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Archive for the ‘women’s prison’ Tag

Serving Time   Leave a comment

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Author Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a strip joint in San Francisco, where Romy Hall once gave lap dances to support herself and her young son, Jackson. That’s before she’s sent to prison in California’s desolate Central Valley, where she’s sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for a crime that’s not immediately explained.

Most of the narration is Romy’s as she recounts her childhood, teenage years and life working as a stripper. These reflections are interspersed with her confinement. It may be almost impossible to think about women in prison without Orange is the New Black coming to mind. However, Kushner’s cell scenes are harsh, unsympathetic and dismal. Nonetheless, Romy is befriended by Sammy, a veteran inmate, Conan, a transsexual who’s very convincing as a male, and Gordon Hauser, a teacher who recognizes Romy’s intelligence and beauty.

A few of the chapters are narrated by these friends. Doc, a crooked cop, imprisoned miles away, also provides a voice. Yet, it’s Romy with her sense of humor, dismay and maternal instincts who commands the pages. She has had to leave Jackson, in the care of her mother, which causes a number of complications for Romy.

Kushner blends pathos with the harsh reality of prison life. As one of the guards states, not just to Romy, but others, “… your situation is due one hundred percent to choices you made and action you took.” As we learn more about Romy and the other characters, it’s evident this is not entirely true.

The Mars Room
Four Bookmarks
Scribner, 2018
338 pages

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Doing Time   Leave a comment

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I enjoyed Orange is the New Black, the book by Piper Kerman. I haven’t seen the Netflix series of the same name, but after reading Kerman’s account I’m now inclined to watch because Kerman’s account intrigued me.

The author, privileged and intelligent (except for the episode in her life that landed in her prison), writes about her year in a minimum security facility in Danbury, Conn. She is honest about her own fear at being incarcerated and the guilt she has for vicariously putting her family, fiancé and friends through her ordeal. Yet, she does so without self-pity, with humor and insightful respect for most of her fellow inmates.

It’s the latter that particularly garners the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. Kerman learned to survive thanks in large part to the women around her. It’s no surprise that Kerman would undergo a transformation, but perceptions about prisoners and their crimes do, too. Although it wasn’t an easy 12 months, Kerman shares moments of fun, revelation, pride and friendship – in addition to the aforementioned guilt.

Of course, hers is not a summer camp experience, but neither is it as brutal as initially anticipated. At least that’s the case while in Connecticut. This changes, though, when just before her release she is transferred to Chicago to await testifying in a related trial. There she confronts the woman who years earlier revealed Kerman’s name to authorities. Nonetheless, the author’s honesty and humor make this a worthwhile read.


Orange is the New Black

Four Bookmarks
Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperback, 2013
302 pages

http://piperkerman.com/