Saturday, September 20, 2008
08.24 On The Yard by Malcolm Braly
On the Yard (1967) by Malcolm Braly
Paperback, Crest, 286 p.
I enjoy a good prison novel or memoir. One of my favorite books I read when I was younger is the memoir of a guy who spent may years in the Canadian prison system. Check it out if you see it - Go-Boy by Roger Caron
On The Yard is is a fictional story of life in San Quentin written by Malcolm Braly*. The author obviously knows his stuff and this comes across in the gritty and realistic writing. The book begins with a new busload of inmates entering the prison and we begin to learn their stories. I found the structure of the first half of the book initially irritating. He builds it like one of those TV shows you see where the camera follows one character for awhile until he interacts with another character and the POV is switched. Slowly you begin to appreciate the cast of the novel.
In the second half he tightens the story to a few key people and you see better how they fit into the prison hierarchy. Chilly Willy, a lifer who has cornered the book and market for drugs. The warden's Chinese manservant who appears the subservient Sino but is actually importing drugs int the yard. These and many more incredible characters make this a rich and masterful book well worth reading. It has long been out of print bu is now available from the NYRB.
Malcolm Braly (1925–1980) was born in Portland, Oregon. Abandoned by his parents, Braly lived between foster homes and institutions for delinquent children, and by the time he was forty had spent nearly seventeen years in prison for burglary, serving time at Nevada State Prison, San Quentin, and Folsom State Prison. He wrote three novels behind bars, Felony Tank (1961), Shake Him Till He Rattles (1963), and It's Cold Out There (1966), and upon his release in 1965 began to work on On the Yard. When prison authorities learned of the book they threatened to revoke his parole, and he was forced to complete it in secret. Published in 1967, after Braly's parole had expired, On the Yard received wide acclaim. It was followed by his autobiography, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons (1976), and a final work of fiction, The Protector (1979). Malcolm Braly enjoyed fifteen years of freedom before his death in a car accident at age fifty-four.
Posted by Jason L