Category Archives: Excerpts/Samples

*Last Chance* to Read My Prison Memoir Excerpt & WIN FREE PRIZES!

This weekend or early next week I’ll be sending out my very first monthly e-newsletter–which will include the opening 20-ish pages from my soon-to-be-published memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison. The excerpt is emotionally resonant, intense, funny, and intriguing, and includes the wild, infuriating scene in which I was first arrested for marijuana after an illegitimate traffic stop and illegal search & seizure. This will be the first and only place I’ll be sharing the excerpt any time soon.

The next few days are your last chance to get yourself on the list and receive the exclusive preview! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP. If you don’t like what you see, unsubscribing only takes a click or two; but I vow to try my very best to provide entertaining, interesting, informative, funny content every single month. I doubt you’ll be disappointed!

My first email newsletter will also feature an EXCLUSIVE CONTEST that involves no purchase of anything . . .

TWO LUCKY PARTICIPANTS WILL WIN $15 GIFT CARDS TO AMAZON!

Don’t miss out–sign up now! Thanks.
~Love & Liberation~
Jan @ www.JanSmitowicz.com

RebelHellVersion6-7-16croppedc

 

The Gorilla Hirambe’s Killing Unsurprising, Emblematic of How We Treat All Animals

Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo

Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Cincinnati Zoo. REUTERS/Cincinnati Zoo/Handout via Reuters

The murder of this magnificent nonhuman-person, whose western lowland gorilla species is critically endangered, with fewer than 200,000 individuals left in the wild, has been discussed at length already. I just wanted to make a couple points, and reproduce a pertinent quote from the book I’m reading.

The only logical conclusion that this tragedy should engender is that zoos are fucking terrible, *inherently.* No exceptions. They are nothing more than prisons for those who’ve committed no crime. Kidnapping animals from the wild; breeding and then keeping captive animals; unnatural, toxic, pitiful facsimiles of the real nature these animals should be in, even at what most people consider the best zoos; and at the end, the most harmful aspect of them all regarding zoos–they treat, view, teach, say, and demonstrate the idea that nonhuman animals are/as property. The glass windows through which humans crowd around to stare at zoo animals and their “habitat” should more appropriately be seen as mirror that reflects back at those attendants some of the most awful characteristics of humanity; industrialized humans’ hubris, vanity, greed, sociopathic selfishness, denial of facts, cruelty, stupidity, and ludicrous, baseless worldview that humans are superior to all nonhuman life in any way or form that truly matters. The most brilliant, scathing analysis about the innate atrocity of zoos also comes from–not suprisingly–Derrick Jensen and photographer Karen Tweedy Holmes‘s gorgeous, heartbreaking coffee table-type book, Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos.

I’d like to mention a few things about this tragic (though all-too-predictable) event and its resultant media and social media firestorm. The number of people outraged by it is of course a great thing. Everybody should be angry. We should be calling for the sterilization of the boy’s mother 😉 But we also need to realize that–similar to oil spills, like the 20 thousand gallons of crude oil Shell just leaked into California’s Central Valley (which itself was just two weeks after Shell spilled 90 thousand gallons into the Gulf of Mexio!)–zoo animals being murdered by their captors is simply an inevitable cost of doing this kind of business! Toxic chemicals and carcinogens get “accidentally” released into the air/water/soil by giant multinational corporations that deal with toxic chemicals, and animals will be abused in industries that rely on their exploitation!

The answer is not to reform this genocidal culture; the answer is to destroy it!

Finally, there’s a certain moral schizophrenia, in the words of animal rights attorney and professor Gary Francione, within anybody who is upset about Harambe but has not yet gone vegan. What happened to Harambe is incredibly MILD and UNCRUEL compared to what the BILLIONS of nonhuman individuals trapped in the meat, dairy, egg, vivisection, fur, leather, and other industries. If you’re not vegan, you’re literally paying people to torture animals, keep them sickeningly confined to the point where they can hardly move their entire short, pitiful, miserable lives, and slash their throats in unspeakably savage, barbaric slaughterhouses. If you care about Hirambe, GO VEGAN!

And now, the passage that motivated me to write this blog. From THE MYTH OF HUMAN SUPREMACY by Derrick Jensen (who called me “One hell of a writer.” How amazing is that?!)

derrick

“Regret the extirpation of a species? Not on your life. Regret our not being able to exploit them further? Now we’re talking.
“This is one reason nearly all news articles about an endangered species must include reference to this species’ financial value to the economy. From the perspective of human supremacists, financial value IS value. The inherent value of the other–the value of this other to itself [sic] and to its [sic] family or community or larger biotic community–is either going to be ignored, or at best, grossly undervalued.”

This passage made me think of Harambe, who was murdered by his prison captors; as the above passage draws to mind, his “property value” was lowered by the event’s inevitable media coverage, and so, even though he wasn’t going to hurt anyone, and even though his kidnappers could’ve stopped Harambe by using nonlethal means, they were better off simply killing him. This is business as usual in a culture of human supremacists. I’d frankly be more surprised if they HADN’T murdered Harambe the gorilla!

And that says more than all the articles combined.

