Descant 150: Writers in Prison

Edited by Kathryn Franklin, Matt Carrington, and Jason Paradiso

Reviewed by Rain Keeper

This issue of Descant magazine is all about writers in prison. It’s an important piece of work. The writers lament their sorrows, separation from society, recidivism and political exploits. Voices speak out from the bowls of prisons across worlds. These are fellow writers who one day took a turn for the worst in life, maybe for no apparent reason, because they thought it was a good idea at the time. They’ve already been judged and found guilty, be it for crimes great or small, and in cases that have come unraveled through political endeavors.

I’m not concerned about whether or not they deserved to be in prison because the poetry so beautifully describes the soul and mourns a dull hollow drone from the heart.

I’ve never been in prison, nor can I comprehend what it would be like inside, save for reform school. I know I’ve done enough dumb things in my life time to warrant a few life terms, I’d probably be cell mates with some of scribes writing poetics for Descant.

The Writers in Prison issue envisions the true nature of prison: how people are taught to vilify themselves and to weep not for their sins. Sorrow is replaced by despair, patience replaced by desperation, and humanity broken down to be replaced by hate.

Dorothy Field, writer of Inside Guy: Who They Are, tells a tale of living in a no man’s land between clean and unclean, having to choose between an unforgiving society and hell. She places her root of thought midway: guys so quiet you want to speak for them. Hardcore living begets hardcore time is what I think she’s saying, and all crime is only one step away behind bars.

Life will always outweigh the variables. For some, prison life is most important, writes Paul Brown, Prison Poets, because freedom is on the other side of the wall and yet only inches from grasp. He writes about the realization that he’s made mistakes but can’t seem to fathom the normal values that keep him inside his own prison, forever frolicking in memories of lost love. And there’s a candid realization that it doesn’t have to be this way. It seems to me he’s one of the very few who really knows the difference.

Gifted children born with intelligence are being snuffed out says Concetta Principe in Al Aqsa Intifada; a very real and dangerous game of truth or dare politics is being played out with the lives of her loved ones. This is a game I know all too well, when I myself was whisked away into a sea of confusion and a world of assimilation, where death’s face is colonialism. Be they friend or foe, bestowed adulthood can’t take the place of son or daughter. Heaven can always wait till the children grow old, till their hate subsides and their hearts flow with peace. Principe composes her heart and mind not with just mere words but with conviction.

Descant 150: Writers in Prison will give you haunting visions. The writing speaks of loss, whether it’s empowerment, the little white house with the white picket fence, or that cute girl next door. Memories and dreams that were once actual people full of life now faded. Where do the boundaries lie between prisoner and poet, empowerment and freedom asks Paul Brown in his poem Prison Poet that even that tiny whiff of freedom can be a powerful catalyst for change.

Descant 150: Writers in Prison is a step into uncharted waters. Inmates put their vulnerabilities at the mercy of people like myself. But what they don’t know is they are teaching us undiscovered levels of fearless abandon. Take a chance and you discover it’s not always about pen and paper (or in my case laptop and word processor). It’s about responsibilities and being responsible. Or, as my grandmother use to say: Who’s minding the store.

Rain Keeper is an accomplished Technical Administrator and Clerk of Statistics Canada in Ottawa. Upon leaving the Federal Government in 2000 after twenty years of service, Mr. Keeper moved to Toronto to pursue his interests at the not-for-profit level. Keeper has worked for a variety of organizations for the past 10 years such as NaMeRes (Native American Mens Residence), Evangel Hall Mission and the Parkdale Activity – Recreation Centre. Mr. Keeper has also served as a Forensic Support Security Officer patrolling the rough areas of Toronto’s high risk neighborhoods. Keeper is now working on his first novel and is pursuing a writing career; this is his first published book review.

Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Wednesday December 1, 2010 for an inclusive interview with the editors of Descant 150: Writers in Prison.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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