October 16th, 2016
4 P.M. Count: A Journal from Federal Prison Camp Yankton, edited by Dr. Jim Reese.
National Endowment for the Arts Interagency Initiative with the Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons. 240 pages.
For eight years poet and associate Professor of English, Jim Reese, has been teaching poetry to prisoners at South Dakota’s Yankton Federal Prison; better still, each year he produces an anthology. The preface Reese writes is simple and profound about how he studied and prepared, to find only that each student inmate wanted “a safe place to reveal their secrets and agonies.” He says his PhD had no place there; he traded it for empathy and the gift of giving the man back to themselves with their own stories. Reese found that most of the men are imprisoned because of a lack of education and addiction problems. Many of the men in this book are working on college degrees. The book is a winner where art heals –and in the writing the better parts of the human prevails. There are drawings, letters, stories, poems, photos and bios of the writers. The title 4 P.M. Count is from that moment in each day when no man can be seen because all are inside for the daily headcount.
We read each piece to follow the rise of hope; and to see forensic evidence of how a life warped by circumstance can be saved by an organized approach to the inner voice. What’s at the core of each person is regret, longing, appreciation, curiosity, and a hunger to improve. Another layer that can’t be ignored is that all is created from a compressed space designed to suppress rather than express. Yet, when a poet comes in and implants the power of words and feeds the wish for a high standard of life, the totality of effort is this fine book. These men in federal prison are remixing their pasts with their futures. They use internal logic to get to imagination, and then become heroes of their own stories. All writers’ expectations are frightening. Every one of us feel the responsibility of the blank page — and to these men the care and feeding of words is all they have to climb back to their best selves. Poet Reese goes into a gray room and the sun comes out. Men begin to create narratives that are completely free of confinement. Language knows no boundaries because the voice is spirit; and someone just has to guide it.
The book is available free of charge by contacting Jim Reese at?http://jimreese.org/portfolio/4pm-count/