“It ain’t my kid…” (Round 2 : Page 5)

August 13th, 2007

The program, brainchild of Warden Cleevenhoff, is the only one of its kind, as my course is the sole offering of Sunny Oak’s continuing education curriculum, and is not attached to any attempt at a degree.

Cleevenhoff, as it happens, is a lifelong devotee of true crime novels, which led quite naturally to his vocation as a jailor. A fan of true crime journalism would have had to be a cop or criminal. Throughout his career as bibliophile/guard, he had coveted most the tomes authored by the scumbag perps themselves.

Unfortunately, many of the most interesting stories belonged to those who could barely spell, let alone construct a scene or sketch a character. A great deal of work “by” prisoners was necessarily ghostwritten, compromising authenticity.

The Warden has a vision: reams of passable prose produced on yellow legal pads, propped on prisoner’s knees, in every cellblock in America. Let the monsters spell out, in painstaking detail, just how sick and vicious their troubled souls really are, for the world to see and know how vital correction work is.

Cleevenhoff himself has the soul of an editor; the two professions are not as diverse as one might first imagine. Both are in the business of taming the wild and free, making oddballs acceptable to society.

He certainly acted like he worked for a publisher when we met, pumping my hand as if he thereby expected to extract water, claiming to have read and enjoyed my book. He probably had. The Warden struck me as the sort of Top 40 reader that does his novel shopping in airports and grocery stores.

I had just hit number three on the New York Times list.

“I want you to feel totally at ease with my boys. There’s a Stephen King in there, and your job is to bring him out. I mean, real, untapped talent. And nothing but time to write, write, write! Incarceration is an author’s dream, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said stiffly. “I still have nightmares.”

The smile fades. “Well, indeed. I suppose I meant a developing writer. So as to be free of distractions while learning how to spin a yarn. There are a few I want you to keep an eye on. Encourage. The one they call Trombone-”

He owed his unusual moniker, not to the jazz/brass band instrument of the same name, but to a much more recent invention: the cellular phone. Trombone’s father had been using a very early analog model when the phone call came in from the hospital, informing him of his new status as a child-support provider and requesting suggestions for naming his son. “It ain’t my kid,” he’d bellowed into the mouthpiece. “Call Tyrone!”

The cold basement is silent, and I realize my mistake. Although he is by far the best of my student authors, Trombone is plagued with a fierce stage fright which cripples him when called on to read. But if I change my mind and call on someone else, he’ll look bad to his homies. That could have bad long-term consequences back on the block. The inside is no place to lose respect.

Trombone’s brown face turns crimson, and his knees wobble. He clears his throat as he shuffles through his papers, obviously regretting opening his damnfool mouth. His voice crackles as he begins, but picks up strength as he realizes we are rapt.

~ )))0((( ~

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