I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Stephen Reid has grown old in prison and seen more than his share of its solitude, its vicious cycles, and its subculture relationships. He has participated in the economics of contraband, the incredible escapes, the miscarriages of justice, and witnessed innocent souls doomed by their childhood destinies to prison life. He has learned that everything—the painful separation of family, children, and friends—is bearable, and that sorrow must be kept close, buried in a secret garden of the self, if one is to survive. Within his writing runs the motif that his prison life has never been far from his drug addictions, but the junkie who has some straight time and means to stay that way knows a lot about the way we really live, think, feel, hope, and desire in this country. A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden is a recognition of how Reid’s imprisonment has shaped his life.
The memoir of a career criminal, drug addict and prison inmate. Reid has such perspective on his situation—how he got there, how he got out and changed his life, and how things unravelled once again, pitching him back into the penal system. I heard on CBC radio that he has emerged once again, to try to resume a “normal” life, if there is such a thing.
My sister, during work on her psychology degree, attended a Narcotics Anonymous evening and left it amazed—amazed that anyone ever escapes from addiction, that anyone manages to change the destructive path that they are on. They generally have NO ONE who can give them loving support, who can offer a safe place to choose another life. Their family has tired of them long ago and the only friends they have left are the people who are invested in keeping them down and out. Reid certainly has one advantage over them—a wife and daughters, friends, who love him and want him out in the world with them.
Reid is one of nine children, with a largely absent father and an overworked, overwhelmed mother. When he was approached by a pedophile as a boy of 11, he had no defenses and was soon addicted to the morphine that was, as he puts it, a “prelude.” He remembers his first high: “The top is down on his Thunderbird, the pale autumn sun warm on my skin. The blood running down my arm is like spilled roses. We are hidden from the road, partway down an old tractor trail in the grass. I am pressed into the rich red leather. Not ten feet away, yellow waxy leaves make their death rattle in the late afternoon breeze. I am in profound awe of the ordinary—the pale sky, the blue spruce trees, the rusty barbed wire fence, those dying yellow leaves. I am high. I am eleven years old and in communion with this world. Wholly innocent, I enter the heart of the unknown.”
“Paul unzipped my childhood, but it’s never been as singular or as uncomplicated as blame. Mine is more than the story of a boy interrupted. It is not what Paul took from me, it is what I kept: the lie that the key to the gates of paradise was a filled syringe. In all the thousands of syringes I’ve emptied into my arm since then, the only gates that ever opened led to the penitentiary.”
Imagine having two sets of people that you know—those who are familiar with your straight life call you Stephen, those intimate with your past call you Stevie. One day, when already pensive, someone from the second group called his name: “Hey, Stevie!” In record time, he is high again and planning how to stay that way. Because he is an author, well known in his community, it is big news when he robs a bank, leads a dangerous police pursuit and hijacks an elderly couple as he tries to escape. Needless to say, his return to jail is a disappointment to his family and himself.
It’s obvious from this memoir that Reid is a well-read, thoughtful man with a good sense of humour. On a fifteen minute break: “I go to the library, not for a reading break, but just to be amongst books…The library here, fittingly, used to be the chapel….In the old days a prison library was more likely to resemble a second-hand bookstore after a crowd of shoplifters had passed through.” (p. 101-102) However, none of these qualities can protect him from his past. I was sad to realize what a struggle it was for him to stay straight, how easy it is to subvert decades’ worth of effort.
Mr. Reid, I cannot imagine the difficulties that you have faced, lived through, and documented in this poetically written book. Blessings on you.