 

thumbsup jesus

 

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Eco-Thriller “Redwood Falls,” Chapter 1

Below is the ominous, strangely poignant first ~18 pages of my second novel, Redwood Falls. The story of David Foster Sayers–who grows up to become one of the most infamous “eco-terrorists” in the world–begins when he’s a young, vulnerable, unusually naive child. His suffocatingly overprotective mother Rita is already headed for a “descent into madness,” as the Blood Alley Diaries reviewer phrased it. She whisks Foster away on a mysterious late-night road trip. The traumatic effects of which he may never recover from…

 PART 1: PLANTING SEEDS
Chapter 1

1.

When I was eight years old, I decided what to do with my life. My mother decided to do anything she could to stop me. Anything.

I lay on my Salvation Army bed, scrawny eight-year-old me, with no clue as to the magnitude, the gravity, the sheer life-altering madness my choice would bring. I was reading a yellowed copy of Catcher in the Rye, cover worn off two owners ago. Eyes flying across the words.

Then it hit me.

No warning, not an inkling of an idea that gradually bloomed to full desire. It’s like I was a chameleon and my tongue shot out across space, latched onto the flitting fly of an idea, and yanked it into my consciousness. Ready to be chewed.

It mulled in my head for a few moments, the idea, and then I smiled, thinking How cool! I hopped off the bed and hurried out to the living room.

My mom sat on the old beige couch, cushions sunken under her weight. She wasn’t fat; hefty would be the more precise word. She was watching the game show Jeopardy! I glanced at the screen, and the most eminent mustachioed gentleman in all of TV-land read an answer. “Quartz!” Mom barked.

“What is quartz?” one of the contestants responded correctly. A minute smile etched into one side of my mom’s lips, carving a little divot into the pasty skin of her cheek.

“Mom?” I muttered. Engrossed in the thinking person’s game show, she didn’t notice my arrival. Her gaze lingered on the screen. A tiny reflected-contestant-facsimile appeared in her thick-lensed glasses, with an even more minute reflection below, in her shocking blue irises. Finally she glanced at me.

“I’m not on the show, I don’t have to answer in the form of a question.”

“What?” The skin between my eyes scrunched.

“So I still got it right. Perestroika!” she cried, correctly questioning a $300 answer. She looked at me, and I stared back, uncomprehending. Then she said, “What’s going on, sweetheart?”

“I know what I want to do.”

“When you grow up? Zachary Taylor!” Her eyes shifted between the screen and me. Me and the screen.

“Now, too.”

A Mona Lisa-like smile appeared on her lips. “You don’t want to wait until you grow up. You want to do it now as well?”

I nodded.

“David Foster Sayers, my little scholar! Only eight years old—the Amazon—and already so very specific with your words!” She smiled, pleased at what she’d no doubt consider her accomplishment. “What is it that you want to do, angel?”

“What is the Amazon?” a contestant said, and $800 was added to his score.

“I want to write.”

Her eyes flashed onto me and this time remained. Smile faltering as her lips went slack. “You . . .” She swallowed. “You mean like technical writing, right?”

“What’s that?”

“Writing for companies. Instruction booklets, manuals—stuff like that.” She stared at me now, intently, with those penetrating eyes. No longer paying an iota of attention to the TV.

“No, I mean books. Like Catcher in the Rye!”

“Oh.” She turned her face back to the TV. “Oh, I see. Of course.” An answer was given on Jeopardy!, but this time Mom didn’t respond, though I’m positive she knew the question. It was about Vincent Van Gogh—her favorite painter. One of her “Genuine Deities.” Her dark black eyebrows suddenly creased down hard, like she was trying to crack a walnut with her eye sockets. She bit her lip. Nostrils flared. Breathing heavily. Another answer whizzed by, unacknowledged.

“Mom, are you okay?” A sick feeling prodded at my tummy.

“Oh,” she murmured, “a writer, oh-wow-oh-no. But of course!” She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead with the first two fingers of one hand hard enough to make an audible friction sound. Like when she’d shade a drawing with a #2 pencil lain on its side.

“Mom?”

She bolted to her feet and fled the living room, staring straight ahead, fluffy white slippers scuffing across the carpet. Mumbling, accruing static electricity with her feet. She grabbed the silver doorknob to her room and blue sparks flickered at her fingertips. I seriously heard them go pop! from across the room, but she didn’t flinch from the shock or anything. Just slammed the door behind herself.

*******

Shuffling sounds woke me in the middle of the night. My bedroom door stood ajar. I squinted against the light filtering in from the hallway; Mom was bent over the open bottom drawer of my dresser. Legs spread wide, shin-length skirt pulled way up over her knees. She heaved clothes between her legs, into a suitcase on the floor behind her. Like a football player hiking the ball. Over and over.

I rubbed my eyes. “Wuh’re you doin, mommy?”

She paused, head upside-down between her knees. Scraggly curls of hair hung down like thick clusters of jungle vines. “We’re going on a journey, angel.” The hallway light was dim, but I could see enough. Her face was the red of a not-quite-ripe tomato.

“Journey to where?”

“An important place.”

This would prove, farther along down the path of time’s arrow, to be two things: extremely apt, and the understatement of my life. Such an indicator of things to come.

“Where?” I asked again.

Her upside-down face stared at me. If possible, try not to get stared at by an upside-down face. Too unsettling.

“You’ll see,” she said finally.

I’m not fanatical about surprises. So her words bothered me. This night, over a decade ago now as I write, is my earliest memory of an event—one unceremoniously forced upon me—that clanged against a basic aspect of my personality. Before long, it would seem like the whole world was designed to make me feel flawed on a fundamental level. I didn’t realize it at the time—ah, the blissful naivete of childhood—but she cunningly planned and executed things exactly this way.

