Part of what “live true” means in my LiveTrue Book collection includes works that can be described as “telling it true.” I am reading a book right now titled, Super Friends by Whitney Holwadel, that does just that. It’s a moving story, and a hard look at our federal prison system.
As Whit’s father writes in the Introduction, the book offers: “..just one portrait – mainly self-portrait – from the last few months of Whit’s life: the blog and selected/excerpted letters we wrote to each other during that brief time.”
Followers of his blog journal grew to the thousands from all over the world, and a play called Blogging Behind Bars is now also bringing his story to the stage. The play was selected by a jury from among hundreds of submissions for the 2014 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, and is playing from May 27 – June 7.
Whit’s father poignantly lays out his purpose for this book:
I hope this book shines light on what doing the time really means, and discredits the presumption that if you’ve committed a crime – in effect any act that results in a prison sentence – you’re by definition a monodimensional criminal unworthy of a second thought but fully deserving of whatever is permitted to happen in our prisons.
My son did commit crimes that warranted incarceration. But once there, he did not turn off his humanity. And he did not deserve to die in prison. For reasons, events and circumstances whose inclusion here would swell the size of this book, the system didn’t just fail him, it drove him to take his own life. I’ll go further: it killed him.
And it’s killing and psychologically maiming thousands of others who are seen, if at all, as just statistics. Our prison system needs reforming, but if that is to succeed it cannot be just an abstract policy concept; more people will need to recognize the struggle between angels and demons within those who are locked away out of sight and hearing.
My son was beautiful, complicated, caring and loving, confused and curious. Whit was unique, and I love him. But his fate is not unique. Policy makers and the people who vote for them must come to the realization that most people behind bars have a story that will never be told.
I tape the show Frontline, and ironically, about the time I started Super Friends, I saw Frontline’s Solitary Nation in my queue, and watched it. It’s not to be missed, but be prepared. The realities we’re shown are – beyond tough.
All I can say is between watching this up close and personal documentary about solitary confinement at Main’s maximum security prison and reading Whit’s up close and personal writings in the last months of his life in a maximum security prison in Indiana, my eyes have opened wide to this shocking, dark part of our society that desperately needs to change.
I’ll write more when I finish Super Friends, but for now, this I know: We all need to know more about how people’s lives are forever changed, and boy, for the worse, as a result of this troubled system.