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Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (A PEN American Center Prize Anthology) Paperback – March 8, 2000

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559705141 ISBN-10: 1559705140

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Since 1973, PEN has sponsored an annual literary competition for prisoners. This anthology, selected from roughly 1700 submissions, showcases efforts that range widely in form, subject matter and quality. In a foreword, Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame touches on some of the questions readers will have: "Watch for the self-serving subtext. When your heart is moved, can you trust it? When you feel for the writers of these words, are you being had?" The book is broken into thematic sections such as "Initiation," "Time and Its Terms," "Family" and "Death Row." Though Chevigny made an attempt to include more women writers, women make up only 7% of the prison population, so the collection is overwhelmingly male. Anthony LaBaarca Falcone's poem, "A Stranger," uses circus imagery to mourn the daughter's childhood he missed. David Wood's eerily memorable story, "Feathers on the Solar Wind," is a searing portrait in which AIDS prods a man to accept personal and spiritual responsibility. Not surprisingly, most of these stories, poems and essays lack polish. But even some of the roughest pieces are driven by an emotional power that gives the sense of spending time with people who are composing not just for pleasure but for high stakesAthe definition of a self, the confronting of personal demons, even redemption.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Prisoners have always writtenAon the walls of their cells, in journals, or on chits smuggled out by visitorsAbut their efforts have usually gone unnoticed. PEN is unique in that over the last 25 years it has collected and published short stories, poems, and essays written by prisoners across the country. This volume reprints the best of the lot. A few names are familiar, such as former Black Panther Kathy Boudin, but most are unknown. Not of first quality, but certainly of high amateur ranking, these works speak of the monotony of incarceration, the loss of outside contacts, and the longing for freedom. In her introduction, editor Chevigny (literature, SUNY at Purchase) discusses the changing face of prisons she has seen over the years and the therapeutic value of prison writing. The best selling point of this volume, however, is that, in a palatable way, it gives the reader a view of what it is like to be inside this strange and ominous world. Highly recommended.AFrances O. Sandiford, Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing (March 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559705140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705141
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,869,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
We should all read this book, both because of what it says and because of how well it says it... I picked it up expecting to be moved by the stories the prisoners have to tell, but I wasn't expecting how great the work would be as literature. I'm not saying they're all saints, but if we're going to lock up so many people, and if we're going to vote for politicians who advocate tougher sentencing laws, then we have an obligation to know what happens behind bars, what people go through there. These writers bear powerful witness to a world most of us like to pretend doesn't exist.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Rea on March 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
This compilation is an excellent example of the wasted potential that the US has sentenced to it's prisons. Within the covers of this book you will be brought to tears one moment then horrified a few moments later. You will be shown incredible human cruelty coupled with acts of caring and kindness. I was shocked at the depth of despair that these men and women experience.
I do not mean to say that the authors of these essays and poems should all be released from the penitentiary. Many of them deserve to be there. What I am saying is that everyone should read a book like this. Especially people involved in the judicial and law enforcement communities. We should educate and give hope to the men and women in our prisons. Because, as you will read in the book, a man without hope is a man who doesn't care anymore and a man who doesn't care anymore will do anything.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A diverse medley of voices from inside american prisons--sharp, clear and heart-wrenching. Tells us more about prisons than many of us are willing to hear. Some of the poems are especially strong.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
It is easy to write off what these folks have to say-- but our nation needs to hear about the injustice of our prison system
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Concerning a volume such as this, there is sometimes the expectation that the voices will be all too similar because the environments in which each is writing are much the same. This collection sets most of that concern aside. Each of these incarcerated voices retains an identity despite surroundings that would have it otherwise. Do they speak for all those behind bars? I doubt it. Here introspection is at work, likely the first time for many of these prisoners. It's difficult to believe that so many others, out of control, will ever achieve such a state,or even want to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charlie Norman on February 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Accolades are due Bell Chevigny's opening of the prison literary vaults at PEN for the world to see in DOING TIME: 25 Years of Prison Writing. As one of the original prisoner contributors, with "Pearl Got Stabbed," to the 1999 edition, I was anxious to see not only how well the writings held up against the passage of time, but also whether the works retained their relevance in the "modern" world of corrections. I needn't have been concerned.

I'd scarcely returned with my copy of the new book to the rec yard, crowded with prisoners when an old convict spied the provocative cover art of a hand grasping steel bars, and asked, "What you got there? Can I see that?"

Several curious men crowded around to see. Prisoners are nosy. I explained where I got the book and read some passages out loud. They were captivated. Old timers nodded in recognition of the universality of prison experiences and young prisoners, "newcocks," stood transfixed in thought. The reaction by the guards was even more revealing.

I asked an older, experienced correctional officer for his opinion, handing him the book. In between his duties, he seemed rapt in concentration, reading. Then a younger, more gung ho "hotshot" guard, one of those who come into prison needing to prove their toughness, joined the older man, who passed him the book. Two hours later I finally got my book back.

The younger man looked at me, shook his head, seemingly chastened, and said, "I had no idea."

The older man said, "Wow!
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