The clock on my bedside desk neon-greened 10:37 P.M. Mom stood up and turned around. “O-K-A-Y, cherry pie. Let’s get you dressed.”

I rose from bed slowly, weak from the sudden wakeup. “Why’d you pack so much clothes?”

“We’ll be staying for as long as it takes.” No fluke—she really was that cryptic.

She held out a pair of navy blue sweatpants, hands clasped inside the waistband. I stepped into them. Then I lifted my arms straight in the air, reaching for the stars. Reaching for the treetop canopies (ones that used to shade the area right where I stood). She slipped a plain white shirt on. Then a black hoody.

Out through the living room. Silhouetted objects—couch, television and console, chairs, drapes, easel—were dark facsimiles of the familiar.

The air held an urgent weight. Like something monumental would happen in those dead sleepy hours. Like this gravity, pushing on me from all sides, only discernible in retrospect. But it was there. The seed gets planted, and may take years to sprout.

********

I climbed in Mom’s olive-green (where it wasn’t rusted) Oldsmobile. Oh how I would come to loathe that pre-catalytic-converter, petroleum-guzzling monstrosity.

It was late fall and we were only 15 miles east of the San Francisco Bay. The air was chilly and thin. It nipped at my fingers and nose. I crossed my arms, stuck my hands into my armpits for warmth. Mom went to the garage and carried something to the car. An uneasy feeling—related to, but not the same, as nausea—seeped into my stomach.

It was an axe. She clunked it into the trunk. When she plopped down next to me, the bench seat rocked. When she turned the key in the ignition, the car sputtered, and then roared to life, shuddering. I was hit fast with the faint stench of smoggy exhaust. I wanted nothing more in the world than for the engine to warm so I could turn on the heater. It was literally the only part of the trip Mom let me control.

“Why don’t you try and get some sleep, dear.” She was looking over at me. Her breath came out in a thin white fog, like ghosts were escaping her body with every breath.

I nodded, said nothing.

We ascended the freeway onramp. Soon was the sign that indicated we were entering Oakland. That night would be the first time I’ve ever gone more than one city away from Redwood Falls. I lay back and closed my eyes. A humongous pair of palms seemed to press on my eyeballs.

 

I shudder to think of all the fuel Mom’s huge Oldsmobile burned that night. For so many years, I felt implicated in everything, guilty: if I weren’t alive, Mom wouldn’t have made that road trip and guzzled all that gasoline, emitting carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, particulate matter, and so many other toxins.

As if it were my fault she didn’t approve of my life’s calling.

********

Unreal Redwood - Copy

Unreal Redwood - Copy

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********

I awoke later from a car door’s slam. My eyes snapped open. It felt like someone was sticking sharp knives in my skin all over my body.

My mom held a Styrofoam cup (oh how I would grow to loathe those, too) and a thin aluminum can. She took tiny sips from the cup, and set the can down in the cup holder. “Hello there,” she said.

“Hi.”

She started the car and drove off. I looked out the window and watched the 7-11 recede, a glowing aura in the dark deserted night. I saw dead animals—raccoons, possums, birds, deer, a coyote—on the side of the highway more frequently than I saw other cars. We passed a sign that said 101 North.

I only knew one specific place that was north. “Are we going to Canada?”

Mom smiled. “No, not that far. We’re just going near the top of California.” She blew into the little slit in the plastic lid of her cup. She sipped. “You never cease to amuse me, darling.”

The headlights created a small splotch of dim road. It was an old car. I couldn’t see much of anything beyond the headlight glow, except a thin strip of flat, bare dirt. It could’ve been anything beyond that. A lake. A forest. Mountains. California is an eclectic hodge-podge of gorgeous scenery.

I looked up at the moon. It was bloated, gibbous, almost directly overhead. The sky was perfectly clear. No matter what changes happen in life and in our personalities, the moon is always the same. Same cycles. Same craters. It even goes so far as to face us the same way all the time. The only thing that ever really changes is our perspective.

“I have to admit it’s gettin better,” Mom suddenly cried. The radio was off. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. Took a big gulp from the aluminum can. “Gettin behhh-ter all the time!”

*********

I must’ve slept for quite a while this time. I dreamt I was in prison, locked in a cage. I held onto the bars with my face pressed against the steel, screaming. I know I did something wrong to get there, I was a bad boy, I took something that wasn’t mine. Or maybe I was framed for something I didn’t do?

********

When I awoke, the car was still again. I shivered. Mom was gone. Her door ajar. I leaned forward to look out. She bent over the dirt, retching. Brownish vomit splashed onto the ground between her feet.

The headlights were still on. There’s something eerie about headlights at night when the engine is turned off. Maybe it’s the idea that you’ve fully stopped, with no means of quick escape if something comes after you, and only enough illumination to see it and know it’s too late to get away.

I became terrified for my mom’s welfare. She seemed so vulnerable, puking on the side of the road. “Mommy,” I said, voice shaking.

She dry-heaved, groaned. Wiped her lips with the back of her hand.

“Mom, are you okay? Please come back.”

She turned back to me with her hands on her knees. “I’m fine, sweetie.” She spit on the ground, walked slowly back to the car. “Learn from my mistakes—never mix coffee and Red Bull.”

