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review 2017-03-25 00:05
LIfe in the Bureau of Prisons
Kingpin: Prisoner of the War on Drugs - Richard Stratton

Kingpin is a chronicle of the author's time spent incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for trafficking in marijuana in the 1980's. As a retired official in that agency, I fully expected this book to be another "hit-job" on some con's prejudices against the BOP, as well as how he was an innocent bystander who never committed the crime. I was very pleasantly surprised. While Stratton (the author) does not pull punches over what he thinks was a bad organization (the Bureau of Punishment), he also doesn't deny his crimes. On the contrary, he admits them, is totally unrepentant, and is what we would have called a "real convict" (that's actually a compliment among officers). Stratton "does his own time", and never rats on anyone else. Even when the forces of the federal government are stacked against him to get him to roll over on his higher-ups, Stratton sucks it up and takes his lumps, receiving a much harsher sentence than if he had cooperated.
As far as his description of life in the BOP, I question some of his experiences with "dirty staff", but am not naive enough to not admit they may be true. In my over 20 years of service, I ran into dirty staff. And many, many staff like his "Smurf". Furthermore, his chronicling of the "diesel therapy", the life in the units, and his knowledge of (and exploiting) of the rules is pretty much spot-on. And, this may surprise Stratton, but even former BOP employees are dismayed at the way "the war on drugs" was handled.
There are times that I think Stratton overplays his sense of importance in prison. One example was "given my elevated status as the jailhouse lawyer par excellence in the joint". Yes, it was admirable that he self-taught himself law while locked up. But, F Lee Bailey he is not. And his claims of running units for the officers was overdone.
But, and this is the part I most enjoyed about the book. Stratton has an amazing gift of insight into himself. Time and time again in the book I found parts where he let down his guard and laid bare his soul. In the very beginning, he states "prison is an unreasonable place, for we live in a world of damaged men where all that matters is how one carries oneself". That describes prison to a T! Your life in prison, as an inmate or BOP employee, is all dependent upon how you carry yourself. Treat others with respect, be a man of your word, and do what you say you will, are the secrets to survival in prison.
Another quote: "Maybe my life here is not so bad, but it is still prison. The worst thing about prison, as I've said before, and I'll say it again, is that it's lonely. It is so fucking lonely. Brutally lonely, especially for a man who loves the company of women. Yes, you make friends.....And I've learned a lot about men from all strata of society. But at the end of the day, life in prison is as lonely as the tomb. You are cut off from the people you love, cut off from the real world and real life; and that is the punishment". So true. I wish he could speak to young people and express that to them.
Towards the end of the book, Stratton sums up his experiences well. "Criminal, inmate, convict, prisoner, kingpin, drug smuggler; these are the words the authorities use to describe me. But there is something to be said for having taken responsibility for my actions and having served the time. Whatever else they may call me, they can never say rat; that's a name I would have had to take to the grave". Bravo, Stratton. Believe it or not, even an old hack can give you props for that!
An excellent book. Very well written. Very well told. I'm looking forward to going back and reading some of his earlier work.
Highly recommend!

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review 2017-03-25 00:04
LIfe in the Bureau of Prisons
Kingpin: Prisoner of the War on Drugs - Richard Stratton

Kingpin is a chronicle of the author's time spent incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for trafficking in marijuana in the 1980's. As a retired official in that agency, I fully expected this book to be another "hit-job" on some con's prejudices against the BOP, as well as how he was an innocent bystander who never committed the crime. I was very pleasantly surprised. While Stratton (the author) does not pull punches over what he thinks was a bad organization (the Bureau of Punishment), he also doesn't deny his crimes. On the contrary, he admits them, is totally unrepentant, and is what we would have called a "real convict" (that's actually a compliment among officers). Stratton "does his own time", and never rats on anyone else. Even when the forces of the federal government are stacked against him to get him to roll over on his higher-ups, Stratton sucks it up and takes his lumps, receiving a much harsher sentence than if he had cooperated.
As far as his description of life in the BOP, I question some of his experiences with "dirty staff", but am not naive enough to not admit they may be true. In my over 20 years of service, I ran into dirty staff. And many, many staff like his "Smurf". Furthermore, his chronicling of the "diesel therapy", the life in the units, and his knowledge of (and exploiting) of the rules is pretty much spot-on. And, this may surprise Stratton, but even former BOP employees are dismayed at the way "the war on drugs" was handled.
There are times that I think Stratton overplays his sense of importance in prison. One example was "given my elevated status as the jailhouse lawyer par excellence in the joint". Yes, it was admirable that he self-taught himself law while locked up. But, F Lee Bailey he is not. And his claims of running units for the officers was overdone.
But, and this is the part I most enjoyed about the book. Stratton has an amazing gift of insight into himself. Time and time again in the book I found parts where he let down his guard and laid bare his soul. In the very beginning, he states "prison is an unreasonable place, for we live in a world of damaged men where all that matters is how one carries oneself". That describes prison to a T! Your life in prison, as an inmate or BOP employee, is all dependent upon how you carry yourself. Treat others with respect, be a man of your word, and do what you say you will, are the secrets to survival in prison.
Another quote: "Maybe my life here is not so bad, but it is still prison. The worst thing about prison, as I've said before, and I'll say it again, is that it's lonely. It is so fucking lonely. Brutally lonely, especially for a man who loves the company of women. Yes, you make friends.....And I've learned a lot about men from all strata of society. But at the end of the day, life in prison is as lonely as the tomb. You are cut off from the people you love, cut off from the real world and real life; and that is the punishment". So true. I wish he could speak to young people and express that to them.
Towards the end of the book, Stratton sums up his experiences well. "Criminal, inmate, convict, prisoner, kingpin, drug smuggler; these are the words the authorities use to describe me. But there is something to be said for having taken responsibility for my actions and having served the time. Whatever else they may call me, they can never say rat; that's a name I would have had to take to the grave". Bravo, Stratton. Believe it or not, even an old hack can give you props for that!
An excellent book. Very well written. Very well told. I'm looking forward to going back and reading some of his earlier work.
Highly recommend!

