Intense attestations of lives that ran afoul of the law, from women who have done or are doing time at a prison in Connecticut.
Bestselling novelist Lamb (I Know This Much Is True, 1998, etc.) teaches a course in writing at the York Correctional Institution, and he offers here a selection of ten works from the women in his class, plus one by his co-instructor. The pieces are uniformly wrenching, reported from desperate circumstances by authors doomed to punishment. Yet they are as far from self-pity as possible, written by extremely self-aware authors who give a clear sense of setting out to take some degree of control of their destinies. Each piece is a probing re-examination of its author’s life and of the reasons she ended up in prison. Some recount childhoods taxing by any yardstick, years of learning to become “experts at detecting the slightest barometric fluctuations of Storm Mom,” or of being raped by a father who’d just lost the house in a card game—and, at term, having the baby spirited away before its mother was allowed to touch him. There are demons aplenty, inner ones begging to be tamed by drugs, and outer ones, like husbands, uncontrollable (one woman asks, “Why do I feel safer here in prison than I felt at home?”). The maximum-security prison is a tough house, and prospects of release for some of the writers are dim: “Ineligible for parole, I have served the first nine years of my twenty-five year sentence. I am 27.” This same person will also say, “I’m kept afloat by my writing.” And her writing, like other of the women’s, is lean, with the momentum and clarity needed for its work of helping frame and make sense of these authors’ situations.
There are things, says Lamb, that need “to be known about prison and prisoners. There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped.” Here’s a step in that direction.