Krystal Riordan watched as her boyfriend beat a drunk teenager to death in a vermin infested New Jersey hotel room. Could she have stopped it? Could she be his next victim? Now, Krystal is serving a maximum 30-year sentence, while the man who beat the teenage woman to death is about to be released. And it’s no anomaly, with studies showing more than 80 percent of women who fail to stop their partner from committing a violent crime serve more prison time than the perpetrator. What does it take to survive in a maximum security lockdown for 30 years? Is it possible to thrive? The answers only lead to more questions in Dickinson’s raw and emotional look into the criminal justice system and how it’s failed not just one but countless victims of violence. And what unfolds is a beautiful depiction of moral ambiguity, loss and redemption within the confines of the prison walls and beyond. Through the lens of a prison friendship, Stephanie Dickinson unspools the lives and deaths of victims and perpetrators, their families, friends, enemies, and everyone in between. Drop In with us to determine for yourselves whether the law is fair to accomplices to crime by issuing its strong prison sentences or whether moral ambiguity is relevant. What is the role of compassion for the victim of the crime and how long does that compassion extend? We’ll ask these and other thorny questions on Dropping In. Join us!
Stephanie Dickinson raised on an Iowa farm now lives in New York City with the poet Rob Cook and their senior citizen feline, Vallejo. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts Press), and The Emily Fables. She received distinguished story citations in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays and numerous Pushcart anthology citations. Her stories have been reprinted in New Stories from the South, New Stories from the Midwest, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. In 2020 she won the Bitter Oleander Poetry Book Prize and TBO has brought out Blue Swan/Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries. Her Razor Wire Wilderness, a true crime memoir, based on her longtime correspondence with inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, NJ, is forthcoming from Kallisto Gaia Press, and launches June 1. To support the holy flow, she has long labored in the cubicle world and since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, she has worked remotely from the sanctity of her 5th floor walk-up. Along with Rob Cook, she edits Rain Mountain Press.Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers, conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table, diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically, stories reveal the common threads that link us, experience the joys the fist pumps, the detours, and the hard one truth of those who blazed the trail so that we might do the same. And now, here’s your host, Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In, everyone. It’s the publishing date for our guest, Stephanie Dickinson, and her true crime creative nonfiction story, Razor Wire Wilderness. It’s published by Kallisto Gaia Press. We’ll give you a heads up that true crime is often tough and it’s sometimes gruesome. The story is about Crystal Reardon who is serving a maximum 30-year sentence as an accomplice to murder while the man, her boyfriend, Pimp, and the perpetrator who beat a teenage woman, Jennifer Moore, to death is about to be released from prison.
Studies show that more than 80% of women who fail to stop their partner from committing a violent crime serve more prison time than the perpetrator. Stephanie Dickinson asks, what does it take to survive in a maximum-security lockdown for 30 years? Is it possible to thrive? Welcome, Stephanie. Great to have you with us.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Diane. It’s great to be here.
Diane: Where are you speaking to us from? Where have you been in COVID lockdown?
Stephanie: During the lockdown, I’ve been in New York City, East Village of Manhattan in a five-floor walk-up with my partner and my cat. I’m hoping things are improving now.
Diane: It sounds as though they are. I hope that it’s given you time to focus on your writing. This is an exciting day for you. The book is coming out. We’re here to talk about it and we’ll take a deep dive. You say that it is about how we live when we’re caged, literally or figuratively, and the beckoning light of genuine human connection. So, Stephanie, you’ve written many crime stories and books. Tell us about your goal in writing this particular book.
Stephanie: I think I wanted to understand what happened in that room between two women of similar ages one is 18 and one is 20. That was my original impulse in entering this story and getting to know Crystal. The more I learned about Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey and the more I understood about Maximum Compound and the inmates there, the more I was astonished at the humanity that we all shared.
I think I wanted readers and myself to experience, not just the harrowing side of what brought many of these women to Maximum Compound gritty, gruesome crimes but also how much I shared with them as human beings. When we’re caged figuratively as we are in our everyday lives and then it became literal under lockdown, it was something that I began to understand that enclosure feeling. I thought that was a match with what was going on in EMCF.
