Tag Archives: prison memoir

New Memoir Excerpt: The [Seriously] Insane Racial Disparities of U.S. Prisons

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This is a subject I cover in my new memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison with extensive, supposedly fascinating detail–including creative visual and typographical tricks that cannot be duplicate or understood outside the book. The above chart demonstrates one of the very odd aspects of the American “Justice” System; even a lot of people who know and talk about the racial disparities in U.S. prisons aren’t aware of this bizarre fact. That is, it’s not the typical white-compared-to-people-of-color dichotomy. Simply put, it’s specifically and dramatically BLACK PEOPLE who face a staggering racial bias in the courtroom. Especially when compared with whites. As this chart shows, looking at national averages–which are horrific in their own right, and yet aren’t nearly as unbalanced racially than certain individual states, like Illinois, where I was incarcerated–the average numbers show that prisons have about half as many white people per capita as the “Free World,” while blacks’ population density inside is about FOUR TIMES GREATER than outside of prisons!
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REBEL HELL EXCERPT
[from PART 2: WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE]

“For now though, I’ll just point this out: while blacks make up 15 percent of Illinois’s general population, they comprise about 58 percent of its incarcerated population. These numbers are more or less consistent with national trends—at least to the extent of blacks’ astoundingly disproportionate rate of imprisonment compared to their civilian population. STAGGERING is the word that comes to mind. Every time I think about the numbers, no matter how long it’s been since I internalized them . . . STAGGERING.

Given all this—none of which is opinion, but rather factual statements backed by widely available statistics if you care to look—I think it’s time to drop a pipebomb-quote. In The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen [who provided the blurb for this book’s front cover] writes, “Our judicial and penal systems form a massive interlocking set of racist and terrorist organizations, [the latter of which] is defined, remember, as one that deters through terror.”

America’s endless Company Line is how we’re “The Greatest Country in the World.” Its prison numbers clash discordantly with that claim; yet still that Line is spewed, Tourette’s-like, by American politicians and the mainstream media. If this country is so damn spectacular, why are massive throngs of people locked up? Imprisoned at rates and sheer numbers that’re unprecedented? Why do so many people commit serious crimes [as defined by those in power]? Keep in mind, lots and lots of criminal behavior is rooted in despair, in thorough dissatisfaction—with poverty, with one’s living conditions, with economic opportunities or lack thereof, with the status quo; dissatisfaction with a combination of these, or with something else altogether. The question remains: Why are so many people so unhappy, willing to engage in activities that risk incarceration, if America’s so great?

Flag and Razor

We’re a Prison Nation. Through and through. So it makes sense that one of this book’s central theses is that those of us living within the confines of industrial civilization are all prisoners, to varying degrees. Bound by laws that often infringe on our personal birthright-freedoms; bound by the chains of financial bondage, forced to work and pay money to simply exist—what else could rents or mortgages [aka shelter] be considered?

Of course, there are levels of freedom, and prisoners have some of the lowest. Perhaps the only individuals below us in America are sex slaves, and then—way, way farther below, at the very very bottom—nonhuman animals trapped inside fleshfarms, vivisection laboratories, fur “farms,” circuses, rodeos, zoos, and the like. They committed no crime—except the crime [?!?!?] of being born nonhuman.”

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If you want to learn much, much more about this while simultaneously experiencing a harrowing true story that is dark and bleak and depressing, yet somehow equally triumphant and poignant and beautiful–not to mention the gallow’s humor that permeates almost every page–you should read my memoir! Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison is “wildly original,” and you’re almost certain to love the unique, immersive experience. Check out this blog post for further information and an author Q&A.

Get Rebel Hell via my website and have your copy signed & personalized by clicking HERE!

U.S. READERS: Order the paperback or ebook from Amazon HERE.

NON-U.S. READERS: You can CLICK HERE and scroll down for Amazon links to the book in Canada, the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Australia (ebook only).

Love and Liberation,
Jan Smitowicz

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REBEL HELL Prison Memoir–Blog Posts, Author Q&As

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~Please support your independent author-activists–Like, Comment, Share, Subscribe!~

 

My new prison memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison is getting rave reviews from everybody who’s read it. This wildly original and “outrageously candid” book delivers something for everyone–from dark and utterly shameless humor to raw poignant emotion, from enlightening facts & visuals & analysis to lyrical descriptions of the hellacious and the divine alike. It is a substantially important book addressing myriad social issues from a powerful, bold, no-holds-barred perspective; above all, though, Rebel Hell is a captivating story about “justice” in modern America, and about navigating the kaleidoscopic maze of prison absurdity that’d launch even Franz Kafka into a fit of paranoia and disbelief. Finally, there’s yet another dimension of intrigue–how I managed to survive the horrific onslaught of prison as a disabled vegan!

