Tag Archive: Soledad Brother

Books kept me alive in prison

books!
The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: It Turns Out That Gerald Ford Is Dead

barrett brownFrom D Magazine

I’m in the odd but not unpleasant position of regularly receiving in the mail books ordered for me by strangers whose identities I often have no way of ascertaining. This has added a degree of intrigue to my life. I wish I knew, for instance, who keeps sending me black militant literature so that I could express my thanks, or figure out who’s trying to set me up, or whatever. I’m kidding, of course, but at least one of these books, Soledad Brother, turns out to be on the list of proscribed material that on some U.S. prison compounds constitutes procedural evidence of involvement in the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang, which in turn can lead to indefinite solitary confinement (I happen to know this only because I was recently contacted by Shane Bauer, the journalist who did his own stretch of solitary in an Iranian prison a couple of years back while awaiting trial on trumped-up espionage charges; upon his return, he did a fine piece for Mother Jones on the excessive manner in which solitary is used here in the United States, a copy of which he kindly sent me and which I believe can be read online as well). This got me to wondering whether a honkey such as myself could be accused of being a Black Guerrilla member on such grounds, which of course would be rather silly — but if not, then it would seem that there are some books that can in effect be possessed by white inmates but not by black ones. These are the sorts of absurdities that arise when prison policy is left to the discretion of prison administrators rather than sentient human beings.

I’m also curious as to who sent the four-volume, 2,000-page English translation of a 14th-century Chinese novel that was shipped to me the other day from Beijing. Outlaws of the Marsh, according to the back cover summary, has over 100 protagonists — not characters, mind you, but protagonists. The total number of characters is probably unknown. (more…)