Grow Where You’re Planted

The Kindle is the crack of the timid, I’m convinced. I am so in love with the thrill of the transaction; first, seeing the beautiful book cover in vivid color, then clicking on the Buy Now button, and then having the book lined up with all the others, each showing exactly what percentage of them I’ve read. When the Visa bill comes, I pay it online and then slip it in the drawer. No one needs to know how far down the road I have gone.

I go on little binges. Here’s a list of recent foci: the slave narratives, catastrophic disease memoirs (adults and children), abused children/survivors, Mormon polygamy, the Holocaust (revisited many, many times since my youth), white people who were captured and lived with Indian tribes, and the writings of the Iceberg Slim genre. Some would say my selections tend to the depressing. I also read other things, you know, New York Times bestsellers and whatever Oprah’s talking about. Just in case I drop my Kindle somewhere and it can be traced back to me, I have a bunch of smarty pants books, the stuff that true intellectuals read. I have a Ph.D. after all so I have a certain image to maintain; I can’t go around with People Magazine and a bag of licorice whips in my bag, you know.

So now I’m on a prison kick, more specifically, I’m reading about women in prison. What caught my eye is the new Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. So 30 seconds later, I ordered up the book by the same name written by Piper Kerman, a woman who served time in federal prison for a really stupid decision to be a drug mule when she was much younger. She tells her story in this book – from the first day to the last of her one year sentence. The book is about how Ms. Kerman makes a life in prison. And something she says several times so far in the book (I’ve read 61%) has really stuck with me. I can’t find the direct quote because flipping through the pages on a Kindle looking for a specific sentence can make a person want to slam it through a closed window.

The gist of it is – the trick about surviving in prison is creating a life there but not creating so much of a life there that you can’t remember how to not be in prison.

I think that’s genius. And I think it applies to a lot more than prison.

In Ms. Kerman’s case, creating a life in prison meant learning how to be an electrician, doing favors for other women, running around a little exercise track, having an strange assortment of friends, complying with prison decorum – official and unofficial, learning how to cook prison cheesecake, paying another inmate for a forbidden pedicure, and standing up for herself when she needed to. She said that she realized right away that the most unhappy women were the ones who refused to create a life inside; their resistance to their situation making every day longer and harder to bear.

Her willingness to invest in being there and creating a life in prison required her to shed the accoutrements of her outside self including her college degree, her fancy clothes, and her high class friends and become a number and a nickname. No resume, no LinkedIn endorsements, no personal brand, inside, she opted to just be whoever she truly was – even though she probably didn’t know who that would be until months into it. She just let it happen – let herself happen. And all the while she kept one eye on what was next: getting out, getting married, having a career again, having a life.

This is a story about settling oneself down, developing patience, managing hope so it doesn’t run wild and make you crazy, and marching through boring, long and difficult days one at a time.

I really admire that. The balls of it and the classiness of it. Don’t you?

3 Comments on “Grow Where You’re Planted

  1. I really resonated with Ms. Kerman’s statement. I have fibromyalgia and that is what I have had to do – learn to live with the limitations but not forget what life is like without it. Maybe it is how I feel about aging, too. I have to live with the changes but not so much that I don’t hang on to who I once was. I really enjoy your writing style, Jan.

  2. Jan, I so enjoy your blog. I am currently watching Orange is the New Black and I am curious to see how the book differs from the show. Also “The Kindle is the crack of the timid, I’m convinced” may just be the best line EVER.

  3. I loved it for the same reasons. I noticed how she evolved from frightened white girl to taking as much control over her own life as possible within the confines of prison. She saw value in people who she never would have crossed paths with otherwise. Making the most of any given situation is something we all can but a little more effort into.

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