I heard waves crashing nearby. Just beyond my mom’s puddle of steaming vomit was a dropoff. We were near the side of a cliff. Past that was the ocean. We must’ve been at least 150 feet above the water. The moon, midway between its zenith and the horizon, created huge patches of rippling silver on the ocean. It was unbelievably majestic, and made me brim with the most intense happiness. It is those fleeting moments of brilliance—and only those—that make this pathetic civilized human existence bearable.

********

There’s an hour around dawn when you feel like the only creature alive on the planet. The sun hasn’t quite come to wake your part of the world yet, and the city is dead, all yours. The birds nap between their 4 A.M. warmup and morning serenade. You could lie in the middle of an intersection for as long as your back could handle it, and the only sound would be the distant glow of cars on the freeway, like some giant stretched-out concrete beast, softly breathing the harmonies of early morning.

At 4:45, we entered the forest. The trees were towering, with tops that seemed to graze the stars. They filled me with an even greater sense of wonder than the ocean had.

Mom sat forward in her seat, clutching the steering wheel to her chest. She drove slowly, half the limit of 40. Her head swiveled back and forth. Scanning the trees, searching furiously.

My heart pounded; there was a heavy pressure on my chest. I was both frightened and titillated. Mom’s mysterious behavior only deepened the effect.

We pulled to the side of the road. Shut off the engine. It clicked, dying down.

Mom looked at me. Her thin hair was matted to the back of her head from leaning on the headrest for hours. She looked depleted. She pointed to the jacket on my lap. “Put that on, Foster. I don’t want you to get sick. It’s chilly out there.”

I nodded. She took a deep breath, and whooshed it out. “Okay,” she said. “It’s time.”

I opened the door and the chill air bit at my skin. It smelled salty, damp in my nostrils. And the trees—thick, fresh, green. A tremendous array of sensations. An onslaught of beauty.

Mom trudged around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. Its metal hinges creaked. I slipped on my jacket. It didn’t make me warm; it just kind of kept the cold at bay.

Things clunked around in the trunk.   Fear exploded in me like a plutonium fission when I remembered what she had put back there, shattering my waning consciousness.

She stepped around the rear bumper of the car, carrying the axe with her right hand halfway up its wooden handle. It dangled just below her hip.

Brown wooden handle about three feet long. Steel head with a blunt red half, and then a sharp silver blade at the other end. The whole thing dulled by years of dust and entropy. I have no idea where it was last used, or for what. It must’ve been buried in the garage among boxes and painting supplies and Christmas lights, what looked like miles of Christmas lights. The axe was nothing special. But what it would do to me that night would have seemingly endless ramifications. This book might not have happened without that axe. In my memory, it has an almost preternatural glow.

Fear kicked my heart into gear.

“Come on, sweetheart. Gotta shake a leg!” She walked away from the car, lifted one of her legs, shook it convulsively to illustrate the point. There was dark forest looming over us in that direction. I sat frozen in place. It’s not like I thought my mother was going to hurt me. It’s just that the situation was so strange and alien that I didn’t particularly want to see where it would lead.

She stopped and turned around. “Come on, Foster.” (My name is David Foster—which should’ve tipped me off long before I realized the truth—but I go by Foster). “Nothing bad will happen. You’re safe with mommy. Always.” Nobody could ever understand how disingenuous those statements were. She came up and took me by the hand. I let her lead me into the forest. Like so many times in my life, I felt completely unable to control its course. I succumbed to my fate with not a word of objection. Not because I was too weak or timid to do anything about it, but because I just didn’t know how to.

********

We got to the growth of trees at the side of the road. A light clicked on. Mom held a large flashlight in the same hand as the axe. The light shined on tree trunks, on branches, on dirt, as Mom’s hand bounced up and down with our steps.

The tree trunks were wider than cars, with roots fanning out even farther, massive roots bigger than my arms. And their height! Taller than any building I’d ever seen. I craned my neck to try and see their tops, but they receded into the darkness of night. For all I knew, the trees could’ve stretched on forever. To the heavens. They filled me with awe, with a sense of wonder so great I could hardly walk. Several times I tripped and almost fell. I payed more attention to the majesty sprouting up out of the dirt around us than where my feet went. Mom had to catch me. “Be careful,” she whispered. I’m sure she noticed my reverence. And though it was too dark to see her face, I’m also sure the knowledge made her smile.

********

An unsettling feeling settled into the pit of my stomach by the time we were fifteen minutes into the forest. The oddity of the situation, and our isolation, was finally outweighing my amazement at the beauty around me. Mom held my hand.

Then she stopped. So abruptly that I kept walking for a second, and my arm was pulled backward. I uttered a little yelp of surprise.

“Well, here we are.” She huffed from the physical exertion.

I looked around. We stood in a small clearing in front of a cluster of trees that looked like an extended family gathered together. They were old-growth redwoods, trees that had taken upwards of a thousand years to grow to their skyscraping height. “Where are we?” I asked.

“We’re here. Wherever we are, we’re always here.”

I blinked. My perennial reaction to perplexing statements.

She switched the flashlight to her left hand. The axe head rested upside-down on the dirt. She cupped the other end in her right palm, absent-mindedly rubbing the wood with her thumb. “This is an important place, Foster. Because here we’re among family.”

“Family?”

“That’s right, baby. Family. The trees. See those over there?” She motioned to the cluster of redwoods.

I nodded.

