SING SOFT, SING LOUD by Patricia McConnel


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McConnel, "an alumna of the Federal Reformatory for Women in Aldershot, West Virginia," as well as of jails in the US and Mexico, writes about women's experiences behind bars--in this well-intentioned but overly didactic collection. Iva, the narrator of the first section, is a prostitute who is in and out of jail. The six sketches here are not so much stories as opportunities to describe the lock-up experience (including the brutal incident in which a woman, singing out loud to distract herself from the pain of drug withdrawal, is silenced by being doused with water and lye). McConnel illustrates how hard it is to go straight, as in the use of Ira returning to her pimp after her efforts to find (and hold) a legitimate job and a place to stay are thwarted. The book's second part is more novelistic, following the fortunes (in and out of prison) of Toni, who flees from a violent boyfriend into the arms of a drug dealer, with whom she is arrested smuggling heroin out of Mexico. Throughout, conversations teach lessons--an illegal alien explains why Mexicans cross into the US; an alcoholic recounts the experience that showed her that people are a mixture of good and bad; Ira explains that she is locked up not for hustling but for being poor. In an Afterword, McConnel urges prison reform, recommends further reading, and provides names and addresses of organizations. Sheltered readers may have their eyes opened, but, for the most part, these accounts are too pointedly educational to work as fiction.

ISBN: 689-12046-X
Publisher: Atheneum
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