Diane: It is a powerful story. So, the 18 and 20-year-old referred to Jennifer Moore who was 18 at the time of her death. And the 20-year-old is Crystal Royalton who wasn’t accomplished to murder. When you talk about that room, there was a hotel room. The perpetrator, Draymond Coleman, was also in that room. You were inspired or motivated.
Let’s say I was quite also triggered by the story. I think that what you’re saying about finding commonalities is all too true in the sense that we think to ourselves there by the Grace of God go we because these things can happen to almost anyone. I wondered why this story, in particular, when you read it in the newspaper the first time, grabbed you and wouldn’t let you go. What is compelling about this story for you?
Stephanie: What was so compelling about the story was it resonated with me as something that happened in my own life. I was shot when I was 18 years old at a party, resulting in a lifelong disability with my left arm. Jennifer was 18 years old when she made this mistake that would take her life. It was one night, one mistake that had these incredible consequences.
For Crystal too with her life, in so many ways ruined or changed by a 30-year prison sentence. One night and in an impulsive direction, a young woman took and walked into this state. I guess it reminded me so much of my own mistake that led to a lifelong consequence that I just was gripped by. I felt myself as I learned more about Crystal. They were two women and one-half of each of them was me. I had so much empathy for Jennifer and then later, Crystal, too.
The dangerousness of a certain age for women makes you vulnerable because you think nothing will ever happen to you and you take this road. That was really what wouldn’t let me go. That was one thing. The second thing was I could not understand why Crystal did not help Jennifer. It was just the sticking point. I called her in a short story, The Girl Who Watched. That was before I knew her. That girl who watched that haunted me.
Diane: The girl who watched. It is haunting. You’ve formed a prison communication and friendship with Crystal in the 15 years that she’s been incarcerated. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. When you’re 18 years old, you have been brought up in a very conservative background. In the summer of love, when you took off and rebelled and hitchhiked to meet a boyfriend, Michael, you wound up at a party with an angry suitor whose house it was and he owned a shotgun.
I wonder for you when you talk about these pivotal moments these days that change your life with your paralyzed arm. and I know that you work as a word processor for an accounting firm, do you think about that day over and over? Or do you go about your business? How often does it resonate with you?
Stephanie: Having a disability is something that you have to deal with every single day. I love life. I have done a lot with my life but you can’t escape what you need to do in a two-armed world with one arm and you overuse the one working limb that you do have. And also, I have chronic pain because it’s a neurological accident that damages the nerves in my shoulder and neck while I was shot. I’m in pretty much chronic constant pain. I can’t put it too far to the back of my mind.
It’s always there in this burning way. I love life and I do go through my day. I do both of those things at the same time. Because of that, that it’s always present, I’m very sensitive to these kinds of stories and to this age where I empathize, not just with women but with young men and people that are not binary at this age where you do make these kinds of mistakes.
Diane: I love that you say that you experienced both each day the pain and the love of life. I think you’ve hit on a point there that at age 18 we’re invincible. What can happen to us taking risks seems so logical at the time? I also wonder strangely. I don’t know if you agree with me. When you talk about life hinging on these moments for Krystal Riordan who was the bystander to this murder of Jennifer Moore, was her becoming incarcerated a way that might have transformed her in a way that she wouldn’t have been?
Was she on a destructive path that could have gone even worse? We can only speculate. She had, tragically, a lifetime of abuse. She grew up neglected early on by an addicted mother. She and her sisters were put up for adoption through the foster care system. She was later abused in several scenarios. It seemed as though she was a vulnerable personality and she had sustained some emotional damage along the way.
This kind of outcome for Krystal It’s terrible and she has been incarcerated. She’s befriended you. What do you think are the chances that she will turn around? What do you think the chances are that her life would have just continued to go wrong while she was a prostitute and in love with the perpetrator of this murder?
Stephanie: If she had been with someone other than dreaming, it might not have gone to this extreme. I don’t think she had what I know of her. She’s a very kind person but at that point, she is impressionable. She went to the Elon School for four years. I think she learned to be passive. She learned to put up with a level of violence because the therapy there is a tax therapy where you weaponize the students who are troubled teens from all over the United States to scream at each other and to commit these acts of verbal violence.
