Brittany Kubes's Reviews > Couldn't Keep it to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution

Couldn't Keep it to Myself by Wally Lamb
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's review
Dec 22, 2011

really liked it
Read from November 04 to December 22, 2011

A painful collage of essays by women locked away in a Connecticut prison, constructed and edited by Wally Lamb. This collection is a quick, quick read [and it would have taken me 2 days to read it if I hadn’t left it in Guatemala, darn it]. Wally Lamb is a beautiful person – sensitive and brilliant. His first novel, She’s Come Undone, took us into the POV of a troubled, overweight teen named Dolores. Now, after volunteering as a teacher at York prison, Wally takes us into the POVs of women inmates by publishing their stories. What follows are agonizing accounts from women relaying how they ended up in prison.

This was the 2nd book in the WORLD to make me tear up a little. I’m not sure if it was out of anger or sorrow. The amount of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse by men in such a short book made me feel murderously angry…which of course makes the crimes more understandable. Barbara Parsons Lane and Diane Bartholomew absolutely broke my heart. Both had nearly identical stories of being abused as children, then as an adults by their husbands, then by lawyerly indifference, and finally by prison depression and maltreatment. All ten of the women writers were used and abused; their writings scream loneliness. I want to squeeze Wally for recognizing and capturing this. And I loved the pictures of each inmate as a young child (innocent, hopeful) and then as an older woman (broken, hardened) – it was really provoking.

…I MUST highlight the repercussions after the publishing of this book, captured in a news excerpt. This makes me seethe:

Harper Collins bought the book for $75,000, to be split among the contributors. After all was said and done, each of the women would receive $5,600 dollars when they were released from prison.

Wally Lamb made sure that prison and state officials were notified about the book deal, hoping they would embrace this unlikely success story. But he didn't hear a word, until a few days before the books reached the stores. Instead of embracing the women for their accomplishment, the state of Connecticut decided to go after them with a vengeance.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he had no choice but to enforce the law, which allows the state to recover room and board from any inmate who comes into money while he or she is in prison -- or after they leave it, whether through inheritance, lottery winnings, proceeds from their crimes or financial windfall. In other words, the state can charge inmates for their own incarceration. And the state sued the women, not for the $5,600 that they had made on the book deal, but for $117 a day, for every day they would spend in prison.

During this suit, Lamb's class, which he taught free for years, was abruptly suspended by prison officials. They seized and destroyed computer files with the inmates' writing as part of what they called a "review" of the program.

→After 60 Minutes and literary organizations got involved…. Blumenthal held a news conference to announce that the writing program had been reinstated and the lawsuits seeking millions of dollars from the prison writers had been dropped, after concluding that the money the women had received from the book was minimal, and had been earned through a rehabilitative program.



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