19 October, 2019

Halloween Hootenanny


Whether your Halloween plans include haunting the streets or lurking around your own home, a good playlist is essential. I spent some time curating a very Byronic one, heavy on the retro darkwave and post-punk sounds that I love, to soundtrack my spooky shenanigans. Since the Eve of All Hallows is the only time a year when other people don't seem to mind listening to the same music as me, I figure my playlist is worth sharing. Comments are encouraged (especially if I missed something)!
  1. Siouxsie & the Banshees, "Halloween"
  2. Ministry, "Every Day Is Halloween"
  3. Dead or Alive, "Something in My House"
  4. Killing Joke, "Night Time"
  5. Echo & the Bunnymen, "People Are Strange"
  6. The Cure, "Lullaby"
  7. Gary Numan, "Asylum"
  8. Rasputina, "Transylvanian Concubine (Yes Sir, Mr. Sir Mix)"
  9. Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)"
  10. Depeche Mode, "Black Celebration"
  11. Oingo Boingo, "Dead Man's Party"
  12. Twin Tribes, "Shadows"
  13. Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi Is Dead (The Hunger Mix)"
  14. Dave Ball and Jon Savage, "Dead Neon"
  15. 09 October, 2019

    The Only Consistent Thing in Prison? Its Inconsistency!


    Allow me to disabuse you of the idea that prison is a place of predictability and rigorously kept schedules. It's not. And while it's not quite twenty-four-hour-a-day havoc, either, a guy expecting dinner to be on time will grumble with disappointment just as often as he'll be satisfied.

    Custody counts here at ERDCC are scheduled daily at 6 and 11:15 AM, as well as at 4:30 and 10 PM. The facility's locked down for these, with everyone but kitchen, maintenance, and factory workers confined to their cells until each count clears. This happens within about forty minutes. Unless it doesn't. Because the staff is either incompetent or negligent, recounts, which drag the whole process out for at least an extra hour, seem to take place every week. Worse yet, the later a count clears, the farther back every other activity gets pushed — mealtimes, recreation periods, school classes, religious services.... Shit rolls downhill, always.

    A count can also begin late. On occasion, an ambulance has to drive in to handle an emergency beyond what on-site medical staff can handle. For institutional security reasons, all movement on the yard is halted until a visiting ambulance is back outside the fence. On days when the facility is below the minimum number of staff Missouri DOC is understaffed), guards have to shuttle from post to post, from housing unit to housing unit, to help out with counts. At least when delays are due to ambulances we're allowed back out of our cells before the next shift comes on duty. Staff shortages, on the other hand, suck for everyone, in both the short- and medium-term.

    Of course, drawn-out counts aren't the only interferences that spring up in the midst of prison life. Even more disruptive to prisoners' day-to-day existence are the lockdowns regularly called for less serious matters. Beginning a few weeks ago, the seventy-two residents of my wing have been made to lock down every time a guard wants to access the fire door. Guards have passed through this door multiple times a day for the past five months without it being a thing. Now, suddenly, prisoners in 1B have to pause their card games, cut short phone calls, turn off the microwave, leap from the shower, or log off the kiosk just so someone can briefly open a door to the outside — outside, yes, but still separated from freedom by two twelve-foot razor-wire fences and a lethal electric one. I guess this is what the "max" in "maximum security" refers to.

    As with everything else, I try to stay flexible. Getting my hopes up, developing expectations, or believing that I'm in some way entitled to more stability just because I'm innocent and wrongfully convicted won't get me anything but grief. This is the world; I'm just living in it.

    23 September, 2019

    Seven Books I Read This Summer

    Friends know that prison rules seriously limit the number of books that I can possess at any given time. There's only so much room in these cells and the footlocker that stows my stuff, so a DOC-imposed limit isn't a terrible impediment. But occasionally I'm caught off guard, such as when leisure time's been at a premium, with a full compliment of books on hand when an order of several more unexpectedly arrives. To keep my property numbers in line, I then have to hurriedly send an equal number out. People I know usually ask first, "How's your book situation?" Strangers surprise me.