I think that she became a little callous there or her personality type couldn’t handle four years of that. She was used to seeing extreme things and being passive. I think that she was under Draymond Coleman’s orders. She was in love with him but he was abusive and he would control the monster. I didn’t mean to use that word but he did have that quality.
When she was in a situation where she needed to make a choice, where she needed to run from that room and get help, she was passive. That quality of her could have led to a worse and worse outcome as time went along. After the arrest, she did help the police with locating him. She was under the control of the police and so whoever was in authority, she obeyed.
Diane: Right. I think that is an interesting point. It is a point of compassion for Krystal that she kind of came to. Also, a point of compassion is that if you are an infant and you suffer from neglect. When the child where aflerts system, people pick up Krystal and her sisters. They hadn’t been bathed. They were starving. They had been neglected.
Neglect, even childhood trauma of physical, terrible trauma is not as severe on the neurological regulatory system as neglect is because it is simply incomprehensible and it goes on indefinitely. So, there is a large degree to which she shut down. Her neurological responses and her emotional responses were already compromised to the point where if she maybe undergoes an understanding of how this happened, what happened to her, she might be able to sort through all of this. I agree with you. She was passive as a result of the Elon School.
For those listeners who don’t recall, it’s where the Kennedy Clan Air was shipped off Michaels Kakel for beating another Jennifer, beating his neighbor Jennifer Moxley with a golf club lending her to death in Atony Suburb in the Northeast. It’s a school that had a sadomasochistic philosophy and they ritualized this with kids. They had to drink the Lake water and hold it in their mouths until they returned to the camp. There were just terrific things. They couldn’t go to the bathroom when they wanted to.
There was screaming. Nobody could endure this kind of thing without going a little bit, not yourself. Krystal also said she preferred incarceration to the Elon school which is now defunct. Thank goodness. I’m glad that you’ve brought that up. In the prison situation, do you feel as though Krystal is getting any kind of therapy that might be helpful to her in terms of rehabilitating herself?
Stephanie: I think she’s getting some. Unfortunately, because of the privatization of the prison system and what happens, other rehabilitation models are getting a little bit stressed in our prison. She’s not getting a lot but I think she has taken extremely helpful classes. She’s done quite well in a little bit, mainly literature. She does have a history of cutting. It took a lot of effort with a lot of outside people’s help to get her into therapy in the prison.
So, she’s gotten some especially from the educational aspect of it. I do have group therapy. I think the individual therapy sessions are a lot more difficult to arrange. I wanted to compliment you on that point about bringing up neglect of Krystal and her sisters. She was told in one of her therapy sessions and the prison that she did have that attachment that she didn’t have a mother in the beginning. And so, there is something that never really came alive. She recognizes that.
Diane: I’m glad to hear that. It’s heartening. I think if she explores that, she will understand how this is something that happened to her. There are ways that for the rest of your life, you have to recover from that. It could become a constructive journey. I also just feel very thankful to you, Stephanie Dickinson, for writing this book, Razor Wire Wilderness, for bringing to light a lot of these issues and the environment of the prison itself.
We are going to take a look at the fact that Draymond Coleman got a 50-year sentence and is about to be released while Krystal Riordan got a 30-year sentence and she’ll be serving five more. Let’s think about the justice there. Let’s talk about it some more with Stephanie Dickinson. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
Become our friend on Facebook. Post your thoughts about our shows and network on our timeline. Visit facebook.comforward/voiceamerica. Books Forward exemplify excellence in book marketing and promotion. Representing New York Times bestsellers, National award-winning books, and books that catch fire on social media and in the digital realm.
Books Forward create ambitious campaigns with unlimited possibilities for sparking buds while creatively cutting through the noise. Your book deserves to launch with experts who have set the bar in the industry. To learn more, visit booksforward.com or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, a JKS Communications Company.
Stimulating talk gets those synapses in the brain. All the time, the number one Internet talk station where your opinion counts, voiceamerica.com. You are listening to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you. If you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to diane@dianedewey com. That’s diane@dianedewey com. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here with Stephanie Dickinson. There’s a lot to unpack in this story. At the commercial break, Stephanie, you mentioned to me that there might be an inaccuracy in some of the reports that have gone out. Draymond Coleman is not about to be released. What’s the update on his status?
Stephanie: I believe he was transferred from the prison he was into Rowley, which is more of a maximum-security prison because of some trouble that he was in where he was being held. I don’t think he’s going to probably have to do 85% of his sentence before release. There were rumors that he was about to be released, Before I checked online and from Crystal, I don’t think that’s the case. I think he’s going to be there for a while longer.
Diane: Let’s talk about the motivations that Krystal has. There has been communication between Krystal and Draymond in some way?
Stephanie: There’s been some. I don’t think Krystal knows that Draymond gave testimony against her at his penalty trial or previous to that. They were facing capital punishment shortly after they were arrested and then in San New Jersey, it was deemed unconstitutional. So, they no longer had that to fear but they were life imprisonment. To get his plea deal, Draymond gave testimony against Krystal.
I don’t think she’s ever known that or when I’ve hinted at something like that, I don’t think she can accept that. He has promised to exonerate her, to give written testimony that she had nothing to do with the kidnapping and murder of Jennifer but he never made any move to do that. He has written to her several times and sent some birthday cards. Krystal has sent me those letters. I was astonished at how perfect his handwriting was. Beautiful penmanship.
Diane: Like he might be a sane person. First of all, they were under capital punishment at one point, a capital crime. What was the motive for killing Jennifer Moore?
Stephanie: This is the trigger warning area. He had a reputation for liking threesomes. Krystal is bisexual. He was always looking for threesomes. When he saw Jennifer stranded walking along West Side Highway, trying to get back home because their car had been towed, he talked into the cab. I think he was hoping to have a threesome. He convinced her to enter this very shabby rent by the week room in Weehawken in New Jersey.
She didn’t want to go in. I think Krystal helped calm her to come into the room to recharge her cell phone, which was a lie. There was no recharging the cell phone in the room. When she was in the room, I think Raymond started to make sexual advances on her and she fought. This is what the detective said and what we’ve learned is that she fought extremely hard. She scratched Draymond.
Draymond had been up all night or two nights doing cocaine, according to Krystal. She said he snapped. Once Jennifer started scratching him, he went into the berserk stage and started beating her. I think once the beating started that he was a murder machine, he couldn’t stop himself. He was in a foster care trial. The motive was something from his past, in his violent nature. There was no motive besides wanting to take sexual advantage of this girl and her resisting him.
Diane: Okay. Krystal was a sex worker. Draymond was her pimp. This was a threesome gone wrong in a way with a rape gone wrong. I think that now we have Draymond with a monster. I don’t think that’s far-fetched. He also had another side. He was fueled at this moment by cocaine. And as you say, he snapped. He went beyond any human capacity. He ended this girl’s life. I’m triggered by this story. It is Jennifer walking down West Side Highway because they lived in Manhattan.
There were evenings where you couldn’t find a cab and you’d be on the West Side. If you came out of a gallery opening or something. Honestly, I could just picture this except maybe Jennifer was a good bit drunker. She’d been out clubbing. It’s a vulnerable place for a young woman. It’s a place where you are prey. There is that sense of hearing the clicking of the heels on the sidewalk and Draymond is coming after her. It was harrowing for me. I think that makes it complex, right, Stephanie?
We do feel your sympathies. It’s so revolting, the crime. There’s so much revulsion. We have Krystal in prison in New Jersey. She has never forsaken Draymond Coleman. She has never really spoken against him out of a sense of loyalty, which he has not reciprocated. I feel as though her world at some point is going to shatter again, right? I guess my real question is, do you think she doesn’t forsake him out of loyalty? Or is it out of fear because he could potentially endanger her again if she were to emerge from prison?
Stephanie: That is a question I’m not sure of. It could be a mix of both. I shouldn’t write him back but he has no one else. That’s not true either. He has a mother and he has children from other women. He has other women that write to him. We blind ourselves in just certain ways. I think we all do. This is like a blind spot for her that somehow, she is still the one for him. I don’t think that she’s in love with him anymore. I don’t know.
