One Man's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker
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 A provocative memoir of life as an enemy of society. Born in 1950, Upchurch freely admits that he has been a bad man for much of the last half century: a robber, a thief, prone to violence, and quick with a lie. He was educated in his bad ways by the mean streets of South Philadelphia; ``I was niggerized by my environment,'' Upchurch writes, ``governed by a careless, heartless ruthlessness fostered by a pervasive sense of inferiority.'' Stints in reform schools followed his earliest forays in criminality, and there Upchurch found that the ``cumulative caring'' of those assigned to guard him took the place of family love. That caring was still not enough to set him straight, and as a young adult Upchurch drifted, committing crimes petty and major, eventually winding up in a federal prison in Michigan. There, in a narrow cell, he discovered the works of William Shakespeare--an earlier occupant had used a copy of the sonnets to prop up a crooked table- -and other writers, and he educated himself in a program of self-improvement that, while not likely to earn Upchurch a spot on William Bennett's list of culture heroes, could well serve as an inspirational model for others seeking a way out. His narrative is sometimes marred by self-righteous passages, but Upchurch, now a community activist, has much of value to say about the way American society marginalizes its ethnic minorities, forcing many of its citizens to endure hellish lives. For all that, he is quick to accept ultimate responsibility for his actions. ``I could choose to wallow in niggerhood--shooting drugs, robbing people, committing murder, going to jail, disrespecting people--or I could choose to rediscover my humanity and work against being a nigger for the rest of my life,'' he writes. ``I chose the latter.'' In doing so, Upchurch has become a thinker and social critic well worth paying attention to.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-553-09726-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996