The Daily Maul wrote a fantastic piece about the memoir on 9/10/17: “In New Prison Memoir, ‘Disabled Vegan’ Rails Unabashedly Against Injustice.”

CLICK HERE to read a review from the lovely blog “black. female. christian. vegan.”

And here’s a  short Q&A about my Prison Experience with antinatalist guru and author Laura Carroll.

The book is now available around the world in electronic format as well as the gorgeous paperback!

Now available around the world in electronic format as well as this gorgeous paperback!

If you’re in AmericaHERE   is the Amazon link [Note: you do *not* need a Kindle to read the e-book; simply download the FREE KINDLE APP  and read on any tablet, smartphone, or device!]

If you’re in Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, or France:
Click HERE and scroll down below the cover image, where you’ll find all the Amazon links [or you can just search “smitowicz” and my books are the only results!]

Alternatively, you can order directly from me and get copies signed and personalized! Visit the Rebel Hell page on my  WEBSITE. I also provide terrific bulk discounts [5+ copies] for teachers, book clubs, gift-giving, etc.–simply contact me at SmitowiczAuthorPublicity@gmail.com. Finally, message me if you’re interested in my FREE book club / classroom appearances via Skype for discussion and/or Q&A [minimum five [5] readers]!

~Love & Liberation~
Jan

*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

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Comedian Stanhope’s New Memoir Unsurpassably Funny, Weirdly Touching

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Many of longtime standup comedian Doug Stanhope’s lazy-ass fans, like my wife, will want to know if his new memoir Digging Up Mother: A Love Story from Da Capo Press is as funny as one of his standup performances. The answer is no. It’s much funnier.

I should confess—this review, while 100% genuine and inevitable, is first and most importantly a cheap ploy to try convincing Doug to read my forthcoming memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison and hopefully provide a blurb and maybe even a little review if he likes its dark, depraved, shameless humor as much as I think he will. Maybe we can even do some readings/book signings together!—if you’re not gonna dream big as a writer, might as well quit now. Also I took (prescribed) Ritalin to help me concentrate enough to write this—if you’ve taken ADD meds you know why this matters.

With that out of the way, Digging Up Mother is fantastic. The humor lives up to Stanhope’s reputation for brazen, even blithe twistedness. The book describes his hilarious lifelong penchant for schemes, scams, pranks, and general tomfuckery, detailing literally dozens of them. The biggest laugh-out-loud sequence for me had to be his wedding day. His bride Renee got so hammered beforehand that her friends gave her ecstasy just to keep her standing. The best man was selected using video poker. Stanhope hired a “graphically obese” Elvis impersonator called Extreme Elvis. After the ceremony, most of the band stripped naked while performing, including Extreme Elvis—who urinated into a pint glass then guzzled it down, and plucked a backup singer’s tampon from her vagina and then chewed and spit it toward the fleeing audience. “The quality of the musicianship was being overlooked,” Stanhope writes, “people focusing more on Elvis jamming two fingers up his own ass, then sauntering through the crowd, crooning while he gently swirled those fingers in their drinks” (234).

Through it all, Stanhope somehow manages to touch the reader with surprising poignancy. Partly via his and Mother’s relationship and her supportiveness. Even when he was just the troublesome class clown: “Mother saw my humor and creativity . . . I was fortunate enough to have a parent . . . allow me the freedom to follow my own path” (29). Indeed, Stanhope makes clear that without her cheering him on, he may never have stuck with comedy. “She was my rock and my muse and my only fan that mattered” (162). Then there’s his doting affection for longtime girlfriend Bingo, a schizoaffective bipolar. Her mental illness—she once walked down the street naked in midday while talking into a banana, legitimately thinking it was a phone—doesn’t detract from his fierce love. “I wish my vocabulary held a better word than ‘love’ for all of the emotions I felt about her, how she made me alive. They don’t live in a thesaurus” (271). Digging Up Mother’s juxtaposition of the repulsive and the beautiful is exquisite.

