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[whitespace] Book cover Voices From Inside: 'Doing Time' is an anthology of prison writings.


Prison Prose

Bell Gale Chevigny speaks about 'Doing Time'

By Heather Zimmerman

IF EVER A WORK of literature walked a near-invisible line between the personal and the political, it's Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing. An anthology covering 25 years of works by prison writers who entered and won a competition sponsored by the literary organization PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors and Novelists), Doing Time addresses all aspects of life behind bars, from the often brutal initiations new prisoners face to the politics that govern the function of prisons in American society.

Bell Gale Chevigny, a professor emeritus of literature at Purchase College, SUNY, who has taught courses in prison since the '60s, edited the anthology, which includes essays, poems and short stories written by prisoners from around the U.S. Chevigny's introduction delves into the history of the U.S. prison system, outlining how prison reforms in the '60s and '70s created a school of thought that prisons could be used for the rehabilitation of criminals, not just punishment. Writing classes and other educational programs that grew out of those more progressive times were hobbled and often eradicated during the more conservative '80s, which Chevigny describes as producing a "cynical" attitude in the general public towards the prison population.

It's an acute awareness of this cynicism that informs the tone of hopelessness in many of the book's works and underlines the irony of the violence of prison culture--there's an implication prevalent throughout the anthology that prisons, in their current state, will only turn out more violent felons. But what emerges just as strikingly in these works is the writers' sense of humanity amidst the violence. The relationships that form between prisoners, or what learning, especially the craft of writing, means to these authors offers some important and rare insight into their lives.


Bell Gale Chevigny will speak Thursday (Oct. 14) at 4pm at Washington Square Hall at San Jose State University.

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From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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