The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Odysseus in the Yard

June 16, 2014 | by

Celebrating Bloomsday in prison.

Poldy

An illustration of Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s notes, ca. 1941.

The man I affectionately termed Odysseus, though never to his face, was sixty-five and ailing. He was Philip Rubinitz, a onetime actor who had served about twenty years by then for the crime of stabbing his best friend through the heart with an antique SS dagger. Nevertheless, he was the facility rabbi’s clerk. His liver was failing and his back hurt, but he took laps with me around the yard of Green Haven Correctional Facility, observing our simulated Dublin through cataracts in his eyes. It must have been hard for him to keep up with my much younger legs, but he tottered around our Nightown seeking out a way home to his long-lost wife with the same fervor that Leopold Bloom had. His parole date was still five years away. I followed around full of the overconfidence and energy of youth and insecurity, much like Stephen Dedalus. It was June 16, several years ago now, and little did Rubinitz know that he was helping me celebrate Bloomsday in the yard.

After I’d been convicted, my father had said, “Good. You’ll finally read Joyce.” But it took a few years inside to finally come to it. Having initially avoided Ulysses, my mind was blown when I finally gathered the fortitude to read it—the scales fell from my eyes, and from then on I decided I had to celebrate Bloomsday with the rest of the converts.

None of whom, it seemed, were anywhere near me. Working as a prison librarian, I had seen a few men attempt A Portrait of the Artist, but our edition of Ulysses always stood on the shelf gathering dust. Grim, thick, and foreboding, it was too imposing in reputation for even the most ambitious of convicts. Finnegans Wake wasn’t available at all. The civilian librarians knew better. Read More »

5 COMMENTS

How to Photograph the Inside of Your Body, and Other News

March 18, 2014 | by

body photo

If this digestive tract thrills you, imagine what a kick you’ll get out of your own! Image via Beautiful Decay

  • The eccentric poet Bill Knott once faked his own death, but last week he really died. (Unless this is one hell of an elaborate ruse.) He wrote of himself: “my poetic career is nugatory … no editor will countenance my work; i’ve been forced to self-publish my poetry in vanity volumes; i am persona non grata and universally despised or ridiculed by everyone in the poetry world.”
  • The truculent, condescending subtext of the word actually.
  • Checking in with Alejandro Jodorowsky, everyone’s favorite cult filmmaker: “‘Maybe I am a prophet,’ he said in 1973. ‘I really hope one day there will come Confucius, Muhammad, Buddha and Christ to see me. And we will sit at a table, taking tea and eating some brownies.’”
  • One way to get a glimpse at the inside of your body: swallow a frame of 35 millimeter film, “folding each piece in a brightly colored capsule that allow[s] for the acids and bodily fluids to process the film with minimal risk of colon damage.”
  • Punishments of the future: “What happens to life sentences if the human lifespan is radically expanded?”

 

NO COMMENTS

Maximum Sentence

February 28, 2014 | by

How prisoners perceive—and misperceive—life in the outside world.

Richard_selfportrait_cl_w

Richard Robles’s self portrait, 2013

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. Read More »

6 COMMENTS

Opulence of Twaddle, Penury of Sense, and Other News

February 19, 2014 | by

Ambrose_Bierce_1892-10-07

Bierce in 1892, barely containing his rage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

 

1 COMMENT

The Modern Monastery: Pussy Riot in Prison

October 11, 2012 | by

Philadelphia's Walnut Street Penitentiary

“Prison,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said in her interview with GQ, “is like a monastery—it’s a place for ascetic practices.” Member of the celebrated but incarcerated band Pussy Riot, Tolokonnikova gave voice to the belief that prison can be a soul-changing institution: an idea that inspired the American penal system.

The same year that America declared its independence from Great Britain, Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail opened. Its first major addition came in 1790 at the instigation of Quaker reformers who proposed “a penitentiary house” of sixteen individual cells for solitary confinement.

The penitentiary, unlike jails or prisons, set itself to the task of rehabilitating prisoners. Religious penance became the paradigm for criminal punishment; the monastic chamber served as the model for the prison cell. Walnut Street exemplified the philosophy of what became known as the Pennsylvania System, which separated prisoners from one another while enforcing silence and manual labor as mechanisms for transformation.

Read More »

2 COMMENTS