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Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison Paperback – August 31, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 267 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Now a writer and human rights activist, Parsell's mission to end sexual abuse in prisons gets a powerful testament in this memoir. On probation for entering an empty hotel room, and subsequently arrested for attempted robbery of a photo shop (with a toy gun), 17-year-old Parsell finds himself facing up to 15 years in the Michigan prison system. Parsell quickly realizes his vulnerable state as a young, white good-looking inmate surrounded by more experienced prisoners. When a smooth criminal named Chet invites Parsell to drink with him and a few other seasoned inmates, Parsell eagerly accepts. To his dismay, they spike his drink with a heavy sedative and brutally assault him. After the rape, Chet wins a coin toss and just like that, Parsell becomes his personal property. Parsell is quick to point out that inmates are not the only predators in the correctional system; it was his rebuff of a probation officer's advances that would ultimately lead a judge to hand down a four-and-a-half to 15 year sentence. On top of the almost daily assaults, Parsell must come to terms with his homosexuality and his status as a "white boy" in a majority black community. Purcell does not shy from expressing his raw emotions, realizing his brutal experiences in brave, honest language.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

T.J. Parsell is a writer and human rights activist dedicated to ending sexual abuse against men, women, and children in all forms of detention. He is currently President-elect of Stop Prisoner Rape and serves as a consultant to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Parsell has testified before numerous government bodies and was instrumental in passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the first ever federal legislation to address this issue. He lives in Sag Harbor, NY. Visit his web site at www.TJParsell.com

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1St Edition edition (August 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786720379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786720378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (267 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Tim Parsell was a skinny, 17 year old inexperienced gay boy from a dysfunctional family, when he ended up going to prison for an attempted robbery of a PhotoMat with a toy gun. After a gang rape by several older inmates, he became the "property" of an inmate nicknamed SlideStep, who protected him from further attacks in return for his complete obedience and sexual servitude. But Tim is separated from SideStep when he is called to court, is sexually propositioned by a probation officer who will make a report to the court, and sees his original plea bargain deal disappear when the rebuffed officer gives him a negative report. Now in a different facility, facing up to four years in prison, Tim takes the advice of another "boy" and hooks up with another older inmate for protection in exchange for favors.

An intelligently-written, emotional blockbuster of a memoir, painting an honest and riveting portrait of what is right and wrong with our prison system. From the prison employees who are as much a victim of the "system" as the inmates, to racial strife that is encouraged by poor management decisions, to those rare administrators who try to bend the rules to do what they know is right, this is an incredible look at a world most of us will never see, but of which we have the duty to know. The sexually explicit content is meant to educate rather than titillate, and show the special physical and emotional hell this can be for a young man trying to reconcile his sexual orientation. The author, who has gone on to a successful career in computer software and is now one of the most outspoken advocates for prison reform in the country, also provides closure with two sections at the end that update what he knows of the characters mentioned. It's a powerful, gut-wrenching journey, much recommended to all. Five stars out of five.

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Format: Hardcover
It would be hard to improve on the many fine reviews that have been posted on "Fish" so I'll concentrate on a few other matters raised in the book. I read it over a weekend and it was impossible to put down (except for occasional sleep).

I was impressed that the author resisted casting himself in the role of woeful victim of an oppressive system (although the system was very bad.) His reckless behavior learned in his family and bad choices he made as a teenager unfortunately predisposed him to being caught in the web of the corrections system. His acknowledgment of his own weaknesses gives the book a poignancy that it would not have had if he had not been as honest. That certainly put him head and shoulders above the stereotypical inmate-as-victim. That also doubtlessly prompted the guard shortly before his release to acknowledge to him "You do not belong in here."

His description of the society created by inmates behind bars is powerful. It reminds us when we create colonies of society's cast-offs, that they will create their own social structures with unique norms, mores, taboos, hierarchy, rituals, rules and enforcement mechanisms. These social structures have been created by desperate men so understandably they may be shocking to polite society. A comparison to "Lord of the Flies" is probably apt since the architects of prison society often have not matured beyond limited adolescent self-control.

What was particularly instructive is the author's perspective of the central position of sexual activity in the prison setting. I admit that my previous perception was that prison sex was a minor incident to other prison activities (legal and illegal). Not so says Mr. Parsell. It is central to the prison system.
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T.J. Parsell had many things going against him - after a life that would have been the destruction of most other youths suffering an abusive home life and going to prison for 'armed robbery' which in fact was a Photo Mat trick holdup with a toy gun - and he ends up a winner. This book, his first outing as a professional writer, is a tightly woven tale in the manner of a 'rake's progress' of what life inside our penal system is truly like. Fortunately for us, as readers, Parsell was able to successfully turn his life around after his incarceration and become an advocate for human rights, while concurrently presenting to the public the evidence that he has a natural gift for storytelling. This is not the typical 'confessions of a bad boy who survived': this is a finely written novel that explores characterization, atmosphere, and the trials of existing in the 'other world' inside prison bars.

Parsell tells of his abuse and gang rape upon entry into prison, how he survived due to the kindness of 'his man' and finally came to accept his sexuality, finding friends and comrades along the way that served to redeem his rather bleak outlook on life by giving him the needed affection missing from birth. Nothing is 'prettified' nor is anything painted in a wholly negative fashion: life inside prison is different than it is on the outside - or is it? Is prison just a microcosm of why we as members of society cling to prejudices and have such a dearth of self esteem that we cannot see the larger global picture?

Parsell presents his personal history in a manner that allows the reader to empathize, maintain critical distance, and still cheer for the underdog.
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