Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fish: a Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison

by T. J. Parsell

Man, I tore through this book. It's an absolutely gripping, tense, heartbreaking story that ultimately brought me to tears — which is saying a lot, as I haven't cried more than 10 times since I was a kid.

It would be hard enough to come to terms with being gay as a teen in a working-class Midwest town in the '70s, totally cut off from the emerging gay culture in larger cities. So if you did some stupid shit and got busted by the cops, then did something really stupid and got caught again and wound up in prison at the age of 17, imagine how hard it would be then to come to terms with your homosexuality even while being raped and forced into sexual relationships not of your choosing — relationships that, given the possibilities, become a source of protection and, perversely, of a kind of comfort and a twisted sort of affection.

In recent years, rape as a war crime has gotten more attention in the press. Probably not many people have given much thought, however, to the sexual violence perpetrated against incarcerated men and young men (or women or children in prison or prison-like situations, for that matter). Even sadder, some people might not care if it were pointed out to them; they might say the victims deserve it for doing whatever they did to get into prison in the first place. But it doesn't require a lot of compassion to realize that no one deserves to be raped, ever.

In the epilogue the author reprints a letter he wrote, many years after leaving prison, to a man with whom he'd had an almost healthy relationship while incarcerated, and the letter he received in return from this man, who was now back in prison on a parole violation after being out only a few years. By the time I finished reading these two letters, tears were streaming down my face.

Summary: a great book I'd recommend to just about anyone (not kids, obviously), and one I can see myself reading again someday.

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