“They’re our family. They live and breathe and feel, just like us.”

My eyebrows hunched down like two furry centipedes facing off. “Breathe?”

“Oh yes. They breathe in bad air and turn it into good air so that we can breathe. They give us life.”

The idea was completely nonsensical, but I knew she told the truth. She wouldn’t lie to me.

“They also eat, just like us.” She stepped slowly to the redwoods, raising her voice as she got farther away from me. It echoed, bouncing nebulously around the trees like a pinball. “They take in sunlight and eat the nutrients, and use it to grow bigger.”

I couldn’t understand how that was possible, but had no urge to ask for clarification. I didn’t need it, and probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

“These ones have been living for thousands of years.” The trees made her seem like an ant. She rested the axe on one of their trunks. Placed her hand on the bark. “Come here, Foster.”

I walked over slowly, dragging my feet in the dirt. It felt like a chunk of wood was lodged in my throat.

She held the axe out to me as I approached. “Here you go,” she said. “Take it.”

I stared at the axe. A beam of moonlight glinted off the metal blade. “What for?”

“Take the axe, Foster.” Gentle, but commanding. The ominous undertones are only noticeable in retrospect.

I took hold of the thick wooden handle with my little fingers. It reminded me of how small I was, a little kid with a grownup’s toy.

“I want you to cut down the tree,” she said.

I stared at her blankly for a moment. Then my eyes shifted around. The trees stood over me like sentinels, waiting to see what would happen. “What?”

“I want you to take that axe and I want you to chop down this tree.” She put her hand on the bark, trailed her fingers down it.

“I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to hurt it.”

Her eyes were probes, burning through her stock glasses and into my brain and my soul. “But you want to be a writer.”

I nodded.

“Writing is the same thing as cutting down trees.”

I tilted my head at her. “It is?”

Her eyes lit up with fervor. “Yes! Paper that you use to write on comes from trees!” She paused, took a breath, and her voice dropped in pitch. “People come into the woods, men with machines, they come into the forests just like this one, where the trees are sleeping with their families and friends, and they kill them. They kill them, Foster. They cut them all down, and slice them up to make paper.”

My eyes scanned the forest, dread rising in me like a boiling pot about to overflow, expecting to see these men coming now. My voice came out tiny, fragile, quivering. “Why do they do that?”

She responded as though each word had a period after it: “Because. People. Use. Paper.

“And do you know who uses the most paper, and is therefore responsible for killing the most trees?”

I shook my head slowly, never taking my eyes away from hers.

“Writers.”

It felt like something inside me was given a noxious pinch. I swallowed thickly. Asked, “What?” in my little child’s voice.

“That’s right, Foster. Writers use more paper than anyone. They use up thousands of sheets of paper, of trees’ skin, to get good at it, and then when their books sell to thousands or millions of people, all these trees are cut down to make all those books.” She turned her head, squinting at me. “Do you think that’s right?”

I didn’t answer, because I felt nothing would change what must’ve been the truth of her words.

She held the axe out to me again. “Cut down the tree, sweetheart.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. I shook my head. Back and forth, once. Slowly.

“Well I guess I’m gonna have to do it.” She gripped the axe in her hands, turned and lunged at the redwood in a swinging arch. The blade crashed into its bark with a soft spongy thud. Two inches of steel were buried in the trunk of the tree. In its flesh.

“No!” I pled.

She yanked the axe away with a grunt, and reared back again. Slammed the blade into the same spot.

I sobbed now. “Mommy stop, please.”

She dropped the axe on the ground. Moved right next to the tree, and ran her finger inside the wound. A hot tear rolled down my cheek, tickled me. I didn’t brush it away. My breath came in jagged gasps. As did hers. She turned to me, held out her index finger. On it was a glob of something dark.

“Look at this, Foster. They bleed. Just like us.”

Farther up the highway, Mom suddenly slammed on her brakes. The tires screeched. She turned the wheel hard to the right, and we were on a small dirt road. It was scattered with rocks, rocks tinted purple with the glowing dawn. Some were small pebbles and some were almost as big as my head. The car crashed over them noisily. Massive trees surrounded us on both sides, towering over the car. I crouched low in my seat, craned my neck up, trying to see where the redwoods ended and the sky began. It was like a mouse looking up at a human.

We followed the winding dirt road for what seemed like a long time. We climbed up steep hills, the Oldsmobile shuddering slowly. Then we’d hurdle down hills at breakneck speeds. At the crest of one hill, deep into the forest, Mom pulled the car over and cranked the shift lever into PARK.

She turned to me. “Do you know what ghosts are, Foster?”

“Yeah. Like in a haunted house.”

She nodded, smiling tenderly. The love in her eyes made me feel precious. “You’re so smart, baby. Come on.” We climbed up an embankment on the side of the road. The dirt here was clumpy, loose, with scattered shrubs and weeds. My shoes sunk into the dirt. I slipped several times. We reached the top of the embankment.

The other side looked almost like pictures I’d seen of the surface of the moon. Except it wasn’t totally barren—you could tell there had been something there, at one time. It was a small valley, stretching hundreds of yards into the distance in front and to both sides. Dotted with tree stumps, shredded logs, branches, weeds, but mostly just dirt. Lots of dead-looking dirt. At the end of this massive field were rows of trees. The reality slowly dawned on me. This used to be a forest. I scanned the area over and over, my forehead scrunched down in confusion. A living, breathing forest.

