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The Funhouse Mirror, By Robert Ellis Gordon and Inmates of the Washington Corrections System

WSU Press (2000), $14.95

Review by Allen N. Huxley

Robert Ellis Gordon is an educator and fiction writer who conducted creative writing workshops in various Washington prisons during the late 80s and early 90s. By his own admission, Gordon is "addicted to prisons." He craves the unique rush the prison environment offers, an experience he describes as "peering into the funhouse mirror of the American soul."

In this slim volume Gordon has assembled a rather haphazard collection of his prisonerstudents' creative writing essays, along with a few tales of his own, flavored with a dash of his polemic, meandering personal observations on prison reform.

Gordon is enthralled by the lurid tales that prisoners and staff tell him the bloodier and more perverse the better. But he makes no distinction between truth, satire, and outright whoppers meant to shock or entertain. In the book's preface, Gordon claims, "all of the events recounted in The Funhouse Mirror did, indeed, take place." And after reading the book, there's no denying that the reality is all there, staring the reader in the face. Yet it is nearly impossible to separate the true picture from what is twisted, exaggerated, or distorted beyond recognition.

The Funhouse Mirror might be taken as an insightful memoir of a prison teacher, a "best of" collection of prisoner writing, or an argument for providing art and education to prisoners. As it is, though, the book ends up being none of these things, but rather a sordid glimpse into the scrapbook of a selfprofessed prison junkie.

This entertaining book is, indeed, much like a short walk through a carnival funhouse. We emerge having seen a few grotesque images and an oddball surprise or two. The experience is mildly amusing, though hardly memorable or enlightening.

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