the Rochester Quakers

Each Friday night a small group of Quakers from Rochester go into Attica prison to talk to prisoners and sit in silence. The chapter “Silent Forgiveness” in Among Murderers details my first trip to Rochester and Attica in December 2007, my protagonist’s connection to the Quakers, and my personal struggles with religion and forgiveness.

I’ve stayed in touch with Judy Halley, who used to run the Friday night Quaker meeting inside Attica prison and who helped facilitate my first visit. Judy recently invited me to do a reading and a discussion at the Quaker meeting house in Rochester.  I have never spoken in front a group that was more engaged and engaging, more insightful and intelligent than the one I met that night. (And the homemade cookies were excellent, despite Judy’s worries about the event. “Every time I got nervous I made another batch,” she had told me.)

Filmmaker Sam Avery, Judy’s friend, videotaped the event, and my friend Franzi Lamprecht helped me edit the video.

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