“Can you believe it, Foster? This used to be just like the other forest we were in.”

My lips drew together. One of the stumps nearby had a thick chunk of mangled tree flesh sticking up out of it. It was almost like an arm, reaching toward the sky. And the jagged tips, where the rest of the tree tore off, were like fingers.

“This place is haunted, can’t you feel it?” my mother asked. “Haunted with the ghosts of the trees who used to live here.”

“What happened to it?” I asked quietly.

She put her hand on my shoulder, pulled me close to her. “All the classrooms in the country, they needed their books. Needed their Catchers in the Rye.”

 ********

We drove down Highway 101. A bluish glow crept across the eastern horizon. On the left were wide-open fields, crops, endless acres of green. On the right, the ocean. Occasionally, through my cracked window, I heard waves crashing. The air was so fresh and clean. I wanted to drink it, eat it, make it live inside me and give me life. I imagined myself as a tree; standing there and growing thick and tall for hundreds of years, sucking in this beautiful life-giving oxygen. I felt what it would be like to be one of those redwoods. Serenity. I wouldn’t like it if somebody came in the middle of the night and cut me down to make paper or wood, whether they got use out of it or not. Even if a tree can’t feel sorrow or longing, it exists, it wants to keep on living even if it isn’t aware, and it’s wrong for us to go against what’s best for it. Especially since they’re older and have been around longer than us. They are natural, perfect.

As if picking up my thoughts, Mom turned to me and said, “So no writing for you, right Foster?”

I looked at her. Nodded my head in affirmation, thinking about men with axes in the night.

********

At 6:34 P.M., we drove by a green metal rectangle welcoming us (back) to Redwood Falls. Population 11,341. I stared at the two words—Redwood Falls—wondering why they intrigued me so much. They looked odd put together like that. It’s like they were written in an alien tongue, a language I wasn’t aware I could read. One not of definition but of meaning. The only problem is that I didn’t understand the meaning; I just knew there was one, and that it was important. What happens when a redwood falls? Why did my mind latch onto those two words?

In any case, I entered my hometown a new person.

 

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My Undercover Animal Cruelty Investigations

av mag

CLICK HERE to read my narrative nonfiction piece about some experiences doing undercover stockyard investigations of dairy “farms” in Southern California.

The article is at turns riveting, heart-wrenching, beautiful, enraging, and militant (natch).

Or you can check out the same piece, print-published in a beautiful 16-page spread that includes pictures; it was the cover story for the November 2013 issue of The Animals’ Voice magazine. You can view the article as a PDF for *FREE*, or purchase beautiful glossy copies for just $6.40 each!

My Raunchy VASECTOMY Poem!

planned-parenthood

When you’re tired of stressing about birth,
The solution is oh so plain to see;
No more rolling condoms on your girth–
Vasectomy!

She can stop taking those nasty pills,
Flushing hormones from her pee,
Making downstream animals ill:
Vasectomy!

But you don’t want it to burn when you piss.
I know, you’re worried about an STD!
Well, all I have to say is this–
Monogamy!

Stop putting such a burden on poor women.
Take on your own responsibility.
No more sperm in your semen swimmin–
Vasectomy!

No more, ‘Where’s my baby’s mama?’
No more abortion pleas.
No more Hitlers or Osamas–
Vasectomy!

Overpopulation is the world’s bane.
To global life it is a curse.
Don’t worry about the procedure’s pain,
You’ve felt so much worse.

It’s nothing like a kidney stone,
Really not a big deal.
Nothing like a broken bone.
You won’t even miss a meal!

After the Novocaine makes you numb
All you feel is a gentle tug,
Of total discomfort a tiny sum,
And the strange smell of a burning rug.

That’s the sealing of your vas deferens tube.
Now your billion bastard babies perish inside–
On your body, a brilliant medical rube!
With scars tiny, not a centimeter wide.

And if you want to raise a child,
Think about the most righteous option;
It’s really not an idea so wild–
Adoption!

Never again a pregnancy scare,
Worrying, stressing, feeling sick,
Pulling at the roots of your hair,
Waiting on that piss-soaked stick.

And think of all the fun to be had!
Sex any time, anywhere.
Leave the rubbers at your pad,
Now you can raw dog in there!

Get it on wherever you are;
Almost any quiet place will do–
The movies, the back of a bar;
Even a Starbuck’s drive-thru!

Free to be
Forever me–
Vasectomy!

Enjoy that? Check out my revenge-on-Monsanto debut novel Orange Rain HERE!

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FreeBook Fridays!

Very soon, I will begin a new promotion. Every Friday, I will publish a chapter from my novel Redwood Falls. The entire thing will be made available as an e-book on Amazon if people want to read the whole novel right away. But I will publish one chapter per week until the whole thing’s available for free, piece-by-piece.

Unreal Redwood

Redwood Falls is the story of David Foster Sayers, who decides as a child that he wants to be a writer. His overbearing mother decides to do anything it takes to stop him. Foster eventually embarks on a search for his missing father, who may or may not have faked his own suicide. Redwood Falls is a big-hearted, wild earth-centered ride about friendship, creativity, madness, family, and community. It is an edge-of-your seat environmental caper, an eco-thriller in the proud tradition of Edward Abbey’s classic The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Stay Tuned! My FreeBook Fridays will be starting before the year is out!

Vegan in Prison?!

