Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Dateline: April 23, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

"Good News Amongst the Bad"
In prison no news isn't good news, it's often bad news, since it could mean the court didn't rule on your appeal, or your wife and kids are no longer writing you, or your lawyer is no longer answering your pleas for help.
This week, though, I got some good news, and amidst all the bad things we are subjected to on a daily basis, it's nice to get some positive feedback from years of hard work and deprivation. A few weeks ago the good folks at PEN, the literary group based in New York City, awarded me first place for my prison memoir, "Fighting The Ninja." I've been sending in articles, essays, memoirs, poems, short stories, and plays to their annual Prison Writing Contest since around 1986. It has amazed me how many times they've awarded my works over the years, that they actually like it.
Now, Jackson Taylor, Director of the Prison Writing Program, tells me that the PEN Prison Writing Committee is making a special award for "Continued Outstanding Excellence," and will be handing out copies of a recent work at the PEN International Literary Festival in New York on May 1st. That definitely blows me away, and provides a much-needed boost to my self-esteem.
In prison you are put down every day. If I'm not threatened with lockup at least a couple of times a week, I'm lucky. That is the nature of the prison beast. To have such talented, intelligent, decent people telling me that my thoughts are worthy and respected in the "real world" makes me stronger, more able to resist the negative forces of hate, to maintain my resolve to survive and be vindicated. It provides a welcome balance, and when that guard insults me, speaks condescendingly, tries to push my buttons and get a hostile reaction from me, I just stare at him, "look stupid," say nothing, and watch them walk away. Forget about intellectual conversations or discussions. I'm not trying to impress any of them. I just want to get out of this place alive. Thanks, PEN, for throwing me a life jacket in extremely rough water, far from shore.

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