Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Books I'm Reading

[I also wrote this sometime in May while in prison]

Funny how context changes everything.

Every book I've chosen to read means something different in prison than it would have on the outside.

First, as I recounted earlier, I read The Accidental Tourist, which was also an apt title for my "vacation" in prison.

Second, I read The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, which was a classic case of prosecutorial overreaching. I have seen quite a few examples of that in here. (No comment on my case.) But for sheer political theatre, it was quite fun reading.

Finally, I have decided to read the entire Harry Potter series. My youngest daughter has read them all and the final book is due out in July [indeed, in two days from now]. I'm half way through Book 2 now (Chamber of Secrets). I figured this is probably my best chance to read them all... I would never find (or make) the time on the outside. I have collected my favorite quotes from each book and will probably post an article on them, interpreting them from an inmate's perspective.

Besides, as I have told other inmates, while in "The Rabbit Hole," Harry Potter may be the closest thing to reality I experience! Certainly, there is nothing about the rest of my life here that seems real.

[UPDATE: Obviously, as I believe I recounted in my weekly summaries that my wife posted earlier (although those were actual written after this article), I finished all the Harry Potter books. I also read Shawshank Redemption, a Stephen King short novel, during my last week, as well as my first Stuart Woods book, The Short Forever. Reading is probably the most common "recreational" activity in prison. There were many evenings where I just buried my head in a book in bed and tuned out my surroundings, especially as I was finishing Harry Potter. The percentage of time I spent reading probably increased over time.

The "leisure" library had a pretty decent selection of books, most of which I think were contributed by the inmates after they received them from the outside (paper backs can be sent by family or friends; hard backs have to come direct from the publisher). There is no check out procedure... but you are not supposed to have more than 4 books out at a time. In theory, if they search lockers, they could seize your books if you have too many but I was not aware that that ever happened... not exactly a high priority for the staff. I bet there were probably 1000s of books sitting in lockers around the prison. Stuart Woods books, which I suspect they had a complete collection of, were particularly hard to find in the library.]

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