Books

Prison Books

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Marching Powder
by Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden
(St. Martin's Griffin)

Criminals: Let 'em Fry Boil and Sauté
by Terry Lachelt and Theresa Marie

Within the United States, over two million adults are living incarcerated lives. That's roughly the same number of people living in greater Portland. Worldwide, the figure tops well over eight million. With such large numbers of people confined, it stands to reason that a creative culture would develop. (With Martha S. joining them shortly, they can at least stop sweating the holiday centerpieces.) Two such contributions to the vast annals of prison life come via the literary vein: Marching Powder, and Criminals: Let 'em Fry Boil and Sauté.

Marching Powder is a first person nonfiction account of coauthor Thomas McFadden's stint in the now infamous San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. The story is the "caught in South America while trafficking cocaine" horror show that you might expect from the title, complete with airports, bribes and betrayals. But that's just the beginning.

The prison McFadden eventually finds himself in is unreal. Once listed in the Lonely Planet Guidebook as a tourist attraction, San Pedro is a city unto itself. Hundreds of non-convict women and children live inside its walls; the families of those serving time there. Inside, "real estate" changes hands, and there are restaurants, vendors, services of every imaginable scope, and enough high-octane cocaine to kill an army of John Belushis. Incredibly, they manufacture the best cocaine in the world at San Pedro, hence its status as a "tourist attraction."

Ultimately, Mcfadden survives to tell his tale due to his non-American citizenship (he's British) and his genuine affability, which lends itself to the readability of this compelling story. Along the way you see life as it is lived in a place such as this: time passes incrementally and any positive event takes on tremendous personal importance. For most prisoners even a pack of cigarettes is a luxury.

Due to the exceedingly fiscally malleable administration, McFadden actually meets an Israeli woman while on a brief furlough and arranges for her to visit and stay with him during his sentence. While this is certainly the optimum circumstance he could've hoped for while imprisoned, mostly this taste of "real life" merely served to tantalize, setting him up for disappointment and allowing the reader, in retrospect, to really examine the true definition of punishment.

The tenderly titled Criminals: Let 'em Fry Boil and Sauté, is actually a cookbook. Its setup is very straightforward. The forward lists some very enlightening facts about people serving time, highlighting their unpaid charitable contributions to society, which indicates that the publisher of Criminals' intent is to ingratiate the prisoner population to the reader. The bias is welcome, however, as it elevates what would otherwise be a brief and somewhat unnecessary cookbook with supplemental details evocative of prison culture. There are illustrations of some far-out prison tattoo art, for instance, which, for obvious reasons, has a bad reputation. When looked at with an empathetic perspective though, the various Vikings, wizards, and crying clowns virtually speak to you, asking, "Why am I here?" and often answering the question for themselves.

Included also throughout Criminals are various stories and testimonials, some humorous and some disturbing. Since they are from an inmates' perspective, they often catalog the obvious cruel stupidity of the guards or situational humor involving friends or family.

The recipes themselves are pretty elaborate and diversified considering the limited recourses available to the people contributing them. From appetizers like Hammer Head's Mini Corn Dogs all the way through to the questionably appetizing sounding Pulpy Mass Apple Sauce for dessert, it is possible to prepare entire feasts using this book. It must be noted as well, there are recipes for the famous, high-octane alcohol Pruno and its highly destructive banjo-pickin' cousin, White Lightning. Also included are a glossary of terms and in-cell preparation techniques in case you're shooting for authenticity. Interesting and creative, Criminals: Let 'em Fry Boil and Sauté is a refreshingly fun departure from the likes of The Moosewood Cookbook and Gourmet Magazine.

While disparate in content and narrative, Criminals: Let 'em Fry Boil and Sauté and Marching Powder both provide something we rarely experience. They offer informative and humanistic glimpses into the places where peoples' lives aren't lived freely. Rather, these individuals cling to each small crumb they can acquire, choosing to believe they can advance themselves through the despair of confinement with just a small taste of freedom.

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