Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

The prison system has always had its flaws, and its also had its fair share of celebrities. No, we’re not talking about the doom and gloom of high profile cases, we’re talking about literary legends; the kind of convict we all want to meet.

But this post isn’t just about who did time (with or without a crime), it’s about reading between the lines of why these geniuses were actually arrested. Spoiler alert, there was no justice about the justice system.

And who first? It’s over to the classics. None other than Oscar Wilde.

Many know Wilde for being the author of (my favorite book) Dorian Gray. He was flamboyant and fabulous is ways that would be celebrated today. Despite literal brilliance, he was severely cautioned by publishers to tame down the naughty narrative he was portraying. Shockingly, the books we see in print (which gives 50 Shades a run for its money) are the edited and softened versions. One thing he refused to stay quiet about though was his homosexuality which landed him 18 months in prison. Thankfully, we don’t arrest people for their sexuality now, but there are still cases where a private sex life is used to taint a jury, and we think that’s downright disgusting. Things aren’t always kept to the case details, especially if you’re one of 36 in 100 Americans who are into the BDSM scene*.

Next up is a political prisoner from not that long ago — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wad arrested for speaking out against Stalin, but his excruciating stint wasn’t just in a jail. He actually spent 7 full years in a labor camp. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature but nothing can account for lost time.

He wasn’t the only prisoner of politics though, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was arrested for sharing unfavorable opinions on government regimes too. Rumor has it that he was a real man of the people though and that instead of being pelted with rotten fruit as was customary at the time, they tossed flowers to him in the stocks.

But sexuality and politics aren’t the only things to get a person in trouble in the history books. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was imprisoned for the crime of being an atheist! Some argue that when you read between the lines, religion can get you into trouble with the law more than other things. Keep an eye on the news and ask yourself if there’s an unfair representation there. You might be shocked when you look at the statistics.

So far we’ve looked at criminals who wouldn’t have been considered such today, but there’s room for a quick bit of trivia from some who arguably deserved their stint in prison.

So, what do Chester Himes, Joan Henry and Frank Elli have in common? They’re all writers who used their experience to write award winning novels. That might not say anything about the innocent but it does show that the guilty can become worthy members of society after time behind bars. Everyone has a fresh chapter worth writing.


It’s A Violation

It’s A Violation

Human beings are sexual creatures by nature. It’s literally written into our DNA. Sexual expression is a remarkably healthy activity, both physically and psychologically, as long as it is not forced, exploitative, or directed toward children. Forced, exploitative, or pedophilic sexual expression is, without question, unhealthy, perverse, dangerous to all involved, and destructive to our communities, but consensual forms of adult human sexuality are entirely wholesome aspects of general humanness. However, sexual expression is against the rules in prison.

Obviously the first thing that comes to mind when discussing sexual expression in the context of prison is homosexual rape or coercion. While all homosexual activity is understandably prohibited in correctional facilities, given the legitimate potential for sexual exploitation, homosexuality is not necessarily an unhealthy manifestation of human sexuality. As with any acceptable form of sexual expression, it is left to the individual to determine the pleasurability and morality of homosexual activity. But homosexual activity is not the only form of sexual expression that is against the rules.

All incoming mail that includes any sexual content is routinely rejected. Girlfriends, wives, boyfriends, and husbands send their incarcerated significant others a little “dirty talk” from time to time. Yet these harmless words are rejected and sent back. Although kept alive only through pen and paper, sexual connections between free and incarcerated loved ones is rehabilitative. Books are routinely rejected as well. Something as innocuous as 50 Shades of Gray was recently denied entry through the mail because of sexual content. Pictures and magazines that fail to meet entirely subjective standards are summarily rejected en masse. The justification for these policies is that sexually explicit material is a threat to the safety, security, and orderly operation of the facility and an impediment to inmate rehabilitation, although the perceptible distinction between implicit and explicit is consistently ignored, often willfully. I could understand limiting the consumption of sexual material for those inmates who are incarcerated for sexually related offenses, but blanket policies are overly restrictive. And it gets even worse.

An incarcerated person can actually receive a disciplinary report for masturbation, complete with ensuing sanctions such as loss of privileges, segregation, loss of housing or job, and even loss of earned-time reductions. Yep! You read that correctly folks: Masturbation, the most harmless and natural form of sexual expression is against the rules. It is not only for the more creepy and inappropriate acts like an inmate touching himself in ways that a female staff member is forced to see (which is a freak show, no doubt). An average inmate, alone in his cell, relieving a little tension can receive disciplinary action if caught.

I’m not convinced these draconian policies are as arbitrary as they seem. Even movies with nudity are censored, but excessive violence in movies, music, books, and letters remains uncensored. Given the fact that sexuality is an irreducible facet of the human personality, rules against any and all forms of healthy sexual expression during incarceration is a not so subtle attempt to dehumanize the inmate, while allowing limitless amounts of violence to permeate all forms of approved media ensures inmates remain socialized to aggression. Consequently, being forced to endure such excessive — even ridiculous — restrictions upon one’s humanity, for years at a time, can have a damaging effect on healthy identity development and potentially interfere with rehabilitation in negative ways by crippling key aspects of psycho-social stability.

I’m certainly not advocating sexual licentiousness for the incarcerated. I’m simply saying that 95% of inmates eventually release back into the community, and sexually healthy and mature men are more valuable to the community, primarily because they are more well-adjusted. It makes sense, as long as the goal is, indeed, rehabilitation. I’m not totally convinced it is.