Eighteen In - Eighteen Out

533 pages,
ISBN: 2921552019

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Coming Up the Hard Way
by Alexander Craig

YOU GET OUT of prison, after a Very, very Ion,, time "inside." You never want to see it again. You're looking for Work, but if you lie in Your job application, you will, especially with Your luck, be found out, he back on the streets, and probably end up once more back in the "Big House."

The only option is the trendy one: self-employment. So, to avoid becoming a "con" again, You decide to become a professional "ex-con," involved in the rehabilitaion of convicts and ex-convicts. That at least is what Donald Pollock has done, with a fair degree of success. As the title of Eighteen In -- Eiqhteen Out, his fourth book, indicates, he has Undeniable experience, if not expertise: by the age of 28, he had been detained in

two reform schools, three penitentiaries, three mental hospitals, an five different county jails. I had been shot three times, attempted, suicide and been classified as criminally insane.

Pollock is fluently bilingual and personable. He pays tribute to the work of the John Howard Society, but when he launched his book in Bordeaux Prison shortly before last November's Salon du Livre in Montreal, it was clear that he has even more significant, enthusiastic Kicking. Present were not just some of the more reliable (albeit still carefully frisked) lags, but also some prominent businessmen, such as Andre Chagnon, a member of the Laval chapter of the Kiwanians Club and president of the cable giant Videotron. Pollock's efforts too go straight received early support from other Kiwanis in Montreal, including Armand Loiselle, a senior bookbuyer with Eaton's. Andre Normandeau, director of the Universite de Montreal's International Centre of Criminology also spoke LIP for Pollock, who occasionally lectured in his courses.

Born in 1940 in Rosemont, an anglophone working-class district of east-end Montreal, Pollock had no early breaks. Raised in an unhappy home, he was also systematically molested by the Catholic Brothers who ran his school: his pitched battles with the authorities began early.

Pollock's racy style keeps his reader with him as he goes over his even more racy background. He was, for example, sentenced to three years in 1958 for being part of a two-man break-and-enter team that stole $12.65 from a Montreal church. His intransigence in prison led him to spend a lot of time in solitary, in Kingston Penitentiary as well as in Montreal's Bordeaux Prison, in conditions so deplorable, he Claims, that, when he wasn't on bread and water, even the rats rejected the food.

Pollock conveys the sheer futility and pessimism of so much of prison life, confined by blind, unthinking, institutionalized routine. But just how edifying is this book for the ordinary, non-criminal reader? It's about life, rather than the Study of it, so Pollock says nothing about recidivism, for example -- nothing explicit, that is, but a great deal implicitly. As the book testifies, he has been in a constant, violent battle with himself and everyone else, running crazedly away from, when not towards, drugs, booze, women, and the companionship offered by crime.

Pollock's authority, both inside and outside prison, seems due to his native intelligence rather than his organizing skills -- his record, like that of so many of his fellow inmates, was one of very disorganized crime. The classic writer's dilemma -- how to make the ordinary, the boring and humdrum, interesting is here manifested as the challenge of giving some coherence to the mixed-up. Like his life, perhaps, Pollock's book could have done with a bit more organization and somewhat more rigorous editing: certain stages, like certain sentences, so to speak, might have been profitably shorter.


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