5 x 8 | 154 pages
We are left with what might be described as an outsider memoir, or simply a document. Unrefined and unfinished, 82189 was written by a man – posthumously assigned the pen-name “Henry Bellows” – who died while serving a life sentence for rape, and who spent most his life in penal confinement. Whatever literary aspiration may have motivated Bellows’ late-life confessional writing, his text now invites interest for such insight that it may offer (or conceal) regarding the formative experiences and criminal exploits of a repeat sex offender who was also rape victim. In telling his story, Bellows embeds a coldly observed account of carceral culture and the grim reality of sexual violence and abjection behind prison walls.
In her introduction to this central text and in an appending interview, Mikita Brottman provides relevant background about its origins and her association with the author to frame a more probing interpretation not only of Bellows’ “unfinished memoir” as such, but of the psychosexual and institutional factors that inform and complicate broader societal narratives of sex crime and the the sexual victimization of prisoners.
When we think of prison, how often do we think of rape? The general consensus being, if a person committed a crime, they deserve whatever they get once inside. But does someone, especially a young offender, deserve to be robbed of their humanity, their autonomy over their own body? Male prison rape is a harsh reality willfully ignored by both prison culture – guards, warden, staff, other inmates – and society itself. How can a prisoner ever expect to be rehabilitated in such an unforgiving environment? 82189 is a horrific document, and it achieves the nearly impossible: As I read it, I came to empathize with a man who willfully made others suffer. It is an important work, the unique record of a man who was both perpetrator and victim. 82189 rightly deserves to become a classic in that most elusive of literatures: redemption through unwarranted suffering. This is humanity, writ large. Thank god it isn’t you.
– James Nulick, author of The Moon Down to Earth
BONUS: While supplies last, customers who purchase this book will receive a free copy of Mikita Brottman’s zine, The Quadruped Quarterly.