    One such person is Veronica S., a person with whom I've never had any contact, who follows this blog and my case, and who has several times surprised me at random with orders of books from my Amazon wish list. The titles are obviously ones that I chose, but she seems to pick rather deftly, as if she knew what I was most in the mood to read at the moment. They delight and occupy me in the best way, but they also transport my mind from this place. When she — when anyone sends me a book, they're sending a fragment of freedom. It means so much.

    Dexter Palmer's novel The Dream of Perpetual Motion was one of the latest books that Veronica sent. It's sort of a steampunk revision of The Tempest, (yes, there's an airship), and while it had moments of literary beauty, Palmer seemed incapable of resisting a bit of goofball humor here and there that, for me, blunted the mood of this otherwise fine alternate-reality fantasy.

    Comparatively, Girl in Landscape engrossed me utterly. The third Jonathan Lethem novel I've read in a year, it's part parable, part coming-of-age story, part sci-fi, part Western — and it's every little bit as compelling as the last excellent Lethem novel I read, As She Climbed Across the Table. Both are highly recommended.

    And then there was the hard-bitten tech-noir of William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, who kind of returned to his roots in 2014 with the fast-paced The Peripheral. Gibson never did time travel before, and, technically, he doesn't do it here, either. The conceits at work here are quantum entanglement, the transmission of data streams to alternate timelines, and very, very rich hobbyists who get a kick out of playing god with those timelines by manipulating their financial markets and media. The fascinating concept, riveting plot, and trademark Gibsonian grit made a great, geeky alternative to summertime fun in the sun.

    The Civil War provides a backdrop for no other fantasy books that I know of. Chris Adrian, however, used it to great effect in Gob's Grief: A Novel, — part alternate history, part magical realism — about an optimistic young doctor's quest to resurrect his long-dead twin brother. The book's so large, so historical, so richly textured, so beautiful. That this was Adrian's first novel is nothing short of stunning.


    Neil Gaiman's The Sandman Omnibus Volume Two was a gift to me from the delightful Emily C., and equal in excellence to the previous volume. I adore Gaiman's graphic novels about Dream of the Endless and the people — well, not always people, but beings whose worlds brush against his realm of unconscious fantasy. Gods and demons, eyeless nightmares and ravens who used to be men, retired superheroines and creatures of folklore walk the pages of these tales. Rereading them for the first time in twenty-two years was such a treat. Thank you again, Emily.

    I wanted to feel my way around before I signed up for the prison's Buddhist services in July. To that end, I borrowed Buddhism, a 1961 history and what's-what compilation of scholarly works edited by Richard A. Gard. As introductions go, I could definitely have done worse, but what struck me most was how much history 2,500 years includes. This book doesn't scratch the surface.

    Several other books then came from Punker Bee, who follows @FreeByronCase on Instagram. For Read a Book Day, 6 September, I started and finished Jean-Christophe Valtat's English-language debut, 03 (translated by Mitzi Angel). A brief sprawl of a novel, it tracks a teenage boy's profound thoughts about the dark-eyed developmentally disabled girl across the street, while both wait for morning buses — his to high school, hers to a special-education academy. He calls what he feels for her love, and so he yearns for her notice, narrating, "[M]y own existence, hard enough for me to maintain with any robustness to myself, was, for those dark eyes — black as the inside of closed fists, reflecting less the outside world than the abandoned interior of a skull — a thing she never recognized but saw as a hazy blip on the landscape of those school mornings, an unremarkable little figure standing in front of the already shabby backdrop, a simple outgrowth, barely organic, of the bus shelter I leaned up against, my hands in my pockets, brain blowing on my eyes as though they were embers, trying to make my 'passion' seem that much more notable, more incandescent, but failing to send it over to the other side, across the cold magma frozen into tarmac by the organized disaster called society." It's that kind of book, and I loved it.

    So, to my three book benefactors, thank you, thank you, thank you! You made my summer something supremely special. I'm looking forward to this coming season of change, when I dive into the rest of those novels that Punker Bee sent.