This piece is culled partly from my forthcoming memoir, Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to PrisonIf you’re wondering WHY I was locked up, click on the “About Me” page above.

From 2010 through 2012, I served just under two years in Illinois prisons. Aside from a few accidents based on false information, I stayed vegan in County Jail, in Receiving (24-hour lockdown), for my 18 months in the high-minimum-security Jacksonville Correctional Center, and my three months in the medium-security “Disciplinary Prison,” Logan Correctional Center. You may be surprised to find that, overall, it wasn’t at all hard to be vegan, even in Midwestern-U.S. prisons!

Note that I used the caveat overall. Because at the beginning, it was physically outrageous. Dangerous, even. When my mother and I said our tearful goodbyes on the Henry County Jail steps, I was chubbier (on purpose) than I’d been since early puberty. That fine spring day, I weighed 183 pounds.

My two weeks in County Jail were . . . less than nourishing. I ate mostly white bread, peanut butter and jelly, dry cereal, mushy canned vegetables, and plain noodles. I didn’t know if they had any kind of vegan or even vegetarian tray. I didn’t even bother to ask. I was overwhelmed, scared, mentally/emotionally anguished. I just wanted to acclimate to my new environment before making waves. One of the worst things a new guy on the unit can do is show himself to be different. Especially in ways that are interpreted as weak in that environment. Those two weeks were unpleasant, but they were an absolute party (with a buffet!), compared to what followed.

amyelkins05

What came next was probably the worst two weeks of my life. Every prisoner in Illinois has to go through “Receiving”, where they enter your information into the computer system, determine your security level and which prison they’ll ship you to, and where, I believe, they try to break your spirit by keeping everyone, from serial killer to joint-smoker, in conditions only found in a supermax. During my two weeks there, I got out of the cell one time, for a ten-minute shower. There’s a reason the food trays at Stateville Receiving are referred to as “Lunchables.” Consider: I gave my cellmate all my animal products, and he was still hungry. I could barely sleep. Desperate for relief from the gnawing, churning ache of emptiness and hunger. They served lots of potatoes; yet they were undercooked to near inedibility. We couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be boiled potatoes or potato chips. When I mercifully made it, at last, to Jacksonville Correctional Center, I was 164 pounds. From 183 to 164 (19 pounds, evaporated into the ether) in just 27 days. That means I lost two pounds every three days. Madness! Pathologically inhumane!

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I was grateful toward religion/religious people for one of the only times in my life when I finally got to prison. At Jacksonville, I found out they had a designated VEGAN tray list for religious reasons. I claimed Seventh-Day Adventism. Unfortunate, but you’re not allowed to get on the list for ethical or health reasons—only religious ones. Silly, I know, but one of the only things that carries weight in prison is religion. Dig this: it didn’t used to be so easy. Claim a religion, see the chaplain, and BOOM, you have access to three vegan meals a day. No, back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Dietary staff would just laugh if you asked for even a vegetarian meal. But thank Earth for us ethical vegans that there were some ultra-religion people who took their faith—and faithful diet—very seriously. Guys went on hunger strikes. They filed lawsuits for violation of religious freedom. And some upped the ante even further; guys would attack guards and fellow inmates, flood their cells by jamming up the toilet, and even take guards and other prison staff hostage in an attempt to be heard, to be taken seriously. To receive their legit vegan meals. And they won. Because of those handful of inmates who fought, literally and figuratively, for animal-free meals, every one of the 15-plus state prisons in Illinois now has a designated vegan tray.

First off, that’s fucking awesome on their part. Second, that’s fucking pathetic on our part. Physically assaulting guards and inmates, taking prison staff hostage—“just” so they could receive vegan meals. Imagine for a second. Just imagine! What would it be like if everybody took veganism and animal liberation that seriously?! Those guys had so few resources and abilities at their disposal, and yet just a handful of men changed an entire state’s policy. And this ain’t Rhode Island, folks; Illinois has close to 50,000 people in prison, with a higher per-capita rate than California. They literally risked having years added to their sentence, risked months or years of solitary confinement, risked even their very lives.[1] Imagine if even 10 percent of those who say they believe in animal liberation were willing to take those kinds of risks. A powerful lesson—one that should both shame and inspire us—can be taken from the fight for adequate vegan meals in Illinois prisons.

I damn sure benefitted from it. The vegan trays were far, far better than the regular ones. And not just for the obvious reason that they contained no animal products. The food was tastier, with a greater variety. It makes sense. Inmate kitchen workers can make much higher quality food when they’re preparing for just eight or ten people, versus 800-900 people! The latter received trays of the lowest common denominator, and ones with food that was as simple as possible to cook. But we got stuff that was sometimes great. Spicy chili and cornbread. Garlic-butter noodles with soy crumbles. Mixed-vegetable fried rice. Perfectly spiced black-eyed peas and collard greens. Polenta casseroles. Fried cutlets of zucchini, zucchini grown in a garden maintained by the horticulture class. Fresh fruit at least once every single day (guys on the vegan list were the only inmates to receive fresh fruit—ever). Giant, warm biscuits slathered in non-dairy butter. The guy in charge of preparing the vegan trays, Duff, wanted to hook us up. Simple supply/demand allowed him to spend more time on our trays, enabling him to show off his cooking skills. He succeeded. For prison food, especially in the Midwest-U.S., Jacksonville’s vegan trays were comparatively spectacular![2] Because of my disabling chronic nerve pain condition, I only went to chow once a day, for lunch. Breakfast was far earlier than I wanted to wake up, and dinner in the dining hall was served during my afternoon siesta—a required nap, because my pain was most unbearable in the late afternoon and early evening. So I prepared my own dinner every night. Purchased the ingredients through Commissary. I made one of two things for my entire incarceration: either (1) spicy fried rice with noodles, or (2) a delicious meal of spicy refried beans, knockoff Ramen noodles sans the MSG- and chemical-laden seasoning packet, minced onion and garlic, pickled jalepeños, and spicy chili corn chips, which were accidentally (miraculously) vegan. Some other vegan treats they had on Commissary were ridged potato chips, granola bars that were fantastic with peanut butter, off-brand Golden Grahams, Oreos, knockoff Nutty Bars, and Sierra Mist Natural soda.