The writing on a barebones level is top-notch. Dark little gems are peppered throughout the narrative, like “Anyone who says that suicide is never the answer hasn’t heard all of the questions” (179) and “Children are abhorrent to me and I believe abortion should be mandatory” (228). Though I’m sure he had a great editor, his narrative talents are abundantly evident. This is never a given—just because you can write an act that leaves audiences in stitches doesn’t mean you can write a book worth dogshit! If you’ve seen or heard his show Beer Hall Putsch, you know that Doug and Bingo helped guide Mother through her 2008 suicide as she quaffed Morphine and Black Russians, but his memoir fills things out superbly. Like how the mortuary people arrived the next morning and assumed Bingo, sprawled out on the couch in a Xanax- and booze-induced deadsleep, was the corpse—and went to take her body away. Nothing is sacred (nor should it be); Stanhope matter-of-factly writes of his limitations as Kevorkianist: “. . . the idea of holding up [Mother’s] deflated ass-cheek while she forces out a mushy yogurt turd . . . no” (4).

Doug Stanhope’s memoir is unquestionably one of the funniest books I’ve read. Its terrific writing and utterly unexpected emotional wallop make it that much better. I can only hope this isn’t the sole memoir he writes—I’m hooked. Read it with an unclenched sphincter and you will be too. Unless you’re a total pussy, of course.

Sitting front row at one of Stanhope’s shows at the Brea Improv in 2013, I offered him LSD during the show. I’m gonna go drop some right now to celebrate that I finally wrote this fucking review. I think Doug would be proud. Now he just needs to contact me about our epic mutual book readings!

Sign up for my once-a-month e-newsletter HERE.

Dream-Sequence Excerpt from my Prison Memoir

This dream sequence occurs after I’ve been in prison for about 9 months, from my memoir-in-progress, REBEL HELL: DOIN’ TIME FOR BARELY A CRIME.

I’m back home in California, the only place I ever belong to live. No—not back home—I never left in the first place! The whole incarceration-thing was just a terrible, and terribly vivid, dream. A nightmare that went on for an absurd length of time. But now it’s over. I’ve told Rebecca about it, and now the three of us—Rebecca, Rikki, and I—are running along a path through the towering old-growth redwoods of Humboldt County. We’re laughing at the idea that I’d ever go to prison. And yet there’s immense relief there in the laughter—relief that I’m not in prison, that it was just a terrible nightmare. Rikki’s running around joyously. Being Forest-Rikki, as we say. She’s bolting in and out of the thick vegetation, appearing for a second on the path and then disappearing again into the bush. A fog bank is rolling slowly into the forest and it brings with it the smell of the nearby Pacific. The air is so clean, fresh, moist, invigorating, life-giving. I close my eyes and hold out my arms as the fog swirls around me and breathe deeply, so deeply, inhaling hard and long enough that it brings a spike of pressure into my chest—but it’s good, oh so good, everything’s good, it’s perfect. I’m with my two favorite people in the wide world, in my favorite place. I’m smiling so much it’s starting to ache, my lips are, but I can’t stop. To stop would infringe on the magic of this moment.

Rebecca comes to me, wraps her arms around my back and presses her body to mine. Our faces are inches apart. She’s smiling, too, that amazing toothy grin of perfect, pure happiness that just lights up her face with an almost-visible aura, a ghostly reflection of her inner state, like she’s encased in it, like the whiteness of a fresh Polaroid that’s just starting to reveal its subject. She kisses me. Then she’s saying something, but I can’t hear her. I can’t hear anything anymore.

Because I’m coming out of the dream.

And I realize it, there with her arms around me and her smile and the fog and the redwoods and the palpable earthy fecundity of the moistened woods, I realize that I’m just dreaming. Everything begins to fade, to drop away, the finished Polaroid in reverse. I try to hold onto the image, the smells, the soft soil under my shoes, the feel of her body’s weight against mine. But I can’t make it stay, no matter how hard I try. I’m shackled, powerless—a slave to reality.

And then I’m awake and the dream’s over, it’s all gone except in flashes that I have to willingly conjure instead of just being there; my eyes are still closed, but the sensations and images appear only in brief flitting pops, like the white veneer over everything in sight that pulses on and off and on in your vision after a bright camera’s flash.

