Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life Intersects: Pleasure Reading, Work, and Family Ties

Last month, I picked up a copy of Lush Life in hardcover (oh how I love hardcovers). I don't typically read crime novels, but I heard the author Richard Price being interviewed on NPR and became intrigued. He is also the author of the book Clockers, the screenplays Sea of Love, The Color of Money, and Ransom, and several episodes of the tv show "The Wire." I've never seen "The Wire" but I understand it's received a lot of critical acclaim. What those critics give him a lot of credit for, with the tv series and Lush Life, is getting the small-time crime scene and characters of NY right. I grew up in Revere, MA, which is considerably closer to being what you would call "the 'hood" than someplace you would confuse with Bel Air, and I would say I agree with the critics. The thug dialog and mentality are indeed very much believable. The story line is unique (at least to me, again, not having read many crime novels to-date) and compelling, for the most part. My only complaint would be that, sometimes, Price tries a little too hard - in some sections, sentences are just jam-packed with the "lingo," as if he was trying to impress his readers with his "street cred." (We get it, Price - You legit, bra. The real deal.)

Reading Lush Life was also interesting for me for other reasons. As a freelance editor, I work on manuscripts on a regular basis, and during the time I was reading Price's book, I was also working on a chapter for a forensic and legal psychology textbook that deals with interrogations and confessions. At night, I would be reading about detectives Matty Clark and Yolanda Bello playing good cop/bad cop in Price's book, and, during the day, I was reading in the textbook manuscript about how that particular technique can lead to false confessions. Very interesting stuff. I wish I could take credit for planning this reading pairing as a continuing education lesson for myself, but it was all just serendipity.

I myself have never done anything more to break the law than exceed the speed limit while driving on the highway (who hasn't?). I guess you could say I'm a pretty straight-laced kind of girl - which makes it all the more shocking to people when they find out I have personal connections to people who have lead lives of crime. (Another likely reason that reading Lush Life was interesting for me.) There was the ex-boyfriend who went to prison for selling cocaine . . . with his father. We had long since broken up by the time he was taking part in this sort of illegal activity, but still. Closer to home, though, there was my uncle who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for manslaughter and attempted armed robbery because his co-defendant shot and killed a police officer. A source of serious shame when I was younger, . . . but here I am writing about it today. Because? Well, because I have a different perspective on things now that I'm an adult.

Now that I'm an adult, I am more familiar with prison reform and rehabilitation issues, I know more about my uncle's upbringing, and I also have a degree in psychology and the experience of 10 years working in the psychology textbook publishing industry. This all combines to give me a different lens through which to view my uncle's situation. This isn't to say I think that what he did was okay. I still think it's a tragedy that a police officer died as a result of something in which my uncle was involved. He can never undo what was done that day; that family will never get their father/son/husband/nephew/uncle back. No amount of sincere apologies (and he is deeply sorry), even if genuinely accepted, will diminish what was done. The best my uncle can do is to try to prevent things like that from ever happening again. A tall task, but one to which I am happy to say he is fully committed. Since being released from prison five years ago, my uncle has been very active with the American Friends Service Committee, speaking often about issues of prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation. In fact, he recently helped Jamie Bissonette write the book When the Prisoners Ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolishment, for which he also wrote the epilogue. I'm glad to see him do something positive like this (although I haven't quite finished reading it yet myself). With a degree in sociology (which he earned while in prison), he tends to focus on the social structures and institutions in his approach to understanding punishment, reform, and rehabilitation. Given my psychology background, I'd love to some day help him make better sense of his personal story (involving his father's abandonment of the family, growing up in tough neighborhoods, and beginning his life of degeneracy in the criminal breeding grounds of boys' reform schools). Given that I also have a degree in English, perhaps that too will take the shape of a book.

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