All in all, and considering the circumstances, I almost never felt like I was suffering for lack of decent food. Of all the challenges I anticipated leading up to prison and faced while incarcerated, staying vegan was definitely one of the easiest. Not every state is like Illinois in this regard—most are worse, but some are actually even better. I hear federal prisons have vegan options far superior to any state prison. But luckily I landed in a place that made it simple and predictable. For this, I’m hugely indebted to those incredible warriors who Took Shit Seriously and battled with almost unimaginable ferocity to receive acceptable vegan meals. I only hope those of us in the free(-ish) world will learn from their example, and be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve our own goals and dreams of animal liberation.[3] Let’s be more like those prisoners; let’s REALLY begin to Take Shit Seriously. Let’s learn from those human prisoners so we can make a real, tangible (not symbolic) difference in the lives of nonhuman prisoners.
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[1] I know in Illinois, at least, if a prisoner takes someone hostage, the policy is shoot-to-kill; in fact, staff members have to sign a waiver saying they understand, basically, that if they’re taken hostage they’re most likely fucked.

[2] Ironically, Duff contributed to getting me kicked out of the special Drug Unit, which cost me 4.5 months of good time. He almost made up for that despicable treachery w/ his slick vegan cooking.

[3] BAMN!—By Any Means Necessary!

Fantastic MONKEY WRENCH GANG Cartoons

The Monkey Wrench Gang by the amazing writer Ed Abbey–who has inspired generations of eco-activists–is my favorite novel of all time. It also may be the most-radical-book-that-is-still-accessible-to-the-masses EVER. I have gotten easily a dozen people, probably many more, to read the book. I’ve managed to sneak two separate copies past the censors and into prison, where they will be handed around and read by countless inmates for decades to come. It is the book I more highly recommend than any other. Check out these excellent cartoon-drawings based on moments in this seminal novel!

Doc and Bonnie do some billboard-modification.

Doc and Bonnie do some billboard-modification.

Doc finally decides he's had enough TV for the . . . ever.

Doc finally decides he’s had enough TV for the . . . ever.

Hayduke starts a fight in a redneck bar.

Hayduke starts a fight in a redneck bar.

Hayduke has to escape from the authorities once again . . .

Hayduke has to escape from the authorities once again . . .

Hayduke and Seldom Seen Smith creating a little breathing room for wild Earth and animals.

Hayduke and Seldom Seen Smith creating a little breathing room for wild Earth and animals.

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The Horrorshow of Modern Life: An ORANGE RAIN Excerpt

agent orange spraying

This is a one-page section from my e-published revenge novel Orange Rain; click on the title to learn more about it! I’m working with a professional editor on it–we’re almost finished, and hopefully I’ll have a print edition available soon, stay tuned!

************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Max considers saying something to Andre about taking Valium—that he needs to be careful not to get hooked. But Max can hardly blame the kid! He’s had a hard fucking run. Deserves a little relief. Max pops his fair share of benzos; who’s he to talk? He keeps wondering how the human psyche can take so much trauma, so much shit, and stay intact. Stay functional. It’s like wailing on an engine with a sledgehammer: eventually the damn car has to break down! And with life in mid-1980s America, this sledgehammer is getting bigger, heavier, the vitriolic blows more frequent and fiercer all the time. This grotesque horrorshow of modern life.

How are people managing the pain? We know how Max did it. Soon after he first stared into the jagged-toothed, rapid-dog-maw of this increasingly horrendous world, during Vietnam, he dashed for morphine and reveled in its sweet, soft comfort. Numbed himself ravenously.

Hey, you know, that’s what most people do in this culture. Whether it’s junk or blow or speed or pills, or the most popular of all, alcohol, or whether it’s a little less obvious—like television, sports, pop culture, silly gossip and human drama, the mindless drivel of newsstand paperbacks—we all have our drugs, our agents of analgesia.

Max thinks of something he once heard, probably from a tweaker (those people are veritable encyclopedias of obscure information and spare gadgets). Apparently, the eminent jazz saxophonist John Coltrane ate so much candy that his teeth became cavity-ridden and unbearably sore. He started doing heroin to numb the throbbing pain, and ended up hooked on it for years. That’s nearly the perfect symbol for Max’s decade-plus Monsanto dilemma, and the dominant culture as a whole. Treating symptoms instead of attacking or eliminating the root of the problem. Shirking responsibility. From there, we displace the blame and hate onto ourselves instead of hurling them like a heavy rock through a glass window at those who really deserve it—at the pyramid of power, as Lance would say.