Monday, May 24, 2010
Jimmy Baca and the Post-Convict Way.
c. David Grim (taken 7/14/08)
Anyone who saw my solo show at Imagebox last year can tell you that I'm interested in prisons as a sociological phenomena. I've visited and photographed several abandoned facilities (the above image was shot at Eastern penitentiary in Philly), and I've read plenty of accounts written by prisoners and guards documenting prison life. I HAVE NOT actually ever been in an operating detention center, and for that fact I consider myself very lucky. From everything I've read, I'd have a difficult time doing what I needed to do to preserve my own well-being.
So the latest work I've read along these lines is Jimmy Santiago Baca's "A Place to Stand" (2001). If you want to find a truly inspiring story of someone who actually overcame (and possibly even benefited from) a stint in the joint, Baca is your man. He is an internationally renowned, prize-winning poet who devotes his time to running programs aimed at spreading literacy. He's truly an amazing figure, with a harrowing story.
His memoir contains plenty of insight into his childhood, and the events that led to his incarceration. He was present during a shoot-out at a heroin sting during which a federal agent was shot and seriously wounded. When he entered the Florence Correctional Facility in Arizona, he couldn't read. But instead of continuing down his self-destructive path, he taught himself to appreciate and write poetry.
Some readers of "A Place to Stand" take issue with the perception that Baca blames everyone but himself for his early legal battles, but I believe these folks suffer from a peculiar form of myopia. I think that Baca did a fine job of contextualizing his experiences, and offers plenty of insight into the Mexican-American community, the US Justice System, and the convict way. If you come across a copy of the book, I suggest you read it and become better informed on some of the most pressing media controversies of our society.