Now I know it was just a dream, that I am in prison, that I won’t be with Rebecca and Rikki again for another year, 52 weeks. But I refuse to accept it. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I keep them closed tight. I’m willing reality to change; why not? There’s no sense behind any of this. Maybe I’ve awoken in a parallel world, where the threat of prison was real, but where true justice was the norm rather than an aberration, and where Judge Hamer didn’t pretend to believe Trooper Marlow’s blatant lies, where the judge decided that the Fourth Amendment and my life and the truth was more important than political gain and money, a world where I dodged the prison-bullet and I am free, and I’ll open my eyes and see Rebecca’s sleeping face, and Rikki splayed out at her feet. That’s what will happen. If I just want it bad enough, and will it hard enough, reality will realign itself into something sensible and just. Still my eyes are closed. I have to give it just a few more seconds for the shift to occur. And then I’ll open my eyes and everything will be right again—I’ll be free, and we can collect the shattered fragments of our lives and put them back together and move on….

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NaNoWriMo, Week 2!

Oy, I’ve been SERIOUSLY derailed on my feverish prison-memoir-writing spree.  Something came up that has made it extremely difficult to get much of any writing done the last week.  Right now–with 20/30 days of the month up, I’m at 128,000 words on Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time For Barely a Crime; I started the month at 96,000 words.  Grand total thus far is about 32,000 words.  I’m actually still on track to meet my low-end goal, which was 40,000 words on the memoir.  But what I really wanted to accomplish was getting in a novel’s-worth of writing done in November on the current book.  50,000 words.  It’s still possible, but unlikely–I’ve reached the end of the time period for which I’d hand-written notes and diary-type entries while incarcerated.  I no longer have much of a skeleton–except for that which is in my mind already–to work from.  Which means overall slower-going.

I’m still loving what I’m writing, I just haven’t been doing enough of it.  This book is my most experimental narrative BY FAR.  I’m employing all kinds of different techniques to try and create in the reader feelings that are similar to the ones was experiencing while locked up.  These include footnotes, jumbled chronology, flashbacks, flash-forwards, dreams, and tons of foreshadowing.  I’m happy with how it’s going.  I had no idea as to whether or not I’d be able to pull off what I’m attempting, given that I’m juggling so many different techniques and variables, all while trying to maintain a coherent, compelling narrative.  But I think I’m managing to do a pretty damn good job with all this weirdness–it’s necessary weirdness, to me, because it’s such a weird and unusual and unique story!  Hoping I can get back on track and finish out the month strong!  Here’s a tasty little tidbit I wrote today:

     In any case, I get fed up with busing tables after 5 days.  I can’t take it anymore.  The pain is accruing.  I’m not miserable just during the actual work; it also carries over into my non-working hours in the unit.  Finally I decide to do something about it.  Every night, I ask the nurse at Medline if my records have arrived yet, so I’ve got at least a weak pulse on that.  On workday 6 in Dietary, I check in and then immediately head to the supervisor’s office at the back of the kitchen.  The blonde female supervisor, Mrs. Wilson, is in there, as is Watson.  As I mentioned, the former is fairly nice.  But Watson—he’s a serious dickwad.  He’s tall and ugly with a wild thatch of dark gray hair; his sagging face has that constant morose look of the unhappy, middle-aged man with the potentially-unconscious suspicion that his life is a pitiful waste.  I’m not even looking at him.  I’m speaking directly and only to Mrs. Wilson.  Explaining why it’s too difficult for me to bus tables.

     “Ohh, what’sa matter,” Watson says with thick sarcasm, “you got back problems or somethin?”

     “Well, a little bit, but my knees are the real problem.  I’ve had 5 surgeries on them.”

     “I got bad knees too.”

     Finally I look at Watson.  He’s a heavy smoker—I can tell because he always emanates that ash-smell.  Being around him and his unbearable smarminess and lack of compassion makes me alternately yearn to smoke a cigarette, and yearn to put out a lit cigarette on his eyeball.  “That sucks,” I tell him.  “Knee problems are no joke.”  At this point I’m still trying to be cordial to him.  Already it’s a struggle.

That’s it for this week.  Good luck with the rest of the month–finish strong, you’re rounding 3rd base! 🙂

May the Writing Gods fill me with inspiration and motivation to get back on track!!

May the Writing Gods fill me with the inspiration & motivation to get back on track!!

