WARNING: Possible SPOILER/ SEXUAL ABUSE/ TRIGGER WARNING!
So, this weekend I read Fish, by T.J Parsell. Fish is based on a true story about a man who , in 1978, was convicted of armed robbery and at seventeen was sentenced to prison. TJ Parsell is a young, cute-looking, white male who is sent to prison for robbing a photomat with a toy gun. What started out as a prank, quickly transforms into armed robbery and TJ ends up looking at some hard time in the Michigan Corrections system. TJ enters a world where, because of the racist criminal justice system, being a young, white male makes him a minority. The first night in prison, TJ is tricked into drinking with a group of older inmates and is drugged and gang raped. Some of those who rape him are white, some are Black. TJ is targeted because he is a young, inexperienced newcomer (FISH) in the prison system, but he is also targeted because he is GAY. As a young, gay, white male in the prison system, TJ is constantly the target of other inmates for ridicule and sexual harassment. He eventually is forced to become “the boy,” of a Black inmate named Slide Step. “The Boy,” is basically the equivalent of a prison girlfriend. The Man’s job is to protect the boy from the other inmates in exchange for the The Boy’s sexual favors and companionship. Although Slide Step protects TJ and tries to treat him well , it is upsetting that TJ ultimately was forced to perform sex acts that he did not want to just to gain some degree of protection from the other inmates. This memoir was really well-written, but very disturbing. Check it out if you get some time, it is sad at times, but worth the read. There is also a positive Black woman in the memoir who becomes a mentor to him and helps inspire him to keep a journal of his time inside.
The reason I was interested in reading it is because I’ve been reading a lot about the Prison system and it’s effect on the Black community. I’ve been particularly interested in the increasing incarceration of Black women in prison and the role the war on drugs has had on this. I wanted to read Fish because I wanted the perspective of a white male, yet there are a lot of aspects of his memoir that are universal. No one deserves to be mistreated and sexually abused the way he was. I’ve read a book by a Black woman Time on the Inside and I plan on reading this book. I would love to read a book written by an African-American man and his experience in prison, seeing as Black Men (sadly) make up the largest portion of the prison population. It upsets me when I think about this because it seems just like it’s set up to put young Black men in prison, then the prison environment is so corrupt that it can actually make people behave worse than when they initially went into the prison. From the bit that I’ve read, I pretty much think the entire Prison system is fundamentally flawed, it seems like it’s just set up as a rigged game, almost. Don’t get it twisted, some people deserve to be in there, but I think the whole thing is just flawed. Reading the accounts of sexual abuse, the racism, the pent-up hostility within the prison, the homophobia, the whole system seems to just be messed up. It doesn’t seem like it’s really about rehabilitating people or preparing them to get back into the outside world.
I’m particularly concerned about the sexual abuse of women behind bars and since Black women make up the largest portion of the Female Incarcerated population (just like Black Men), statistic show that more and more Black women are going to be abused behind bars…which is disturbing. Black women have a history of sexual abuse in this country, stories like that of Robin Lucas and Cassandra Collins should be wake up calls. People of all races deserve to be treated with respect, but we should be especially concerned because Black women are being ESPECIALLY targeted by these biased drug laws, so many more are ending up in Prison. These women could be our friends, aunts, relatives…God forbid you do something and wind up in Prison…but you get the picture. It’s messed up.
oh and if you know of any good memoirs or books by African-American men on prison, please let me know.
You can check out a clip from a scene in the book below: