Category Archives: book

I ain’t no better than a dirty dime.

Larry L Franklin

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I was reading a story from Rolling Stone about an old favorite of mine, Kris Kristofferson.  While I don’t listen to him often, I’m drawn by his lyrics like a bee to honey.  I sat at my computer and let his music help me write my imaginary song.

I ain’t no better than a dirty dime

I’ve got the writer’s itch,
when words flow from my mouth
like grease droppings on a dirty floor.

Thinking about days gone by
as they skip out the door.
Hey little buddy of mine,
you’re ain’t nothing but my little whore.

All my writing, singing, and therapy stuff,
don’t change you a little bit.
I own you, he whispered that night.
You ain’t no better than a dirty dime.

Hey, Kris Kristofferson,
you old buddy of mine.
I’m turning you off,
‘fore the dark fog moves in.
Best you go away,
before I begin…

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Fish heads in an open bag — listening to the mentally ill.

Larry L Franklin

Mcherryblossom_cover_smThese  are excerpts taken from my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”  I have drawn from the chapter called Fish heads in an open bag. Becca, the subject of my book was serving sixty years for allegedly killing her five-year-old stepdaughter.
***
I have listened to Becca for hours upon hours.  In every season of each passing year, I have sat across from her in the visit room looking at her drawn and tired face, listening to her struggle to find ways of expressing her mental and emotional realities.  What she says is not always cohesive, or narratively coherent, but over time, I have learned to piece together the fragments of her mental processes, and the images that she sees, in ways that blend with my imagination.  If Becca hears “voices” or “racing thoughts,” it might now be…

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Investigative journalism — why this, why that, why not, why?

Larry L Franklin

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(Most likely a photo of group therapy in a supermax setting.)

Investigative journalism is to discover the unknown, the information that escapes the public eye.  As adults, we seem to have lost the inquisitive nature of childhood — why this, why that, why not, why?  Instead, we engage in the comforts of social media where like-minded individuals support our stationary beliefs.  Perhaps we need to rediscover our scientific nature where we question, probe, and examine the meaning of “whatever.”

In the pursuit of my most recent book, “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” the available literature is focused on the negativity of the supermax prison.  While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope.  But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar.

One cannot explore the history of the supermax without…

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Prologue to “Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals

Larry L Franklin

supermax_prison (4).jpgThe ebook will be released on August 1, 2017, followed by the paperback a couple of weeks later.  I am sharing the prologue to the book at this time.

***

Prologue

Few residents can tell you that Illinois was granted statehood on December 3, 1818, or that the state animal is the white-tailed deer. Fewer still know that the bluegill is the state fish or that the monarch butterfly, painted turtle and pumpkin pie gained similar state recognition. But most people know about the place called Tamms.

In the mid 1990s, Governor James Edgar and the Illinois Legislature signed off on the construction of the Tamms supermax prison, built just a stone’s throw from the village of the same name. Small towns were sprinkled across the countryside with room for seasonal crops and native wildflowers that graced the picturesque bottomland of southern Illinois. Herds of cattle steadied themselves as they…

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Ode to Billy Joe and the faceless manikins

I loved writing this post in 2015. Hopefully you will enjoy it as well.

Larry L Franklin

Tallahatchie_bridge-Hwy_7_MississippiIt was the other day, June 3, 2015 to be precise, when Paul Morris, a fellow MFA Goucher graduate, reminded me of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Forty-eight years ago, on June 3, 1967, Gentry penned her masterpiece.  How could I allow decades to pass before revisiting the rhythmic, haunting lyrics depicting the day when Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the 220px-OdetobillyjoeTallahatchie Bridge?  Gentry and I had a reunion of sorts.  I began listening to a YouTube performance of her “Ode to Billy Joe;” over and over, perhaps twenty to thirty times.  It was as addictive as my Oxycodone pain-poppin’ pills that kept my back from breaking apart in the hills of southern Illinois, some five-hundred miles north of the Tallahatchie Bridge.  Maybe the passage of time has blessed me with a deeper understanding of Gentry’s lyrical gem.  Or perhaps years of therapy has graced my psychic with insights…

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I ain’t no better than a dirty dime.

IMG_2256.jpgsupermax_prison-45.jpg

I was reading a story from Rolling Stone about an old favorite of mine, Kris Kristofferson.  While I don’t listen to him often, I’m drawn by his lyrics like a bee to honey.  I sat at my computer and let his music help me write my imaginary song.

I ain’t no better than a dirty dime

I’ve got the writer’s itch,
when words flow from my mouth
like grease droppings on a dirty floor.

Thinking about days gone by
as they skip out the door.
Hey little buddy of mine,
you’re ain’t nothing but my little whore.

All my writing, singing, and therapy stuff,
don’t change you a little bit.
I own you, he whispered that night.
You ain’t no better than a dirty dime.

Hey, Kris Kristofferson,
you old buddy of mine.
I’m turning you off,
‘fore the dark fog moves in.
Best you go away,
before I begin to believe,
I ain’t no better than a dirty dime.

New book, “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” is about to be released.  Please check it out.

 

Wallow in the writer’s high

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The title of my book has been changed to “Supermax Prison: controlling the most dangerous criminals,” which is due to be released in mid-June. I decided to share some of my thoughts before writing this book.
***
Writing is a journey of twists and turns laced with uncertainty. Gone are the predictable warm summer nights in southern Illinois, or the haunting call of a whip-poor-will.  Perhaps I have a general idea of where the story might lead, but I never know how it will end.  That would not be investigative journalism.  No, that’s back-ass storytelling.

I have logged in countless hours of psycho-therapy and written about troubled minds with difficult pasts.  Things are not as they appear. Perceived reality is a combination of our genetic makeup and life experiences, and opens the door for misguided decisions.  An individual’s perception of right and wrong oftentimes differs from mine.  False judgements and bias are not permitted.  Knowing this, allows me to experience empathy, understanding, and a host of emotions.  Only then, can I find the “sweet part” of the story where creativity is unleashed.

It has been said that artists perform their best work when under the influence of drugs.  One could argue that a gentle high might unleash a degree of creativity, but when you are trashed, the work has a manic flow.  I admit to the occasional glass of wine to prime the pump, but I’ve found a better way.  Look to the free spirit of childhood and envision the swish and sway, the pirouette and tour en l’air of a child dancing to the beat and lyrics of a simple song; the free flow of unrestrictive creativity; an emotional rush that trumps the steady pull from your favorite weed or a glass of wine.

While emotion and creativity are the staples of powerful writing, it must be harnessed with a loose bridle, allowing a degree of freedom. Writing requires the use of the right and left side of the brain at the same time.  If I can harness my creativity, writing skills, a nonjudgemental mind, the strength of a lion sprinkled with a dose of love, I can wallow in the writer’s high.

The writer crawls from his cocoon.

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My last blog was written on October 30, 2015 when I had recovered from two back surgeries and swallowed my last oxycodone.  The pain was gone, my swagger was back, and the creative juices were flowing.  It was time to take that glorious trip I had taken on three prior occasions.  It was time to write a book, and leave the seclusion of my cocoon.

Nineteen months later, I have a signed contract with History Publishing Company
for my latest book, “Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.” The projected release date is mid-June, 2017.  It seems appropriate to include the Prologue in this blog.  After all, this has been a major part of my life for the past nineteen months.

Prologue

Few residents can tell you that Illinois was granted statehood on December 3, 1818, or that the state animal is the white-tailed deer. Fewer still know that the bluegill is the state fish, or that the monarch butterfly, painted turtle, and pumpkin pie gained similar state recognition. But most people know about the place called Tamms.

In the mid 1990’s, Governor James Edgar and the Illinois legislature signed off on the construction of the Tamms supermax prison, built just a stone’s throw from the village of the same name. Small towns were sprinkled across the countryside with room for seasonal crops and native wildflowers that graced the picturesque bottomland of southern Illinois. Herds of cattle steadied themselves as they stood on the hilly terrain, and black vultures, sometimes called “shabby undertakers,” patrolled the two-lane highway just east of the prison gate, swooping down to devour the latest road-kill.

The Tamms’ supermax was the ultimate result of prison violence during the 1980s and early 1990s, when prison gangs mirrored the organizational structure and control of a big-city Mafia. Most inmates who entered the Illinois maximum-security prisons had to make a choice between joining a gang that offered protection, friendships, financial rewards, access to drugs and other contraband, or surviving as a lone inmate in a dangerous, even lethal world. Some of the more violent inmates eventually sent to Tamms included Henry Brisbon, the I-57 killer; William Cabrera, sentenced for the killing of correctional officer Lawrence Kush; Ike Easley who stabbed superintendent Robert Taylor to death; and Corey Fox, an inmate who strangled his cellmate. The Tamms supermax seemed to be the best way to reduce violence, protect the safety of staff and inmates, and improve the functioning of the four antiquated maximum-security prisons in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections, together with architects, construction workers, and outside advisors were determined to create a state-of-the-art facility that would provide safety for inmates and staff, with a special emphasis on the mental health needs of a unique population. In 1998, Tamms opened with the certainty of success, and the assurance of jobs in a county that labored under the weight of eighteen percent unemployment.

But time eroded public confidence in a facility that imposed long-term solitary confinement years beyond acceptable practice. What began as a high-tech facility became known as a hellhole of misery, a place where the sane became insane, the sickest turned crazier than before. News outlets, inmate lawsuits, scholarly exposes, and human rights groups contributed to the demise of Tamms some fifteen years later. Any counter arguments were like whispers in the crowded arena where gladiators ruled the day.

The strangulation of a seventy-three million dollar structure is a story that needs to be told. Rakesh Chandra and Larry L Franklin met at the Long Branch coffee shop in Carbondale, Illinois, to discuss the possibility of a book about the Tamms supermax. Chandra had been the Tamms’ psychiatrist over a seven-year period. Franklin had written two books on women sentenced to life in prison for murder, and had experience as an investigative journalist. Together they began a journey of twists and turns that eventually expanded beyond their preconceived expectations.

Human rights groups were passionate in their criticism of the supermax; politicians were unwilling to provide adequate funding; scholars sometimes picked their favorite statistic to prove a point; inmates told unimaginable stories sprinkled with a measure of truth; and families shared stories passed on by boys who became broken men. But the quieter voices spoke of inmates who improved while at Tamms; mental health workers who were able to practice their craft; correctional officers who lived beyond their life expectancy; the orderly function of lesser restricted facilities; local residents who spent a chunk of their life to bring the supermax to their area; and southern Illinois residents who brought home a paycheck every two weeks.

While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope. An abundance of literature addresses the perceived evils of Tamms. But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar. I discuss in some depth the treatment of mental illness in and out of a prison setting, the difficulty of providing correct diagnosis within a unique population, and society’s moral responsibility in caring for the mentally ill. It is the author’s desire to present the good and bad, the certain and unimaginable. The reader can choose sides on the issue, or embrace the broader story of Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.

Perhaps I’m Pregnant

laughing-horses_1507421iPerhaps I’m pregnant seems a bit strange coming from a 72 year old man.  But you know, writers continually search for the next metaphor.  It’s like getting up in the morning and wondering whether you will have toast, bagel and cream cheese, or maybe a breakfast bar and a strong cup of coffee.

When a writer comes upon a good story, something that might turn into a large manuscript and even a book, you are a bit gun-shy in sharing your thoughts.  Perhaps it will be like a pregnancy that doesn’t make it to full term; perhaps you have to abort; or maybe the writing turns out to be a piece of shit.  Whatever the reason, the pregnancy is concealed until you begin to show or you’re convinced that your project deserves to be seen.

Several weeks ago someone contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing a book.  We would co-author the book was his suggestion.  Well, I’m still listening.  He has the expertise in the area, and I would be the writer.  Since the subject matter is in my “wheel-house,” I began testing the water.  At this point, I’m excited about the subject and the two of us are still speaking.  I’ve written some good stuff and the floor is covered with scrapes of paper.  But that’s how writing goes.

At the moment, I’m buried in the research and writing, and having a great time.  And oh yes, my back has recovered from two back surgeries and I’m flying high.  Now you know why I have not been active with my blog.  Lots of stuff to do.

In a few months I should know whether this baby is worth bringing to full term.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

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Each weekday I watch “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, hoping to catch a glimpse of intelligent conversation, and to jumpstart my brain.  The debates oftentimes turn into verbal poop, but that’s okay, that’s to be expected.  But I can’t take it anymore.  It’s driving me crazy. Trump, Trump, Trump that’s all they talk about.  I switch to CNN and it’s more of the same.  Maybe they don’t understand, or perhaps they do, that their continuous coverage promotes Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

Trump labels illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals, rapists, and general bad asses.  Oh, I forgot.  Trump said there are “probably” a few good ones.  He hurls disgusting remarks directed  towards Megyn Kelly, a Fox network newsperson, who according to Trump, has blood running from her mouth and from “you know where.”  Let’s give Donald a little credit, he loves the Mexican people and they love him, so he says.  My initial reaction is to call the circus absolute and complete bullshit.  But it’s working for him and I know why.