She has never really said anything horrible about him, except that he beat her or was violent with her when they were together. She’s never really said anything to me. Her friend, Lucy, said horrible things about him. That’s a question. I think in some way, she looked at Draymond as her mother. Somehow, he gave her impossible love that she never got from her mother. She transferred on to him. I know that sounds peculiar but in knowing her, I just keep coming back to that.
Diane: I think you’re probably spot on with this. You think about the Charlie Manson girls. You think about the people who carried out the Tate murders. This obsessive cult-like figure, as you say, Draymond is a father of other children. I think that there is an essence to that, some love figure. I’m going to set Draymond and focus on Krystal. She did find bonds of affection inside the prison where she formed a relationship with a woman called Lucy Weems, with who you also corresponded. This has been over 15 years now that you’ve been corresponding.
Stephanie: It wasn’t exactly from the crime. It’s about 9 years. Nine years with Krystal and about 7 years with Lucy. Lucy has been released and we email almost every day.
Diane: How is your correspondence with Krystal? What’s her stand of mind currently? Is she hopeful for release? Is she fearful upon release? Does she have ideas about what she might like to do upon release? What are her goals?
Stephanie: I don’t think that she’s thought about it. I think she’s an institutionalized person in many ways because she’s been in EMCF for over 15 years and before that, Elon and Draymond. So, she has not spent that many years in freedom on her own. I’m concerned about her. I’m concerned about the future. At one point, she said she’d like to counsel young women that are answering prostitution and user experience there which is a good idea. A lot of these things take training and some foresight.
I think that her world has been so minute to minute, commissary order to commissary order, love relationship to a love relationship. So, at the moment, the notion of being released, it’s abstract somehow to her because there are a lot of services for inmates being released. I’m hopeful that these will help point her in the right direction. I’m certainly going to help her. Other people have seen some of this writing online about Krystal and reconnected with her. There is a support network out there that we’re willing to help her when she gets out.
Diane: Well, I was extremely fearful of the idea of Krystal emerging in the world, unprepared to deal with it because it’s true that she has not been under the spell or the confines of something. The fact that she persists in kind of an obsession with her former lover and pimp as a sex worker also concerns me. The recidivism rate for sex workers is relatively high. Krystal was not a drug addict. She wasn’t financing her drug usage. She was financing Draymond which is even more nauseating in a way.
At least, she didn’t get involved with drugs. Here is going to be a woman who is going to need an extreme support system for sure and maybe even not complete freedom for a while until she is bolstered, buffeted, and strengthened in so many ways which are going to take a long time. I’m glad of your support. I’m glad of your book, Razor Wire Wilderness. You got to the point of talking about the privatization of the prison system. Are prisoners exploited under this current system? You talk about phone calls that cost like $3.56. Talk about some of how being inside is also exploitive.
Stephanie: I think under the new models, prisoners are looked at to be monetized and they are to improve more people, which works well for the shareholders. That’s just a general thing to say and a little bit facetious. There is something in that. It’s expensive and exploits the inmates and their families, particularly. Everything is under certain corporations like Horizon, JP, and Global Net link. So, you have to go through these large corporations to send money, to make phone calls, to have video visits.
They’re all monetized. When I used Global telling, it’s quite expensive. You get $10 worth of phone calls and $3 for the charge. With JP, that’s jail pay, a computerized system where the family or friends can download money to the inmate’s account electronically and send $20. You’re going to be charged like $3.65. At one point, if you go over to 40, it becomes like $6. So, these things are very prohibitive to people that don’t have a lot of money.
We’ve often talked about prison being often impacting people that are middle class and or lower middle class that these charges are particularly onerous. Something is going on in the medical field which really needs to be looked at across the country but truly a demand for a Correctional Facility in Clinton. The inmates were charged for their health insurance. It is a very low rate but still, for them, it is a lot.
Diane: Right. Will they get medical attention when they need it? That’s a big question mark. Certainly, Lucy didn’t. You say you’re transferring $20. So, a box of tampons in prison costs around $7. Now we’ve got 15 dollars left. The user rate for sending that money, this is without getting your Doritos or your chips, your vending machine sandwich, or whatever. If you went on to an ATM and the usury rate was $6, you’d be upset. This is a routine way of capitalizing as you say on the monetary system in prisons.
