i'm in nyc for a punishment conference at the new school. after today's academic sessions, richard gere and carey lowell offered a dramatic reading of prison writings.
the actors were working with some great material, of course, since there are some amazing writers behind bars. prison writing is challenging because simple, matter-of-fact reporting can come off as melodramatic to those of us on the outside. the best writers, of course, juxtapose telling descriptions of the mundane and taken-for-granted -- the ceaseless noise, the odors, the lack of natural light -- with the high drama and harsh reality that punctuates prison life.
for example, patricia prewitt's contraband brilliantly conveys the small absurdities of prison life from an inmate's perspective. other writers addressed heavier issues involving fear, pain, violence, and hopelessness. i found the pieces by jarvis jay masters to be especially moving. pieces such as "mourning exercise" make clear that mr. masters is not just a good prison writer. this one knocked me out:
recipe for prison pruno
Take ten peeled oranges,
Jarvis Masters, it is the judgment and sentence of this court,
one 8 oz. bowl of fruit cocktail,
that the charged information was true,
squeeze the fruit into a small plastic bag,
and the jury having previously, on said date,
and put the juice along with the mash inside,
found that the penalty shall be death,
add 16 oz. of water and seal the bag tightly.
and this Court having, on August 20, 1991,
Place the bag into your sink,
denied your motion for a new trial,
and heat it with hot running water for 15 minutes.
it is the order of this Court that you suffer death,
wrap towels around the bag to keep it warm for fermentation.
said penalty to be inflicted within the walls of San Quentin,
Stash the bag in your cell undisturbed for 48 hours.
at which place you shall be put to death,
When the time has elapsed,
in the manner prescribed by law,
add 40 to 60 cubes of white sugar,
the date later to be fixed by the Court in warrant of execution.
six teaspoons of ketchup,
You are remanded to the custody of the warden of San Quentin,
then heat again for 30 minutes,
to be held by him pending final
secure the bag as done before,
determination of your appeal.
then stash the bag undisturbed again for 72 hours.
It is so ordered.
Reheat daily for 15 minutes.
In witness whereof,
After 72 hours,
I have hereon set my hand as Judge of this Superior Court,
with a spoon, skim off the mash,
and I have caused the seal of this Court to be affixed thereto.
pour the remaining portion into two 18 oz. cups.
May God have mercy on your soul.
Guzzle down quickly
Mr. Jarvis Masters.
Gulp Gulp Gulp!
California State Prison-San Quentin