Hope all of our Americans had a great Fourth of July! Patriotism plays a role in so many memoirs. But today I want to follow up on last week’s blog about the abundance of prison memoirs. What makes people so reflective once they get behind bars?
There’s the obvious—they have more time on their hands than the rest of us do. Also, writing keeps the mind occupied. A blogger, Caleb Smith, posts this explanation from an essay written by Jay Parini: “These books are about self-realization as well as self-justification. They describe a similar pattern: getting into trouble, confronting the claustrophobic and unforgiving world of prison, dealing with growing despair until something or somebody offers a crack in the wall, a little bit of daylight shining through. After a great deal of soul-searching, the writer/prisoner reaches a fresh sense of selfhood, coming to terms with the original sin, forgiving himself or herself. In the very best of these memoirs—especially with a prisoner of conscience or one unjustly jailed—there is often a redeeming social vision at work. The genre bleeds into that of spiritual autobiography.???
I see that same soul-searching as part of lots of memoirs, not just those coming out of Sing Sing. Parini’s insight about people’s need to forgive themselves applies to the broader population as well. Writing our memoirs helps us along that path of self-awareness, forgiveness and, ultimately, redemption.