If you want to know the mechanics of how a Texas prison is run, you should read Behind the Walls by George Antonio Renauld [PLN Aug. 2003, p. 29]. It gives all the details on the inner workings of a large prison system, much as the owner's manual gives all the details on how to operate your car. However, just as the owner's manual can never convey the emotional pleasure driving can be, Renauld relates merely the unemotional mechanics of imprisonment--the rules, the programs and the furnishings. If you want to know how it feels to have a loved one in prison, read Toni Cyan-Brock's Prisoners of Love. Cyan-Brock goes beyond describing the mechanics, delving into the emotional impact imprisonment has on prisoners and their loved ones.
Prisoners of Love is a collaborative project by Cyan-Brock and the people who responded to her requests for contributions. It is largely a first-hand-experience book, but addresses general situations as well as the specific ones encountered by the contributors. Cyan-Brock also puts out a Prisoners of Love Newsletter ($20/year, P. O. Box 32531, Amarillo, TX 79120) and runs a website: www.prisonersoflove.com. All three focus on issues of importance to prisoners and the people that love them.
In one sense, the book is a vivid description of the trials, tribulations and occasional triumphs of people who love prisoners and the prisoners they love. On another level, it is a how-to book on maintaining relationships under adverse conditions. Many of the book's suggestions might well apply to families separated by military service, severe ill health, or other circumstances.
Cyan-Brock doesn't leave out the touchy and difficult situations, such as marriage, divorce, disease and death, addressing the subjects with a refreshing frankness rarely heard in a prison's visiting room. Her openness and the openness of the other contributors to the book remind us that these milestones of life, whether joyful or sad, are shared by all, uniting us in our humanity, prisoner and free citizens alike.
Cyan-Brock addresses oft overlooked subjects that are much in need of discussion. This ranges from how illiteracy negatively impacts the relationship between prisoners and their loved ones to the factors one should consider when contemplating a move to be closer to a loved-ones' prison-of-assignment and the advisability of taking blood tests for HIV, HCV and TB immediately prior to or immediately after release even if neither partner has engaged in risky behavior.
The book also gives useful advice on how to deal with prison guards and bureaucrats and includes an interview with a prison chaplain that helps explain some of the limitations they operate under. Perhaps the most valuable thing the book does is remind us that prisons are not institutions of steel bars, fences and rules--they are institutions of people. Human beings run them and human beings are imprisoned in them. Bearing that in mind makes it easier to understand the sometimes seemingly mindless decisions by the prison administration and the prisoners.
The book suffers a bit from a pop-psychology feel in places, but that is more than made up for in the clear and lucid sections describing the problems prisoners of love encounter and the suggestions for solving them. I recommend reading the book before you need its advice. It is well organized into twenty-four topical chapters that make finding the advice and suggestions for a. particular situation easy when needed. However, because we don't always think clearly in a crisis, it is better to read the book while calm and know to refer to it later.
Prisoners of Love may be ordered from Dreamcatcher Books, 2607 Wolflin Ave. PMB 121, Amarillo, TX 79109. www.dream.catcherbooks.com ($17.95).
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