Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Prisoner's Story

I was amazed that I was chosen to receive this book from the ER program. I spend some of my free time volunteering at the local county jail leading writing circles for female inmates. When I saw I had been chosen to read and review a book about arts in the prison, it felt very familiar and very interesting.

The memoir is actually billed as two memoirs: teacher and pupil/prisoner. Both were fine stories but each had a different rhythm and a different ebb and flow. The more interesting story is that of the poet-prisoner Spoon Jackson. Ms Tannenbaum's is fine, but since this is a kind of follow up to her first memoir which is an actual account of her four years of teaching poetry in San Quentin, I got the impression that her chapters in this book were more to give Mr. Spoons some legitimacy or weight. I don't think they needed it; his story stood very well on its own. By the end, I really wanted to read Disguised as a Poem (Judith Tannenbaum's original memoir) and I wanted to see Spoon's own narrative fleshed out a bit more.

Any reader of this would naturally root for some change in the criminal justice system that might allow Mr. Jackson to get out of prison, but to truly be a well rounded memoir--Mr Spoon would need to explore his crime a bit more. He did kill someone and it would be interesting to hear him write a bit about what that means..even now 20 years after the crime. He glossed over it very quickly in an early chapter.

I found his experiences with the arts in prison quite profound. I thought the way the system moved him capriciously between prisons and programs interesting and I was really astounded to read that he was married not once but twice while incarcerated. (One with "family visits"; one without) These aspects of Spoon's life were the heart and soul of the narrative and I would have liked more.

I did appreciate Ms Tannenbaum's reflections on teaching in the prisons. Some of her thoughts and wisdom I will carry with me next time I go into the jail. If you would like to read this book please contact me.  I will be glad to share it.

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