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review 2017-03-11 20:24
Black Wave, Michelle Tea
Black Wave - Michelle Tea

The more I read (and watch movies and TV), the more I value encountering something unlike anything else I ever have before. Black Wave, by Michelle Tea, immersed me in a world new to me in several ways.

 

Though there are occasionally individual queer characters in the books I read, I haven't read much queer lit where a larger community is represented, especially queer women. Black Wave is set in San Francisco in the 90s at the start, an alternative past where gentrification has strangled most of the culture(s) from the city. In addition, the world appears to be ending due to advanced climate change: it's dangerous to be out in the sun even incidentally, the ocean is a trash wave, many animals are extinct, and invasive species have overtaken the dying native flora. In other words, the environment's death mirrors a cultural and, as is soon apparent, a personal one.

 

The protagonist, Michelle (like the author), is in her later twenties, and is the kind of addict who tells herself she's not because she doesn't shoot heroin but snorts it and is able to keep her job at a bookstore. She falls in love (or becomes infatuated) easily and hooks up with many of the women who come into her orbit, despite being in a "steady" relationship with a partner more stable than she is. At one point the point of view shifts from Michelle's to her girlfriend's, who thinks she's a sociopath.

 

That feels pretty accurate, but one of the amazing things about Black Wave is that despite Michelle's objectively unlikable character, I still felt very much invested in her. In part this is due to the humor and energy of the writing. For example:

 

Michelle seemed more like some sort of compulsively rutting land mammal, a chimera of dog in heat and black widow, a sex fiend that kills its mate. Or else she was merely a sociopath. She was like the android from Blade Runner who didn’t know it was bad to torture a tortoise. She had flipped [her girlfriend] Andy onto her belly in the Armageddon sun and left her there, fins flapping.

 

I may also personally respond to Michelle because she's a writer, one who's even published and had a sort of local fame. Around the midpoint of the book when she moves to L.A., the narrative is deconstructed as she attempts to write a new book. It becomes clear that not everything we've read so far is as it happened. Another aspect I liked is that somehow this sudden shift doesn't feel like a trick as can happen in many modernist and post-modernist writing and metafiction. How and why I don't know, but after some minor readjustment on my part as a reader, I was still invested.

 

I've often noted what a structure fanatic I am, and the last major selling point of Black Wave is the way it beautifully spins out in the last third.

 

Tangents were Michelle’s favorite part of writing, each one a declaration of agency: I know I was going over there but now I’m going over here, don’t be so uptight about it, just come along. A tangent was a fuckup, a teenage runaway. It was a road trip with a full tank of gas. You can’t get lost if you don’t have anywhere to be. This was writing for Michelle: rule free, glorious, sprawling.

 

As the world ends, people begin dreaming vividly and lucidly about others who exist in the real world, all over the world. They're dreams of connection and love where identity is fluid, and some begin living in them, like Michelle's bosses at the bookstore who hand over the business to her. So the world ends, but somehow Michelle's in a good place, and so was I.

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review 2017-02-12 20:42
Gridlinked (Polity: Agent Cormac #1)
Gridlinked (Agent Cormac) - Neal Asher

https://bookstooge.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/gridlinked-polity-agent-cormac-1/

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review 2017-02-12 14:39
Five Times My Best Friend Kissed Me and One Time I Kissed Him First - Anna Martin

3.5 Stars.

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