Just finished reading A Place to Stand, the autobiography of Jimmy Santiago Baca, a young illiterate Chicano who goes to prison to serve a five year sentence in New Mexico and emerges as a poet! His memoir is itself a literary masterpiece giving us a window into the brutality of American prison life which can kill the spirit and diminish the human soul. It details how he discovered his essential self during periods of solitary confinement and started the process of individuation by refusing to work because his application to take classes to learn to read and write was denied! Check the video in the video bar!
It is a testament not only to the human spirit but also to what I describe as the call of the imaginal self!
Born in New Mexico of Indio-Mexican descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca was raised first by his grandmother and later sent to an orphanage. A runaway at age 13, it was after Baca was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison that he began to turn his life around: he learned to read and write and unearthed a voracious passion for poetry. During a fateful conflict with another inmate, Jimmy was shaken by the voices of Neruda and Lorca, and made a choice that would alter his destiny. Instead of becoming a hardened criminal, he emerged from prison a writer. Baca sent three of his poems to Denise Levertov, the poetry editor of Mother Jones. The poems were published and became part of Immigrants in Our Own Land, published in 1979, the year he was released from prison. He earned his GED later that same year. He is the winner of the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award and for his memoir A Place to Stand the prestigious International Award. In 2006 he won the Cornelius P. Turner Award. The national award recognizes one GED graduate a year who has made outstanding contributions to society in education, justice, health, public service and social welfare.
Baca has devoted his post-prison life to writing and teaching others who are overcoming hardship. His themes include American Southwest barrios, addiction, injustice, education, community, love and beyond. He has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities throughout the country.
In 2005 he created Cedar Tree Inc., a nonprofit foundation that works to give people of all walks of life the opportunity to become educated and improve their lives.
Please visit www.jimmysantiagobaca.com
Love, light and shadow,
Dr. Jalaledin Ebrahim, LMFT, Ph.D