NaNoWriMo, Week 1!

Me with the 1st draft of my handwritten-in-prison, epic animal liberation political thriller: The Liberators, 1,600 pages!

Me with the 1st draft of my handwritten-in-prison, epic animal liberation political thriller: The Liberators, 1,600 pages!

The first week of NaNoWriMo has passed.  Read my previous blog to see how I’m doing things a little differently.  In a nutshell, I’m not trying to write a novel, because I was already well into writing my prison memoir Rebel Hell:  Doin’ Time For Barely a Crime when November began.  So my goal was to write at least a novel’s worth of words on the memoir this month (50,000 words).  And so far it looks like I’m on track!!

 

I started the month with 96,000 words written.  I’m now at about 112,000, meaning 16,000 words written in 8 days.  2k/day on average, which puts me well on my way to accomplishing my personal challenge.  I’m also very pleased with what I’ve been writing.  This is by far my most experimental book; I’m trying to craft a Januscript that, in the reading of it, makes the reader feel like they’re actually feel certain elements of the prison experience.  Mainly the way it creates in the Inmate’s mind a certain sense of the malleability of time.  So I’m using footnotes and flashbacks and flip-flopping chronology and dreams to try to mirror those sensations for the reader, and I’m pretty pleased so far with how I’m doing—especially since it’s just a first draft and I’m writing fiendishly!  It also happens to be (I think) very, very funny.  Funny in pitch dark, irreverent, grotesque, heart-wrenching ways.  Which is exactly what I’m going for!

 

I tend to heavily overwrite on my first drafts; I’m not always sure what I want to say, or what I want to happen.  So I kind of “doodle” my way toward the (soy-) meat of the scenes and the socio-political themes.  Then, in the second draft, I edit heavily, with the aim of cutting at least 20 percent or so.  Couple examples:  The first draft of my (rewritten) first novel High Society was about 355 pages, and now it’s at 285 (24.5% cut).  The first draft of my third novel Redwood Falls was 460 pages, and now it’s 365 (26% cut).  Of course it would be nice if I could just write it the “correct” length the first time around, but that’s just not how it pans out with my writing style and abilities.  And hey—all that extra writing, and hence editing, that I have to do because I have what Stephen King calls “diarrhea of the word processor”—it just means I get more practice.  And even though I’ve been writing novels for 11 years now, there’s always room for improvement!

 

Happy NaNoWriMo, and good luck for Week 2!

My NaNoWriMo Challenge

November is National Novel-Writing Month, as many of you know, and many of you maybe don’t know. Every year, aspiring writers are challenged to complete an entire novel in just this one month (50,000 words is the low-end cutoff for a piece to be considered a novel; between 30k and 50k, it’s considered a novella. Fewer than 30,000 words is the accepted range for a short story. Most novels by writers who actually get paid and have agents and editors and other professional-type attributes tend to be between 80,000-120,000 words).  This year I will join in for the first time. But—me being me—I’m going to do it differently than most participants.

I’m currently working on my prison memoir, Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time For Barely a Crime. I started November already about 95,000 words in. Before I started that, I completed a 300,000+ word epic, ultra-militant animal liberation novel called The Liberators. So basically, I’ve been writing the equivalent of a novel a month for about the last 4-6 months, ha! I don’t need the NaNoWriMo Challenge to write a novel—I’ve already completed 6 of them, plus halves of 3 others! But I’m approaching a difficult stretch of my prison memoir, so I’ll play along and use NaNo as motivation to continue kicking ass on the memoir. My goal is to write 40,000-50,000 words on the book this month. I’ll post weekly updates with my progress, and perhaps some juicy excerpts.

I could work on what will be my next actual novel—Aran Kerplowski and the Polish Family Circus—and easily bang out a first draft, or at least 50,000 words of a first draft, this month. I have enough material in my head for it to complete a draft. But I think I need to write that particular novel at a slower, more deliberate pace. It will be of a higher quality that way, and like I said, I most certainly do not need NaNo and a feverish write-no-matter-what challenge to complete any novel. So instead, I’ll just challenge myself to continue my heavy, feverish, dedicated work on the prison memoir—which I think is an extremely funny, heart-wrenching, politically important book. I also think it may be the novel that helps me break out for a wider audience, since prison stories and shows and movies are so popular.

Happy Writing!!  Don’t let it drive you too crazy…

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