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Welcome to prison email, hot chick

Email allows inmates who have never written much more than a bad cheque or dodgy prescription to keep in touch with the outside world


 
Welcome to prison email, hot chick

FAME Pictures/KEYSTONE PRESS

The very moment Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, an eager bailiff with an eye for camera angles and posterity handcuffed him while sitting down, in a move that required almost Busby Berkeley choreography to pull off gracefully. There was no reason to handcuff him, but this is a Barnum & Bailey world.

Dr. Murray has had some difficulty with child support payments, but this could be explained by the high cost of wives, seven children (I think) by six mums and the price of a defence team. Television shows him to be a handsome Afro-American man with sombre bearing. His new address will be a local jail and then probably a state prison, which is definitely not a happy address. State prisons are the stepchildren of the American carceral state and rarely have the benefit of extras such as email as in the federal correctional institutions.

Email allows inmates who have never written much more than a bad cheque or dodgy prescription to keep in touch with the outside world, thus maintaining the great tradition of prison belles lettres—and not so belle letters. The current system has dedicated email with no Web access or attachments and limited computer time. Lengthy communications are written on lined paper from the commissary and then typed in frantically. Pulling off The Gulag Archipelago would require a 20-years-to-life sentence.

Each day I write one, sometimes several, dreary emails to my husband. I compare them to the extraordinary body of prison literature and come up in dwarfdom. I suspect the current girlfriend of Dr. Murray is not going to outshine me, but this is sheer prejudice. She is an actress by profession who played the role of “Hot Chick” in a film; when asked what she did each day by the prosecutor, she replied, “maintain my instrument,” thus demonstrating descriptive powers capable of marvellous emails of overwhelming interest to correctional officers and inmates alike.

Prison writing has generally been the work of people who are, broadly speaking, “political prisoners.” Mobsters are unlikely to write with the same eloquence as the non-conformist preacher John Bunyan, imprisoned for religious dissent during the 17th century, or Martin Sostre, the early black Puerto Rican Muslim activist sentenced in 1968 to 44 years for a $75 drug bust, which spun into a nightmare based on his insistence on acting as a prison lawyer for other inmates and his dislike of anal searches when leaving solitary confinement. “Being locked up in defence of my principles,” he wrote, “is not punishment, it is performance of duty.”

This echoes many prison letters, memorably George Faludy’s memoir My Happy Days In Hell, in which he felt “a deep breath of relief” at finally being on the morally right side of the door to the notorious secret police headquarters in Budapest. The 1971 judgment of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned an earlier judgment ruling Sostre’s time in solitary as cruel and unusual punishment makes fascinating reading. The appeals court writes that having access to one hot shower and shave per week was sufficient, and while it acknowledged that the “new penology” had a “growing preoccupation” with words like “correctional” and “reintegrate,” the appeal judges felt that “we, trained as judges, lack expertise in prison administration” and shouldn’t “shun a policy” that “may seem unsound or personally repugnant.” Positively Solomonic.

The millions of political prisoners in Stalin’s, Mao’s and Hitler’s camps had little hope of becoming prison writers unless they survived (temporarily, like Primo Levi, Anne Frank or Bao Ruo-Wang), since there was no ink and paper in the gulags and concentration camps. As Solzhenitsyn writes: “You have to fold your letter into a triangle and carry it to the toilet in the hope of a lucky break: they might just take you there while approaching a station . . . the convoy guard might get careless . . . you can quickly press down on the flush pedal and using your body as a shield throw the letter into the hole. It will get wet and soiled but it might fall right through and land on the rails . . . Perhaps it will lie there until it rains, until it snows, until it disintegrates but perhaps a human hand will pick it up . . . sometimes such letters do arrive—postage due, half-blurred, washed out, crumpled, but carrying a clearly defined splash of grief.”

Today’s political prisoners include the politically incorrect, such as Holocaust deniers, the imprisoned teachers who are victims of the witch hunt for Satanic acts against pupils, and all those who incur the fury of some corrupt political or business elite. The Internet tracks it all. The Urban Dater blog has a section called “Love letters from prison.” A typical quote: “How are you? I’m good. Just a chillin’ villain.” A correctional officer who reads inmate emails blogs about their contradictions: “You are my angel in darkness, baby,” versus “Bitch, you put money on my books tomorrow or I’ll f—ing cut your whore face off!” Where, if anywhere, will Dr. Murray and his girlfriend fit in this bog? I’d say the genre is up for grabs.


 

Welcome to prison email, hot chick

  1. Yawn.

  2. This is not news.

  3. Get over yourself finally please

  4. Why is Amiel still writing for Macleans  – or for anyone else?  Please stop.

  5. Probably because she’s one of the few decent writers left?
    If you take everything she writes at face value, you’re missing the humour in her writing.
    You don’t have to be a fan of HER in order to be a fan of her writing.
     
    Maybe the reason we have so many new bad writers these days is because we have so many bad readers, who implode when a column or editorial vary from the “spoon fed idea” theme.
     
    Le sigh.

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