Monday, October 13, 2008

Top 5 Prison Books
(because even the most relaxed rectum won't hold six)

Cast the First Stone
Chester Himes
From Cast the First Stone (1952) is another of Himes's semi-autobiographical novels. The main character, Jim Monroe, is a white man, but seems to represent Himes as is evidenced by their similarities: both attended college, suffered a serious back injury, and were sentenced to 25 years for armed robbery. The novel focuses on the growth that Monroe experiences while in prison, and is notable for its direct treatment of homosexual relationships in prison.

Escape from Colditz; The two classic escape stories: The Colditz story, and Men of Colditz
P. R Reid
From Iron Gumby: Escape from Colditz is a factual book which reads like a fictional work. P.R. Reid who wrote the book is the main character who is narrating, and participating in the story. The book tells how the Prisoners of war during World War Two lived in confinement and how they used their surroundings to make their escape using replicated German uniforms, and a glider constructed of bed frames and fabric hidden in the attic of a chapel. The prisoners are all bent on escape and the story is how these men plan to flee to Sweden.

Henri Charriere
From In a nutshell, this book is a tale of Papillons many escape attempts to get away from the penal settlements in French Guiana (many of which were sucessful in the short term) and the amazing lengths he went to to avoid spending the rest of his life repenting a crime he was innocent of. In the end he only served 13 years of his sentence, but to survive 13 years in the environment he found himself in was an accomplishment it itself. He continually escaped, was re-captured, escaped again, was re-captured again and it goes on and on. His escape attempts were daring as he said he'd rather die trying to be a free man than carry on living in the living hell he was in. His final escape was made from Devil's Island, riding the biggest wave that hit the island chained to a sack full of coconut shells.

Are Prisons Obsolete?
Angela Davis
From Political Affairs Magazine: Just a little over 30 years ago the entire prison population stood at 200,000 in the US; that is a tenfold jump in just one generation. In California alone, 3 prisons were built between 1852 and 1952; from 1984 to the present, over 80 facilities were constructed that now house almost 160,000 people. While being jailed or imprisoned has become “an ordinary dimension of community life,” according to Davis, for men in working-class Black, Latino, Native American and some Asian American communities, it is also increasingly an issue women of these communities have come to face.
Davis points to the increased involvement of corporations in prison construction, security, health care delivery, food programs and commodity production using prison labor as the main source of the growth of the prison-industrial complex. As prisons became a new source of profits, it became clear to prison corporations that more facilities and prisoners were needed to increase income. It is evident that increased crime is not the cause of the prison boom. Davis writes “that many corporations with global markets now rely on prisons as an important source of profits helps us to understand the rapidity with which prisons began to proliferate precisely at a time when official studies indicated that the crime rate was falling.”

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell
by Dan Sloott and Ryan Sook
From Jorge: This book is good, creepy fun! Much like the old HBO show OZ, this is the story of all the inmates in a prison, but this time around it's the prison for all of Batman's villains. We follow an all new character, the Great White Shark (a white collar criminal), as he is thrown into the loony bin with the rest of Batman's bad guys. Will he make it out alive? How will this experience change him? Or is he possibly a new Bat-villian in the making? Those are the questions that keep you flipping page after page in this book.
The first half of the book is some of the best Batman/Gotham City stories I've read in a long time. What makes it even more impressive is that Batman is barely in it! And most of the characters (Humpty Dumpty, Death Rattle, Jane Doe, and Junkyard Dog) are new. But they FEEL like they've been Batman characters for YEARS. That's where this book really excels. I had to go online and make sure that there weren't Batman stories that I'd missed over the years. And that, right there, is something very special that the writer and artist pulled off effortlessly. I bought that these were longstanding Bat-villains. And they are SO good, that I hope future Batman writers incorporate them into future stories.
The second half of this book takes a drastic and sudden turn into, what I feel, is a wrong direction. The rug gets pulled out from under us and the prison drama we were reading suddenly turns into a horror film. It's the same drastic turn like the movie Dusk Till Dawn. And, in this case, it really doesn't work.
However, even in the later half of the book, there are STILL priceless Bat-villain moments-- like the Joker's escape, his subsequent palindrome crimes, and his eventual "run in" with Batman. With that in mind, I'd recommend buying this book. Because even though it takes a wrong turn and slightly stumbles, even then it's still better than most of the Batman books out there. And the first half of the book (especially the Humpty Dumpty issue) when everything's working, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is some of the best Batman work I've ever read!