A well-intentioned but uninspired memoir by the mother of folk singer Joan Baez. Joan Baez Sr. recalls two prison stays in...
INSIDE SANTA RITA: The Prison Memoir of a War Protestor
by ‧RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1994
A well-intentioned but uninspired memoir by the mother of folk singer Joan Baez. Joan Baez Sr. recalls two prison stays in 1967, both for civil disobedience at the Oakland Induction Center in protest of US involvement in the Vietnam War. Disappointingly, despite her passionate and sincere commitment to social justice, Baez does not emerge as a complicated or especially convincing person. Her revelations, though important, are those anyone might have in a prison: horror at the hopelessness of the ""regular"" prisoners, admiration for their strength, surprise at the kindness of a guard, a deeper empathy for the underclass, recognition of common human bonds despite schisms of race and class. Her stints in prison were a personal turning point, but she presents her experience in far too maudlin a manner; she describes the inmates' Christmas play, for example, as so touching that ""surely even the baby Jesus smiled."" Even more unfortunately, clichÃ‰s inform the way Baez develops her characters. Black prisoners are consistently reduced to racial caricature: by turns clownish, wily, or wide-eyed and childlike, waiting to be civilized by benevolent whites (the protesters frequently assume the latter role). There is also a tiresome tendency to play on readers' supposed reverence for fame; Baez was arrested along with her two daughters, Joan Baez and Mimi Farina, but noncelebrity Farina gets short shrift here. Indeed, Joan Sr. writes about Joan Jr. with a star-struck awe that is implausible in a mother; the world stands still when she sings, she says the right thing in confrontations with authorities, and everyone loves her, from hardened prison guards to Martin Luther King Jr. Proof that not everyone who has a transformative experience should write a book.