Inmate Mike Oulton and I were all set. I was a teacher of creative writing in prison, he was a prize student. Every writing challenge I threw at him, he accepted and did well at. Once I casually mentioned that many men wrote romances under a female pen name. The very next week, Mike came to class with the opening chapter of his romance, Breach of the Heart.
We read the chapter in class and everyone liked it. “How did you get inside that chick’s head?” one man asked. Mike said something that only he could say, that only an ex-boxer could say, that only someone with muscles and big fists could say, that only a man of courage would say in a prison, “I got in touch with the female part of myself.”
Mike and I decided to write a book together, a book about prison, non-fiction. (there has to be a better way of saying that. NON-fiction is so negative.) Mike felt that despite its faults, prison did help some guys, while I felt that there was little value for anyone in a prison. I, the outsider, opposed prison; Mike, the insider, said there was some value for some guys. The book would be called Inside Out.
Mike had spent two years in a Mexican prison and six and a half years in Canadian prisons. His crime was trying to import drugs into the United Sates. Mike was never a drug user, but he was a drug importer.
We wrote our chapters and bounced them off each other. “Hey, Griffin, my chapters are far longer than yours and I have more of them. It’s not fair to you. Let’s rethink this thing.”
“No. I’m happy with what I’ve written. It’s what I wanted to say. The same with you. I don’t want to hear any more about who’s written more.”
That was the end of it. Sometimes writing a book with someone else can lead to tragedy, but Mike and I got along.
We were almost ready to format the book and put the finishing touches on it, as Mike came up for parole.
“I’m worried, man,” Mike told me. He was at Ferndale then, the minimum security prison. Men lived in cottages, with two to a room, four rooms in a cottage. “We had a snap room inspection last week and they found a cell phone on my side of the room.”
“A cell phone? Was it yours?”
“Of course not. I’m so close to parole. They found it in a sock and it wasn’t even my sock. I shouldn’t be worried though, everyone knows that the guy I’m rooming with is a scudz-ball and a liar.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, Ed, it’s gonna be okay.”
The parole day came. Previously his case worker had told him she was going to support him, but when she stood up to report to the parole board, this is what she said, “I understand that a cell phone was found on Mr. Oulton’s side of the room. No doubt he was back in his old business of selling drugs. I’m changing my recommendation. He’s not ready for parole.”
Another case worker jumped up. “I know that interfering in another person’s case load is not done, but Mr. Oulton does not deserve this. Everyone who knows his roommate, knows the whole story. Mr. Oulton is ready for parole.”
There was a short recess for the parole board to make their decision. I wasn’t worried after the strong statement the second case worker had made.
The parole board reconvened. “Mr. Oulton, because of this cell phone incident, we are denying parole at this time.”
I could hardly believe it. Many people there knew that the scudz-ball was really the guilty one and Mike was innocent.
A month later the scudz-ball got out. Mike did a year and a half more, retaking the same programs he’d taken before, and costing us taxpayers about $50,000.
At first Mike was depressed and then he got mad. He tore up all the writing he’d done on our book and started over, now supporting my view, that prison helped no one. The sections he redid are, in my opinion, excellent.
You make your own decision about this book. And about the two prison systems, the Canadian and the Mexican.
99 cents will answer your questions. This coming week Dystopia will be priced at 99 cents from July 21 to July 25.
The dictionary says that ‘dystopia’ is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.
The book trailer is here: http://youtu.be/crDx4v7jJEU