I spent a few weeks last month putting together a nonfiction book proposal for 2 Soups & a Fish. These things – book proposals not soup or fish – are almost exhaustively complete, a combination marketing/business plan and in-depth synopsis.
I spent a lot … lot … of time pouring through my journals, notes, loose papers organizing, outlining chapters around themes.
I’ve decided 2 Soups will be a non-linear narrative, I’m opting not to write a straight narrative for two simple reasons – they bore me and 2 Soups is only about me in part. I don’t see where ‘bad stuff happened, worse stuff piled up, I missed the obvious, the worst occurred, I went to prison, then another (x5), and then …. yada to the third power’ has much appeal beyond voyeuristic.
I read an essay some time ago that blamed the lack of insightful books on prison and the system on the fact that the ex-inmate who could write that book would vastly prefer to forget about the experience and get on with life. I find that astute.
Diving back into my notes has triggered a flood of experiences, some of which were either better left alone or better uncovered for therapeutic reasons. Only time will tell the difference. Themes have come bouncing out of that. Themes within themes within bigger themes.
It wasn’t until the last week or so when (perhaps) a central theme hit me. It’s really about bullies. 2 Soups & a Fish could just as easily be titled (with apologies to Al Franken, who recently interviewed one of the bullies in 2 Soups in the Senate hearing covered by John Oliver) Bullies: And the Bullying Bullies Who Bully.
In a 4 1/2 year span I experienced or observed bullying in every form – overt, physical, emotional, intellectual, race-based, sexual, gender-driven, covert, passive-aggressive, class, religious, educational, petty, vast. COs on inmates, CO on CO, inmate on inmate, lawyers on clients, prosecutors on lawyers, prosecutors on, well, everyone, inmate on staff, medical personnel on non-medical personnel, van drivers on their charges, Lieutenants on COs, Captains on Lieutenants and on up – which, of course, always, but always, ended up CO on inmate.
Bullying is cyclical and never ending. The belly of the beast is bullying. Bullying, of course, is all about power and the abuse of that power to get more power- or show others you are powerful . . . or because. Just because. That’s the system in a nutshell. Power and power abused. Easily abused because, unlike schools, colleges, corporations, polite society, day to day living in the social media age, the bullying in the criminal justice system is largely unseen.
Last week I wrote about the NY Times expose on the head of the Correction Officers union for Rikers Island. This guy shut down transportation from Rikers to the criminal courthouses of New York for an entire day because an inmate was scheduled to testify against two COs accused of beating him. Severely.
Hundreds of court cases were cancelled. Unsaid by the Times is the fact that Rikers holds mostly detainees awaiting hearings. Some of the detainees (aside: a noun that infuriates prison staff at all levels) surely were going to be released that day, simple statistics support that. Instead they got to spend another day, week, month, in Rikers because the union head decided to show the city how powerful he was.
I have a thing about bullies. An immediate, borderline pathological hatred for them and their works that I’ve kept under wraps for the past ten years out of necessity, if not belated survival instinct. That’s all over now, time to go after the bullies. Putting together the 2 Fish & a Soup proposal has kinda made it a crusade type deal.
And, I vow to do it without bullying.