By David C. Taylor
We have arrived.
Mom has sent me three copies of my book, Jacumba Connection. At mail call I hold in my hands the culmination of almost three years’ work that has, in a multitude of ways, transformed my life forever.
As you can imagine I couldn't wait to introduce my book to as many of the guys here as possible. Prison is a microcosm of society that includes every age, ethnicity, religion and culture. From U.S. senators to drug dealers, it’s the perfect place to test-drive a novel, because most everyone is an avid reader. But most importantly no one has an agenda. As a result, you get the naked truth about everything. If something is bad, they will tell you in no uncertain terms, "It sucks, bro."
But that's not been the case with my book. The reviews from my peers in prison have been overwhelmingly positive and heartfelt.
I know for a fact that they really are reading it. The book’s presence discretely makes itself known to me in various settings throughout the prison, and it delights me every time. For instance, once I saw it poking out of the netting of a guy’s gym bag. Another time I spied someone reading it while on a recumbent bike in the gym. Every time I unexpectedly see it, a crazy tickling sensation rolls up my spine and makes the hair on my neck stand straight up. I can’t help but feel pride and excitement. I just can’t stop smiling.
One evening as I dozed on my rack, my bunky above me read the book and I heard him laugh out loud. He rolled over, looked down at me in the bottom cot and said, “You crazy bastard, did you really....?"
The book never fails to start a conversation. "How did you write it?" "What inspired you?" "I have a story, how do you get started?" "What's your take-away on immigration?"
If you’ve been following my blog, by now you know this book has given me hope and purpose here in prison. As a result, I acquired the courage to collect reviews for a special hard cover edition in the future. So far, I've received over 75 reviews, all of them positive. Most say they can see my face in the story and hear my voice in the words. Mr. Mark, the prison librarian, has a Masters degree in rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley. He writes in his review, "Flip-click-flame. Some of us know what those words represents; moments in life...moments in time. I laughed out loud, felt anxious, questioned my beliefs, laughed out loud again and thought, I wish I had a love like that."
THAT is EXACTLY what I was shooting for when I wrote Jacumba Connection!
Abraham Lincoln said, “Laughter is the evergreen of life, intended to whistle off sadness." And that's just what I thought of when I saw my friend Dareck sitting in the sun reading my book with a smile on his face. Now he calls me "Charlie" or "Mr. DeVille."
But in spite of all the great feedback, what moved me the most was reading it to my friend Travis, a young, blind man in a wheelchair. Yes, the Feds have no problem putting a blind and paralyzed first time offender in prison. Just THINK for a moment how SCARY that would be. They don't have brail books here and almost zero radio reception. So I asked him, “Would you like me to read my book to you?"
His answer was an enthusiastic, “Hell, yes!!"
As I read, he gazed smiling with sightless eyes, lost in the story. Quite often he laughed. He looked at my VOICE expectantly waiting for the next exciting event to unfold. As sightless as blind eyes may be, they are still the windows into the soul, and Travis’s eyes laugh when he does.
Sometimes a story is massively important, not necessarily the content, but just the story itself. The fact that Travis enjoyed Jacumba Connection so earnestly makes me extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished. How could you not be when a blind man in a wheelchair says, "I can SEE it, man. I'm right there in the mix. Like I'm riding shotgun with you, you know?"
With mist in my own eyes I answer, “Yes bro, I do know. And thank you.”
To me it’s the impetus of the Creator’s magic. A book leaves a trail long after a reader has read it. For me, Jacumba Connection is my legacy; it makes it known that I once lived, and ensures that I won’t be forgotten.
Angelica gently reminds me of Emily Dickinson's words: "There's no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”
I couldn’t agree more.