Books by Peter Y. Sussman

Released: Nov. 1, 1993

Though of some interest for their insider's view of life behind bars, the ``prison writings of Red Hog''—essays that Martin, a convicted bank robber, published in the San Francisco Chronicle while in a federal pen—are most important as the fulcrum of a freedom-of-speech battle fought in and out of court by Martin and the Chronicle against the federal prison system. Here are Martin's 50-plus essays, embedded within a personal history of their genesis and effect by Sussman, the Chronicle editor who's published Martin since 1986. Sussman begins with a brief bio of Martin (b. 1939), whose early life reads like a training sheet for a career criminal: poverty, broken home, early exposure to alcohol and guns, reform school (where the redheaded author got his nickname, for a fight over a pork chop), broken marriage, drug (opiate) addiction, bank robbery, prison. In 1986, Martin mailed Sussman a piece about AIDS in prison that combined the two traits that were to hallmark the convict's work: fascinating glimpses of prison life (here, represented by an AIDS-infected, IV-sharing, promiscuous gay male known as ``Honey Bear'') framed by a message (the prison system's refusal to deal with its rampant AIDS problem). The essay won attention, and Martin published further essays under a wary institutional eye until he wrote ``The Gulag Mentality,'' which intimated that a new warden's changes might set off a riot—and which provoked officials to place Martin in solitary, beginning the legal struggle whose rather technical recounting occupies the subsequent bulk of Sussman's text. Too many of Martin's remaining pieces also deal with the crackdown, though those written after his parole in 1992 carry a particular poignancy: Will Martin survive in the ``straight'' world? Of interest primarily to civil libertarians and hard-core prison buffs; stronger glimpses of big-house life can be found in Wilbert Rideau and Ron Wikberg's Life Sentences (1992). Read full book review >