Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read to expand my world and I selected this book with that goal in mind. As expected, it challenged me.

I rarely think about the lives of prisoners, but I often think about their victims. This book redirected my focus. I happen to love Shakespeare, and because I think he also saved my life (in a much less dramatic form), I allowed myself to dwell on the plight of prisoners and I let the book do what it was aiming to do.

This author volunteers to teach Shakespeare in a maximum security prison to the most dangerous population of prisoners there.

The author's focus on Larry, a man who had done terrible things, was initially tedious. Completely blown away by Larry's intelligence and his grasp of Shakespeare's laborious compositions, she sort of adopts him. She is enamored. She is childless and many years older. I rolled my eyes a few times and braced myself for offensive cliches like: "He's actually such a good person. He never meant any harm." Blah, blah, blah. That is not how the book unfolds, though. And, frankly, when I saw the landscape of Larry's life - the things which brought him to his criminal crescendo - it seemed that it could not have ended any other way. Life in prison with no possibility for parole.

Surprisingly, his sentence does not stamp out his intellect. Through the "Shakespeare in Shackles Program" he ends up doing some impressive things. It really does beg the question.....should prisoners be left to rot from the inside out or is there a better way to approach the reparations which simply must be made?

Most interesting was the fact that most of the hardened, violent offenders really liked Shakespeare, understood Shakespeare, and related to the tragic characters. They came to understand themselves. They became more cooperative. More goal-oriented. More focused. Shakespeare was some kind of medicine for them. Fascinating stuff, right?

I'd like to go back to the simple black and white view I held of the prison system. It was less demanding. Now, I can't. Can we think of no other system other than to repay heinous, indecent behavior with heinous, indecent behavior?

I like books that transport me from my familiar world and introduce me to a different world with a different point of view. I think that's called learning ..... well, I learned a boatload reading this book!

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