Since visiting the Calgary Remand Centre some time ago, as part of a Calgary Public Library outreach initiative, I can’t help but think seriously about people who for whatever reason, end up incarcerated. This is especially the case now that our conservative government has voiced intentions to build more prisons, and write tougher laws. How many of the Canadians who say “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” have ever set foot inside of a prison?
I just finished reading Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison, by T J Parsell. Truthfully, it was the literary equivalent of the proverbial car crash, from which you just can’t look away. Although I was aghast at what Parsell was forced to endure, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the book. It’s the story of young Tim, who goes to prison at only 17, and is repeatedly sexually assaulted by other inmates. Not only that, but the inmates flip a coin to determine who will “own” him. Tim finally makes a friend who seems to care about his well being, but then is transferred to another prison, never to see him again. More than merely a horrific tale of violence and abuse, this memoir is a reflection about youth, identity, manhood, and power.
What’s most unsettling, however, is the fact that Tim represents just one of thousands of cases in America, and in Canada, too. In Parsell's words:
Most people who want to be tough on crime don’t care what happens to inmates. But they should care, because 95 percent of all prisoners are eventually released back into society, indelibly marked by the violence they have seen or experienced.
I recommend this memoir for those who work in criminal and social justice, social work, psychology, and gender studies.
Check out the author’s blog, here.