cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar

My Goodreads review, cross-posted.

The first half of this book discusses how the (American) prison system sabotages all the factors known to reduce recidivism rates among ex-inmates: family connections, interpersonal relationships, community engagement, education, and employment.

The author, Maya Schenwar, illustrates with examples from her own family's experience. Her sister was incarcerated multiple times and gave birth in prison. Schenwar explains that inmates are warehoused far from home, sometimes even out of state, making family visits prohibitively expensive or impossible for working-class and poor families, which is the majority of the affected families. If family makes it to the visitor center, long lines and short hours mean some won't get in. Phone call rates are extortionate; calls are monitored and interrupted; call privileges are subject to the whims of wardens and corrections officers. Mail, also monitored and censored, routinely goes "missing." Books are heavily sanctioned and may be taken from inmates for minor infractions. And once released from prison, a person's job prospects are dismal because their skills (if any) are out of date and few employers will accept an ex-con. Thus rather than rehabilitating, the system ensures that people leave prison worse off than they entered it, and therefore more likely to re-offend or fall afoul of parole restrictions.

Meanwhile, structural conditions that predispose people toward crime, such as racism and poverty, are fortified when the prison/legal system "disappears" millions of marginalized people for years or even lifetimes. Though the author is white, she is cognizant of that privilege and readily acknowledges how much worse the odds are for minorities of all kinds. She frequently turns over the bullhorn so those minorities can speak for themselves.

Schenwar doesn't ignore the abuses that inmates suffer from guards and other inmates, but she doesn't spend much time on it, either. This makes the book less upsetting than others in the genre.

The second half of the book focuses on decarceration, what we as individuals can do to dismantle the prison system. She encourages pen-pal programs and activism opportunities, but she also asks us to reconsider our understanding of crime (versus harm, for example) and whether we really need to bring police into situations. She also spends a fair amount of time on models of community-based justice (or transformative justice), with concrete examples of how schools and communities can address harmful behavior and remedy the underlying causes of violence without throwing people away.

This is a practical, personable book that is easy to read. A list of resources gives readers ideas for immediate action, and extensive bibliographic notes pave the way for further research.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (accomplished)
Editor Mitchell Hart has posted the newest issue of Through the Gate, which includes my poem "Levity." A short, whimsical piece about what [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume aptly terms "inconvenient miracles," this poem was loosely inspired by old photos of spiritualists. Also included are works by [livejournal.com profile] popelizbet, [livejournal.com profile] sovay, Bogi Takács, M Sereno, Neile Graham, and Sarah Page, in an ever-changing lineup that prompts the reader to consider connections between the works. Or maybe the Table of Contents is just tricksy and having fun!

At Lightspeed, [livejournal.com profile] tithenai has reviewed three books from Aqueduct Press: [livejournal.com profile] sovay's latest collection, Ghost Signs, Jenn Brissett's novel Elysium, and my collection, The Haunted Girl. Amal is very complimentary, which is thrilling in itself, but she also clearly "gets" my book. I wanted to hug these words:

...at the collection’s core: resistance to norms, to imposition, be they of language, sexuality, or mortality. There is a sharpness, a sting to most of these poems, of the kind that makes you hiss and then seek it out again....I loved the collection’s bilingualism, both in the presence of Spanish and the musings on being between languages, on the thermodynamics of translation.

I am so grateful my work is out there, being read, being appreciated.

Now, back to work!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (neon sign)
Music is magic, as any teen could tell you. In SIGNAL TO NOISE, the teen is Meche, who discovers she can work spells with her friends using vinyl records. Of course, the teens seek to change their miserable social lot through magic, with dubious results.

The teens' story is solidly set in 1980s Mexico City, expertly interspersed with chapters recounting adult Meche's return to Mexico City for a family funeral. The back and forth in time feels flawless, as deftly handled as the changes in point-of-view, which allow readers into all the characters' heads (teen and adult alike) without ever being confusing. While the teens' story ramps up to disaster, adult Meche's story is more about internal change. This is not to say the adult story is any less magical--even more so, perhaps. After all, it's easy to believe in magic when you're young. As we age, that faith gets kicked out of most of us.

Some readers will resist sympathizing with Meche, who has a prickly personality and tends to abuse her few faithful friends, even as an adult. But I enjoyed her strong identity and the fact that she is who she is. She grows and improves, but she remains fundamentally herself, which is an admirable feat for anyone, but especially for a female coming-of-age heroine. Her prickliness makes her moments of tenderness even more touching. For example, I loved her relationship with her grandmother, which was gentle but not sappy.

A subplot involving Meche's friend Daniela and a teacher, though completely believable, felt a bit pat to me. I would've preferred more focus on Daniela's self-perception as a person with chronic illness, especially when that illness seems cured, at least temporarily, by magic. But that's less a complaint than a desire for more of this world Moreno-Garcia has conjured. (Luckily, the author has provided a playlist to let us live there a little longer.)

SIGNAL TO NOISE conveys the raw emotions of the teenage years without slipping too far into nostalgia or downplaying the emotional struggles of adulthood. It's a marvelous balancing act. I can't wait to see what Moreno-Garcia does next!

Respect

Dec. 26th, 2014 02:14 pm
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (writing)
Something I've noticed and really appreciate in the reviews I've seen for The Haunted Girl--and I know, I said I wasn't reading reviews and I WASN'T but I've had to break down and at least skim some, for marketing reasons--is that folks are careful not to make assumptions about what and how much is autobiographical and what's fictional. It's hard to explain how grateful I am for that. Like a sunburn gone unslapped, a bruise unpressed, a chink in armor respectfully avoided.

When "The Skin-Walker's Wife" was first published, a few folks looked at me differently, as if I'd confessed something they weren't comfortable knowing.

I imagine all emotional writing is in some sense autobiographical, and for sure, I put a lot of myself into the individual works, not really thinking about what would happen when they were collected. And no doubt some critics would say that if I wasn't ready for folks to ask uncomfortable questions, I shouldn't have published. But (and so) I am really glad that readers have been more compassionate, and I hope that any uncertainty they feel, as to where the line between my memories and imagination falls, enriches their reading experience.

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