Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fish by T.J. Parsell

We've all heard the stories about what happens in prison, but have we ever really stopped to think about the effect it has on the prisoner, especially a teen. T.J. (Tim) Parsell doesn't hold back as he details his time spent in prison that led him to become an activist against prisoner rape.

When he was 17 years old, he got sent to prison for robbing a Fotomat with a toy gun and breaking probation in a previous incident. When he made it through classification and ended up at Riverside, he didn't think it'd be that bad, especially after being befriended by an older inmate. That, though, was all a ploy to get him drunk, drugged, and then gang-rape. After barely surviving that, Tim was handed over to an inmate known as Slide Step who won him in a coin toss. From that point on he was protected, which was good, but his protection came at a cost - he had to perform sexual favors to Slide Step whenever asked. But Slide Step was good to him, at least compared to others, so he could accept his fate, especially when he considered his questionable sexuality. Life, though, wasn't that easy and he was soon transferred to a different location where he had to find another "man" or protector and not all of them were as gentle and considerate as Slide Step. Being young, gay, and relatively attractive made Time an easy target and he was still a young fish unable to defend himself. A new inmate, though, brought Tim some hope. Paul knew of Tim from Riverside and had been in a similar position. Paul was also gay and the two bonded, fell in love. Paul taught Tim things he needed to survive, tools that would help him when the harsh reality of prison tore them apart. In the meantime, Tim worked at bettering himself. He got an education and helped set up a prison newspaper. With the help of Paul and others who honestly cared like Miss Bain, he began to learn how to beat the Man (aka the system).

This book is a harsh dose of reality. Parsell does an excellent job putting it all out there without detaching reality. You honestly feel for him and watch him struggle not just with the system, but also with himself. While he's well aware of the fact that he doesn't enjoy the rape, he's also dealing with questions of his own sexuality, something that he tries to use in his favor. He's constantly trying to convince himself that because he's gay, some of it's okay. I think part of that gives the book an interesting twist. How would the book/situations be different if he weren't gay? While you can't change who he is, that's just a thought I had while reading. Would it be harder to accept the life? At the same time, his experience happened in that 70's; how have things changes since then? It'd be interesting to see another perspective on the situation (not that I imagine it'll be much different). That thought completely aside, sex takes up a major part of the novel. There's both consensual, semi-consensual (as in between the man and his boy) and rape. With that level of exposure, this novel is definitely for maturer audiences. While the reader goes in expecting it, it still takes you by surprise. The novel is also very informative. In a morbid sense, it's almost a novel kids heading to prison should read because it details a lot about the deals of prison life, and not just the sexual aspect of it. There's a lot of "insider information."

Tim is a strong and powerful person. He discovers a lot about himself and who he can be through this novel. The memoir is written wonderfully. I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I couldn't put the book down; I needed to see him survive. I was on this journey with him and as bumpy as the road got at times, I was happy to experience it. His story needed to be told and I don't imagine it being done better. This book is definitely worth reading, but be forewarned that it won't be easy at times. Also, be sure to watch the fish at the end of the chapters. I didn't notice it at the end and I think it's very symbolic. I wish I'd known sooner.


Philip said...

Thank you so much for such a wonderful review.

T.J. Parsell

Khrys38 said...

I've always been curious about this since I've read the book, but does anyone know of "Slide Step's" real identity? And did he ever experience anytime outside of prison?

Anonymous said...

What is Slide Step's real identity? I am curious to know as well

Anonymous said...

What is Slide Step's real identity? I am curious to know as well