America is upset at congress which is sporting an eleven percent approval rating.  How can you not be upset with a congress unwilling to accomplish any meaningful legislation?   Hey people, in case you don’t know, President Obama holds a positive approval rating of 58 percent; not bad from a pissed-off America.  Oh, and how about the House of Representatives who have voted over fifty times to repeal Obamacare.  If they want to make improvements, work with the president to improve a law that currently helps a lot of people.  Screaming does not help.  It just makes people scream more.

Donald Trump is a master at pushing the hot buttons on a downcast, long-faced society.  I can tell you how he does it.  Meet someone at your favorite coffee shop and drop some words or phrases that you know will light a fire in his/her ass.  To be successful, it helps to know the person’s political slant.  Try this one on the extreme, rightwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of those illegal Mexicans coming into our country, taking our jobs, and raping our women.  I guarantee a strong reaction.  Now lets try lighting the fire of the leftwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of this garbage coming out of the cesspool called Donald Trump’s mouth.  Again, I guarantee a strong reaction.  It’s all about pressing someone’s “hot buttons.” Ready yourself for an immediate, knee-jerk reaction.  And by the way, they will love you for saying it.

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I’m reminded of the Music Man, a long running musical about a salesman, possibly a Carnival Barker, who comes to River City, a small-town community, to sell all of the children a musical instrument.  Of course, the Music Man has no intention of delivering the instruments.  His plan is to collect the money and skip town.  He goes about selling the idea that the local pool hall will destroy the moral compass of their children.  A pool cue in each child’s hand is the first step towards juvenile delinquency, imprisonment, and possibly hell.  I can hear the woeful sounds of the townspeople now.

Compare the rantings of the Music Man to those of the Carnival Barker who became a presidential candidate.
People:
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Main, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we’ve got trouble.
We’re in terrible, terrible trouble.
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is a devil’s tool!
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a “T”!  Gotta rhyme it with “P”!
And that stands for Pool!!!!

Get the idea?   You’re most likely a Trump supporter if he activates your deep frustrations and beliefs.  But if you count to ten after he bellows out his song, you might realize that the carnival barker has no solutions.  Building the tallest of all walls on the border separating Mexico from the United States, paid for by Mexico; sending back eleven million illegal immigrants to Mexico; and ignoring the constitution’s fourteenth amendment is not going to happen.  History is filled with stories of statesman-like congressional members  and senators who have worked together for the betterment of our society.  Oh where oh where have they gone?

I wrote two books on prison inmates who are currently serving time for murder; and a memoir about a young boy who was physically and sexually abused by his brother and others; by the way that was me.  I’m familiar with people who operate on a “hair trigger.”  My first book was about an inmate who was held “accountable” for the murder of a gay man.  You might say that her emotions were activated by the touch of a “hair trigger.”  The slightest provocation could put an end to our three-hour meetings — the allotted time in the prison’s visit room.  Each interview required a gentle stride as I walked through an imaginary bed of hot coals.  Any misstep could burn my ass. I suppose that it was inevitable.  On one visit she stood, turned, and quick-stepped her way to another room where she was strip searched before rejoining the general prison population.  Six months passed before she spoke to me again. So much for me to learn.  Life changed in so many ways; my horse blinders were removed, a broader, crystal clear vision came forth.

In her world, many of the people — good and bad — have a “hair trigger” of their own, ready to fight at the slightest provocation.  We are the product of our genetic makeup and our life experiences.  This much I know.  Change is difficult, but possible.  Of course there are individuals who have been so emotionally damaged that they are beyond repair.  That is the unfairness of it all.  Most of us have heard the expression count to ten before answering what you perceive as a provocation, if needed count to one hundred.  This simple rule can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings, “The Canons of Conduct.”  For Jefferson it was common sense, but for many of us it is a lesson unlearned.  Hair trigger, count to ten, knee-jerk reaction share the same message — think before you accept the Carnival Barker’s message.  Today it seems more difficult than years past.  There is a segment of the population that is aware of America’s short fuse, and use it to their advantage.  They’re called politicians.

Politics is a cesspool possibly found around the dinning room table when certain relatives come to visit, the local coffee shop, and any place where two or more people engage in conversation.  The cesspool is formed, in part, by the daily shit dumped on the national airwaves.  Lies and half-truths are peddled as absolute truth and designed to activate the hair trigger, knee-jerk reaction, the inability to count to ten, and in general terms, reach people unable to think with a clear mind.

We, as individuals, need to base our actions on truth rather than an emotional reaction to some word or phrase that ignites our prejudice, racism, and downright ignorance.  Be gone, the Carnival Barker, the Music Man, the Medicine Man who peddles the merits of his latest elixir, and the politician who preys upon your emotions for a rise in the latest polls.