Prison Reading

The gulls are crying over the herring eggs exposed on the rocks at low tide, yet snow, sleet and hail continues to fall at tide line.  Cherry blossoms hold ice crystals, and our old dog barely wants to go out to pee before she runs right back in to lay back down by the heater. 

My friend from prison continues to call.  I sent him two books, The Hobbit,  and the complete Lord Of The Rings Trilogy .  He calls me every day to tell me of his progress, and about all the interest from other inmates he gets in the books.  When I suggests that he could sell them.  He scolds me saying that he would never profit from a book.  He donated the Hobbit to the Library starting off a serious sign up war for it..  Lots of interest in the book because the last installment of the film just showed a couple of weekends ago. From talking with him I have found that reading in prison is a different activity than it is on the outside. 

A lot depends on where you are in your term, and your attitude about your term.  Very early on young men are often energized towards self improvement.  My friend read three books about his culture that I sent him.  He was hungry and he enjoyed them.  He had questions.  He became the secretary of the Naive Culture Association.  Now there are budget cuts, he doesn't complain,  my friend never complains (to me at least) and he never speaks ill of anyone.  He just mentions that there will be no Potlatch this summer as there was last summer.  Cut from two Potlatches a year to one.  There will be an "Indoor picnic, with no visitors" for the Native Culture Club his summer.  He laughed when he told me this and said,  "An indoor picnic with no visitors sounds like dinner to me."  

He is still the secretary but there are not many cultural activities.  Now he reads mostly fantasy.  He was reading pretty childish stuff that he could get from the library and I suggested Tolkien,  he had never heard of him and his books had been stolen from the collection.  So I asked that my local bookstore send him the books. (friends and family cannot send inmates books, they have to come directly from a business for security reasons)  That's when I learned this:  early in a long stretch, books are like sleep, the longer the better.  They lift you out of your circumstance.  Up and out. The Trilogy is like a narcotic in jail, lots of people want it.  My friend keeps his Tolkien locked in his cell.  

I asked if I could buy him a subscription to a news magazine and he was quite clear, "no."  The news of the day made him unhappy.  He says he looks at the Anchorage papers every once and a while and he says the news all seems the same and it all makes him sad.  That's all he would say.  I couldn't engage him.  He was firm.  News made him sad.  When I thought of this it made sense,  He will be eligible for release in seven years.  He does not want to know what he is missing right now.  I told him I will be there in the year before he is released,  I will get him a news magazine then to help him ease back in to the world, as well as some contemporary  fiction, and non fiction.

My friend was arrested during his last semester of high school.  He wanted to be a computer designer or an engineer.  He was a decent student but he had to work extremely hard,  he had obstacles, no more than others, and no more than he was able to overcome.  He was going to graduate and his teachers were proud. Four teachers, a principal and a Superintendent came to be with him at his sentencing.  Because he is a convicted felon he cannot receive student loans.  The only training he can get in prison is small engine repair, and the like.  All college coursework he has to pay for himself,  which he has no hope of affording.  

He asks for no pity. He asks for nothing.  He dutifully is paying back the Public Defender Agency fees he accrued during his case.  Each phone call he tells me how much money he has sent to the court. from his prison job which pays him barely enough for toiletries and the ocassional piece of candy. When I ever mention a problem in my life, my friend prays for me.   

Soon enough I will send him books based in reality,  soon enough I will send him books about the world he will be coming back to.  What will I send him? 

Sleet on Cherry blossoms

the teapot rumbles 

and begins to scream. 


jhs  Sitka, AK