While the recently published anthology “Prison Noir” was an excellent source of information concerning the life of an inmate, discussing it first hand with someone who has lived it is completely different.
A contributor to “Prison Noir”, Eric Boyd, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, not only shared information with The Setonian from his time in prison, but also discussed life after prison.
Boyd served about nine months for assault through negligence in the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in Pennsylvania.
In the United States, 2.2 million individuals are currently behind bars, the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world, according to the publisher of “Prison Noir.” Life goes on inside those prisons largely out of sight and out of mind.
“It was trying to live life as ‘a judged person.’ That’s a difficult thing to do; I constantly feel as though I’m fighting something, even when everything is completely fine,” said Boyd in an email interview. “It’s just like being backed in a corner and swinging away, but nobody else is in the ring.”
Boyd’s short story “Trap”, featured in “Prison Noir,” was one of the stories in the book that was completely autobiographical. Covering his life as an inmate from day one, starting with processing and proceeding up to the work that inmates do. The main character in the story, and therefore Boyd, worked at the county morgue during his time in prison.
“As much as people want to imagine jail as a cold, black and white concrete death box and that is true to an extent, no doubt there’s much more to it,” Boyd said. “It’s a very strange place filled with the completely bizarre and unexpected. I definitely never thought I’d be scraping metal at an old county morgue, throwing gurneys down marble staircases and seeing polaroids of corpses scattered along the floor.”
Luckily, or as lucky as one can be in jail, many writing programs are offered to inmates. For instance, at the ACJ, Boyd took part in a program run by writing instructor Sandra Ford and then the Words Without Walls program, which allowed him to take writing classes and even publish his work.
Ford encouraged Boyd to enter the PEN Prison Writing program competition, which he won in 2012. That caught the attention of Akashic Books, which asked him to submit a piece for “Prison Noir.”
“Without writing programs like PEN-or, for me, the Words Without Walls program run by Chatham University and operating in the ACJ salvation might not have been possible,” Boyd said. “Obviously I was writing well before I spent a day in jail, but having those programs was a reassurance which really pulled me through such a hard time. A little sugar in some very bitter coffee.”
For more information go to ericboydblog.tumblr.com.
Rebecca White can be reached at email@example.com.