The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. We are told upfront that the author was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. He has three children and a partner who is a professor on the other side of the country. Mr. Dawkins holds a MFW from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan. There is no blame throwing, only acceptance for what he did and the price he now pays. We learn this immediately and because of this I took a chance on his book.
This collection of stories is stunning. Right from the first story we learn what it feels like to lose our freedoms. Freedom to choose. Freedom to feel air and rain on our face. Freedom to see sunshine and clouds and choose who we associate with and how to dress and what to eat and to stand in a doorway and see a garden before us. Freedom to ride in or drive a car. Free to hold money in our hands. Free to attend to our family. We take so much for granted when we have it.
The men in these stories are heartwarming, funny, and sad. In the first story an inmate makes phone calls to strangers at unknown random numbers just to hear what is going on in the background. What’s on television? Are there people talking in the background? Is there dinner on the table that he interrupted? Will the doorbell ring? Who of us thinks of that? But it was this story that had me hooked because of what the author was telling us and how he was speaking to us. He was telling us these men were real people who made a bad decision, made a mistake or perhaps as for some of them, lived their poor choices always. But they were still people with a story.
I have no doubt the author is using bits of his own story in the various narrators’. I have no doubt that these are real stories of real men and circumstances in our prisons. You can’t make this stuff up, as the saying goes. This isn’t a daily diary…this is what we do at 8 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., etc. These are the stories of people who use prison tattoos for currency. Of the value of a cigarette when smoking was banned. Of ingenuity in the face of deprivation. Of how to cope when released and the internal courage is takes to not go back.
Mr. Dawkins is gifted, polished and yes, he will never be free. But he has his words and he put them out there for us and we would be remiss to not read them.