Background Image

The London Yodeller April 24, 2014 : Cover2

her maneut ics Here’s a Little Trick I Learned in Jail Herman Goodden I WENT TO JAIL in my 22nd autumn for the crime of cycling my way through a red light on Richmond at Oxford Street at four o’clock one Sunday morning. I was coming south along Richmond down the hill that crests at St. Joseph’s Hospital and I could see from more than a block away that the intersection was utterly deserted. And not wanting to give up that fabulous momentum to observe some picayune law that clearly didn’t apply to a free spirit like me, I zipped on through at such speed that it took a London cop in his cruiser more than three blocks to catch up with me and serve me a ticket. After writing that first draft of My Life of Crime , I was more than a little strung out and impulsively hopped back onto my trusty bicycle and ran several more red lights en route to UWO campus where I dropped in on English profes -sor Ross Woodman whose death I wrote about in the April 10th Hermeneutics . For the last month I’ve been poring over my many encounters with Ross and reflecting on what a wise and generous soul he was. He was in particularly good form that day. He’d just finished teaching a class and we repaired to his cramped to undergo it. That key element of choice had been re-emphasized on the Friday (my only full day of incarceration) when my girlfriend paid me a visit and told me (through a metal grill in the slab of plexiglass between us) that she had 28 bucks with her and could buy my release then and there. “Will they knock off ten bucks for time served?” And so I recommitted to stick it out; my choice. “No,” she said. “It’s all or nothing.” The fine seemed exorbitant to one of my parched cash flow -$28 -which at that time represented almost three shifts as a dishwasher at the Auberge du Petit Prince. As an aspiring writer I quickly decided that rather than fork over that sort of moolah to avoid an experience that would almost cer -tainly come in handy as literary fodder, I should man up and serve a short stint in the pokey. 232 Dundas Street London, Ontario N6A 1H3 PUBLISHER: Bruce Monck EDITOR: Herman Goodden GRAPHICS: Justin Warren LAYOUT: Kirtley Jarvis CONTRIBUTORS Paula Adamick / Mary Lou Ambrogio Vanessa Brown / Vince Cherniak Dave Clarke / Jeff Culbert Jason Dickson / Jeremy Hobbs Deanne Kondrat /Jayson McDonald Bob McKenzie / Ninian Mellamphy Bob Pegg / Bill Skidmore Sean Twist / Barry Wells ADVERTISING & MARKETING Vanessa Brown 519-914-1860 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR The London Yodeller is published bi-weekly. Next issue: May 8, 2014 Printed in Brantford, Ontario © 2014 FRONT COVER ARTWORK BY MIKE DERRAH 2 the london yodeller 04.24.14 Following my release the next cou -ple days were dedicated to writing up a 30 page account of my experience; a diatribe so angry and raw and unhinged and . . . long . . . that it took me almost 15 years to knock it into any sort of pub -lishable shape and find a home for it. When it did finally get published, I was chuffed to hear from London lawyer, Ted McGrath (now a judge) that he found my account invaluable when he was throw -ing together his 1990 novel, Donnelly’s London , parts of which were set in the old London jail. Pretty small potatoes you might be thinking and in the grand scheme of things, of course, it was. But to a 22 year-old flower of immense sensitiv -ity from a nominally Christian South London home, 44 hours in a humid cell with 15 surly booze hounds undergoing alcohol withdrawal was a thoroughly disagreeable experience. The most grue -some touch for me was the exposed and unadorned toilet in the centre of the room. The thing was lidless and seatless, I was told, so that despairing inmates couldn’t lay their heads against the cool porcelain rim and try to smash out their brains with whatever hinged wooden apparatus was to hand. I was booked into my cell at the old Middlesex County Jail at the forks of the Thames (a dormitory cell that held 16 men) just before noon on Thursday, October 24, 1974. My sentence was for three days but because they weren’t al -lowed to release prisoners on a Sunday and couldn’t keep prisoners for any longer than their sentence, I actually got sprung about 44 hours later, very early on the Saturday. My brain was dangerously overcooked, my emotions were quite uselessly wrought up and I was becoming a drag to be around . . . little office. This was my only encounter with Ross in academic situ and the place seemed an inadequate reflection of the man; like consulting with a wizard in a cubicle. He read my screed, laughing in a few spots and sighing in others, then took a minute to gather his thoughts before pronouncing judgement. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I’d written about it – albeit badly and with no prospect of publication. But I hadn’t just been acted upon by the big dumb state but had crafted my heavy-handed first response to its heavy-handed brutalism and wrested at least a smidgen of meaning from that process. So I already knew what a great purga -tive it can be to express your darkest feelings and thoughts on paper; how the simple (or sometimes not so simple) act of writing a thing out can effectively ex -trude a lot of the poison from just about any encounter. Nonetheless Ross’ observation was both shrewd and timely. I was at a sort of crossroads. I had taken this thing so far (probably as far as I could at that point) and it was time to let it go. My brain was dangerously overcooked, my emotions were quite uselessly wrought up and I was becoming a drag to be around; a bit of a crank and a self-pitying bore who was starting to shut himself off from other facets of life. This problem, this state I had twirled my -self into, wasn’t going to be resolved or made any more manageable by pushing ahead just now. He concurred that the piece could not be published as it was, that no one would touch it, nor should they. The whole thing was irresponsible and intemperate but there were insights there, hard won and quite powerful, that I would be able to draw on for the rest of my writing life. But his major advice was that I shouldn’t try to fix it up right then or anytime soon. “Put it aside,” he said. “Get some distance from it. You won’t be able to but I urge you to forget about it. The danger I perceive is that you are identifying with this experience so strongly that you might get stuck here and that would be a horribly limiting waste of your talent.” For a number of reasons I doubted that any sort of identity-level threat was as imminent as Ross suggested. How -ever enraging and discombobulating my experience of jail had been, it had only been two measly days and I had chosen It was time to discover or devise an off switch and head off to till a completely different field more likely to produce a yield. And I did. I’ve had occasion to use that switch many times over the inter -vening years when I find I’m getting way too preoccupied with a certain problem and am allowing it to dominate my life to the point of detriment. It’s one of the greatest gifts Ross gave me and I often wish I could share it with some of my more stressed-out friends who don’t seem to have one.

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here