It’s just another dimension to this whole story and one in which love and human connection fall further and further down the rank. I think it was the Salvation for Krystal and maybe even the friendship with our guest, Stephanie Dickinson. We have to pause for a commercial break right now. When we come back, we’re going to talk about this book, Razor Wire Wilderness, and how a creative work of nonfiction tells the truth, and what we need to learn next? Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
Voice America is on your favorite smart speaker. If you have Alexa or Google home, go ahead and give us a try. Hey, Alexa, play finding your frequency podcast on Tune in.
She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded for women writers everywhere, together with sister company Spark Press, serving men and women. It is both mission-driven and community-oriented. The aim is to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while getting the highest quality editorial, help with possible traditional distribution, and an in-house marketing and publicity team. In 2019, She Writes Press was named indeed Publisher of the Year. You can find out more on shewritespress.com.
Streaming live, the leader in Internet Talk Radio, voiceamerica.com. You are listening to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you. If you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here with Stephanie Dickinson raised on an Iowa farm and now lives in New York City with the poet Rob Cook and their senior citizen feline, Vallejo. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts Press), and The Emily Fables. She received distinguished story citations in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, and numerous Pushcart anthology citations.
Her stories have been reprinted in New Stories from the South, New Stories from the Midwest, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. In 2020 she won the Bitter Oleander Poetry Book Prize and TBO has brought out Blue Swan/Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries. Her Razor Wire Wilderness, a true crime memoir, is based on her longtime correspondence with inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey. It’s to be published by Kallisto Gaia Press as we speak and the launch date is just about now.
To get it, you can go on the Kallisto Gaia Press website, and then it will be available wherever books are sold to support her writing habit, which she calls the Holy flow. Stephanie has long labored in the cubicle world. Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, she has been working remotely in the sanctity of her fifth-floor walk-up. Along with Rob Cook, she edits Rain Mountain Press. Stephanie, it’s wonderful having you. I wonder if you would shed some light on creative nonfiction. What does that mean? You have extensively researched your subject. What’s the creative aspect of it?
Stephanie: I think that I was torn because usually creative nonfiction does have a lyrical element to it or tries to expand the language component a little more than less creative nonfiction. That was a struggle for me, trying to get the right balance of a little bit more lyricism in a dark subject or true crime book that is a little bit more reportorial or journalistic. I think the creative aspect of it is it does try to lift it to other fictional elements, recreative elements in a piece of nonfiction more than a more journalistic approach would be.
Diane: Well, there’s an aspect of beat poetry almost to the book. There’s a lot of it that is sensual and alluring, even in terms of some of your descriptions. There are a lot of physical contacts, not the violent aspect but the aspect of the human connection. I wondered about you’ve been up for some push cards so has your partner, Rob. There seems to be a role of poetry in your writing. Does it help you process some of the darker, deeper emotions? I wondered.
Stephanie: I think so. I think that in some ways like humor there are certain techniques you use to cut certain darkness with. I love languages. I love the spoken word. I love the written word. Each word can be a unique and beautiful thing. And so, working with language, I find that very thrilling. I think I’ll cut some of the grittiness or the darkness that would maybe really pull your human spirit apart. This is more of a healing kind of an act to try to bring some beauty into something that might not. I’ll lend myself to that naturally. I think that is a healing house back.
Diane: I agree. I wondered then whether for you as an author, having experienced a traumatic gunshot wound, do you feel from your transformation in writing the book? Do you feel that it’s helped you in terms of finding value in your experience or even forgiveness in your experience?
Stephanie: Absolutely. I think that there are a lot of wonderful writers out there and a lot of writers and we’re all striving to create something beautiful, to bring kind of an order to sometimes our very chaotic lives. It’s a worthy pursuit. It is a worthy pursuit for us all. I found it extremely beneficial to me as a person with getting direction and hope and just excited about reading and writing a written word.
Diane: Well, I’ll give viewers and listeners an idea of what the tender aspects were. You pointed out the dynamics in the prison where groups of inmates will call themselves mother, or daughter, or sister and refer to themselves as a kind of family nucleus, perhaps in the absence of ever having had one. I thought that that was remarkably touching if you will. There was another aspect where it seemed as though the love between inmates bordered on possession, a kind of proprietary your mine.
