Too much prison nonfiction.
18 January 2011
Here's a high-level nonfiction reading tip: Don't read two prison memoirs in a row.
This week I started Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, by Piper Kerman. And I really liked it. She doesn't waste any time explaining how she ended up with her fifteen-month sentence, explaining how she wanted some excitement after college, met a thrilling woman who seemed to have plenty of money, and eventually became involved in a drug and money smuggling ring. Although her own experience of carrying a suitcase of money to a certain airport was on the very fringes of the ring's activity, drug sentencing laws mandated that her crime be considered part of the much bigger picture. I like the way she described her crime; she takes responsibility for it right from the start,* and moves through that part of the narrative quickly.
The bulk of the story centers on her experiences in a Danbury, Connecticut, prison. (I've not read it closely enough to say for certain, but she seems to be in some sort of minimum security prison camp, as opposed to the facility's more maximum security area. It's still prison, though.) The story moves right along and Kerman has good powers of description; she draws a good picture of how loud the women's prison dorms are and how lousy the food is. And, I'll give her credit: she kept her memoir to 300 pages.
BUT...I'm on page 117, and I just don't want to read any more. I think this is a function of just having read Avi Steinberg's memoir Running the Books, about his work as a librarian in a prison, and I just simply don't want to read any more about prisons. The thought of all these people locked up and just killing days and months of time is even more disturbing to me than any of the more violent stories in Steinberg's memoir or the tales of guards and bureaucratic prison staff lording it over the prisoners in Kerman's. Maybe someday I'll come back and finish this one--it really does hurt me to put it down, as it's interesting, but I just don't want to think about the subject anymore. That happens sometimes with nonfiction.
*Our local bleeding heart liberal weekly newspaper sometimes is too quick to excuse people--I still remember a feature they ran about someone who got caught either taking drugs into or using drugs in a foreign country, and the guy was complaining about being prosecuted too harshly. Me, I figure if you're mucking about with drugs in any foreign country, well, you shouldn't be too surprised about whatever prosecution they hook up for you.