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The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: More Like George Bernard Flaw

The other day I was holding forth to one of my fellow inmates about the perfidy of the federal justice system and what have you, noting that the great majority of its “offenders” are guilty of nothing more than consensual crimes like selling drugs and crossing national borders.

“Yeah, they shouldn’t be going after the drug dealers, but they have to crack down on these illegals because they’re wreaking havoc on the economy,” said the inmate who robs armored cars for a living.

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Someone sent me a 1948 biography of Yeats by Oxford University professor Richard Ellmann, who manages to get in some good licks here and there: “Maud Gonne was, like Yeats, a romantic, which meant that she shared his ignorance of economics, history, sociology, and politics.”

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I got a new Bible the other day. Working off a hot tip to the effect that there was a Spanish version of the Qur’an floating around the jail, and being a keen admirer of metaphysical curiosities, I ventured into the little chapel room to search through the “religious library,” which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a bookshelf given over largely to volumes from the Left Behind series. After locating “El Coran,” flipping through it a bit, and muttering, “Well, I’ll be damned,” a few times, I placed it back on the shelf and had a look at the other offerings. Most of the volumes were petty self-help, pop-psychology gobbledygook in which the term “self-esteem” is simply replaced by “Christ,” but I did find a copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine, which of course was sitting there unread and unappreciated whereas I happen to know that some two dozen Joel Osteen books are in constant circulation among my fellow inmates.

Also on hand was a Spanish-language collection of works by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, of all things. It had been placed in the “religious library” of the chapel no doubt on the strength of its cover, the design scheme of which happened to resemble stained glass. It would have found a more suitable home in the “irreligious library” of some theoretical anti-chapel. I left it in place, though, as a sort of prank on George Bernard Shaw, for whom I have always had an extraordinary degree of contempt.

Next I came across Self Mastery and Fate with the Cycles of Life, by H. Spencer Lewis, Ph.D., F.R.C., who we are led to understand was “Imperator of the Rosicrucian Order,” at least until “his transition in 1939.” This I confiscated; either it was all nonsense and would thus lead my benighted fellow inmates into even further error, or it was actually true and useful, in which case it should be kept out of the hands of the resident criminals, at least a few of whom would use its powerful secrets to rob banks and send the money to Joel Osteen.

Satisfied with this, the latest in a long and unbroken line of my noble deeds, I started to leave when I noticed a stack of books in the corner that I didn’t recall being there before and which turned out to be Bibles. But these were some really sharp Bibles: all black with a red shield on each cover, and each shield adorned with a stylized and rather imposing-looking white cross. They were Order of Malta Bibles, no doubt dropped off by the Catholic priest.

I ran to my cell, grabbed my pussy-ass, Evangelical-distributed New International Version Bible with the lame pastel cover, came back to the chapel, ditched the sorry thing, and picked up a copy of this bad motherfuckin’ Order of Malta Bible, which is now among my most prized possessions. This isn’t your typical “Oh help me, Jesus, I’m so sad” Bible for losers. This is a “Jesus needs us to seize this island from the Turks and He needs us to do it right fucking now” kind of Bible. It also includes a list of all the popes, something I happened to need anyway for my own mysterious purposes.

Incidentally, I feel sorry for this Catholic priest who comes by the jail every weekend to administer to his hypothetical flock of Hispanics, only two of which come to his service, the rest having gone Pentecostal (a recent trend among Latin Americans that’s been especially pronounced in the U.S. prison system). I felt even worse for the pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who came in one day, sat down at a table, and waited patiently for inmates to come pick up copies of The Watchtower, which no one did because no one gives a shit about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I even considered going over there and feigning interest, but then I remembered the last time I made the mistake of ideologically humoring someone.

Years ago, you see, I came across a couple of LaRouche Youth organizers trying to attract interest from passersby on a busy Manhattan street and having no luck, so I stopped and added my phone number to their little contact list. It turns out, this was the wrong thing to do, as I started receiving very confusing phone calls every few months or so. Now, I make it my business to keep up with the terminology of fringe politics, but even I couldn’t make anything of this LaRouche jibber-jabber. To wit:

Phone: Ring ring, I’m a phone, I’m ringing.

Me: [Answering phone] Hello?

Mysterious Inquisitor: So, what do you think of the Cheney junta’s Dionysian foray into the exegesis of Babylon?

Me: What? Who is this?

Mysterious Inquisitor: LaRouche Youth.

Me: Oh, goddamnit. [Hangs up phone]

Phone: Why do I exist?

Eventually I was able to determine that these LaRouche people favor the construction of some sort of high-speed hover-train that would connect two continents, although I can’t recall which two continents, exactly. Whichever ones they were, I’m sure I’m not opposed to such a thing, but on the other hand I didn’t want to receive any more cryptic phone calls than I was already getting. Thus it was that I vowed never to do anything nice for anyone ever again. Later I narrowed this down a bit and vowed to simply refrain from giving out my phone number to people associated with Lyndon LaRouche. One must always be on guard against drawing overly broad lessons.

Anyway, starting now, the Bible Verse of the Day with which I end each column will be drawn from this sweet Papist Bible rather than the penny-ante, bubblegum drive-in Protestant Bible with which I had previously been forced to make due.

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A selection from Our Oriental Heritage, by Will Durant, 1935:

“Teng Shih composed a code of penology that proved too idealistic for the government of Cheng. Annoyed by pamphlets in which Teng criticized his policies, the prime minister prohibited the posting of pamphlets in public places. Teng thereupon delivered his pamphlets in person. The minister forbade the delivery of pamphlets. Teng smuggled them to his readers by concealing them in other articles. The government ended the argument by cutting off his head.”

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Bible Verse of the Day: Deuteronomy 20:19

“When you are at war with a city and have to lay siege to it for a long time before you capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field human beings, that they should be included in your siege?”

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[Editor's note: Barrett Brown has been incarcerated for more than a year. He is being held in a federal detention facility in Seagoville, Texas. This is the ninth installment of The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail. Go here to read earlier installments. Go here if you'd like to send him a book or put some money in his commissary account. He is inmate 45047-177. Go here to contribute to his legal defense fund and learn more about the charges against him.]