Many of the female inmates had been sex workers and had been objectified and created as stuff long before they even entered prison. I wonder if you can just talk to me a little and talk to our listeners about this balance between tenderness and toughness. When we first approached one another about talking, you made mention of the fact there’s considerable softness inside prison. Talk about that balance if you would, please?
Stephanie: I found it. This is another thing that surprised me. Krystal often asked me to send an email from her to another inmate and then another inmate emailed me. I am surprised at how much I love you. I miss you. I’m there for you. These are just friends. I’ve never seen the word love used so much as I’ve seen inmate shoes.
I was surprised by that. I was surprised by the intensity of these friendships, not just the ones that our relationship friendships but friends in a real caring, sharing commissary. We’re sharing toilet paper or things that in the outside world, we might be much less likely to do. I don’t tell my neighbor who I’m friends with. I love her but in prison, you would do that.
Diane: And why not? I wonder if it’s been particularly satisfying for you to have a friendship with Krystal as a result?
Stephanie: Yes, I think so. I think very definitely. I think that we’ve known each other long enough that if she needs something, she doesn’t need to give me a reason for it. If I have it, I will help her. She considers me family in some way. I committed to her. I would never have imagined in my first hard picture on the cover in the newspaper that she would be some sort of family to me.
In some ways, I felt responsible for a commitment. I think it was very interesting what you said about that balance between giving and possession in prison because of the intensity of the friendship or the love relationships, there is the component for jealousy and things can erupt into fights. Things are never in the violence of the men’s prison but it is there, too.
Diane: Well, it’s something where this kind of predilection, we have to understand and take responsibility for our actions and the outside. It’s harder to do when the deck is stacked against you on the inside. I think that maybe your influence as a person who does have to live their life responsibly is hopefully also very important for Krystal. I’m sure that it is. You have written other books, Jeans Sebring.
You express interest in Jean Harlow who said, “To me, love has always meant friendship.” I thought that was kind of an app quote to apply to your relationships with Krystal and dear friend Lucy. We don’t have much time left but you have a snippet from your book. I’d love people to just hear your language if you want to read and sort of lead us off with a sample of your writing, Stephanie.
Stephanie: This is a little bit gritty. This is when Lucy has been released from prison. It’s a few paragraphs when she’s leaving EMCF. The day arrives and Lucy’s product awakens at 4 A.M. and tells the dress and stove her toiletries in a brown bag. Not even an hour later, I shackled and cuffed Lucy walked to the waiting van and clams in back. The sun is just rising. Lucy faces the window as the watchtowers of EMCF have disappeared. She feels oddly nostalgic for 7 years. Goodbye, Krystal, my friend.
I liked it best when we lived right next to each other. Goodbye to you and I am laughing crazily. Goodbye to Lucy Weems who tied up a drug dealer and held a gun to his head. Goodbye to the idiots who stole the microwave and tried to hide it in their room under his sheet, to no ketchup on Hot Dog Day, no chicken bits on Casserole Day, to one-half Cup boiled carrots for dessert and one hot dog bun. Goodbye to mail at the mercy of the officers, fingering your letters and tasting your hand-painted cards.
Good riddance to spot inspections, to doorless poops behind a shower curtain, to 11 women sharing a sink, to 5 minutes in the kiosk to send an email. Goodbye to the lock and the cage, to toothaches and thankless extractions, to thin hardly their mattresses and black mold. Goodbye for 4 days and begging to be checked out. Goodbye to bend over squat costs. Goodbye to doggy wagons. Goodbye to the market, the mug shot, the hands that curl into fists, and media arms that travelers would dragons and tweeter birds. Goodbye.
Diane: Thank you, Stephanie Dickinson. It’s been a real pleasure. There are lots we could talk about but, unfortunately, our time has come to a close. Thank you for reading from your beautiful book, Razor Wire Wilderness. You can find Stephanie on LinkedIn, on Facebook, Stephanie Dickinson, 186 Calistoga Press, and Rain Mountain Press on Twitter. Thanks to engineers Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, to our executive producer, Robert Chellino, and most of all, to you, our listeners. Remember to stay safe and remember we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Until next week. Thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 A.M. Pacific Time and 11 A.M. Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.