The Great San Quentin Literary Throwdown

David Corbett

In my last post, I said I’d be submitting excerpts from my upcoming book on character as follow-up to my last contribution here. Well, good news and bad news, Penguin has purchased the book. But they’ve asked me not to post any more of its content on the web because they have first right of serialization, and are considering publicizing sections either online or in magazines. So please indulge my changing course.

There have been a number of posts these last two weeks dealing with the issue of the outsider. Over the past year, I’ve twice been involved with a particular group of outsiders — or perhaps I should call them insiders — thanks to the Bay Area writing team of twin brothers Keith and Kent Zimmerman.

A little more than a year ago, the Z-Men, as we call them, in association with Litquake, hosted the very first Literary Throwdown inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison. It took place at the brothers’ creative writing class on the San Quentin H-Unit yard.

I joined five other authors from the outside — Joe Loya, Bucky Sinister, Jack Bouleware, Anne Marino and Alan Black— competing against six inmate writers selected from the class.

Three Hollywood authors/screenwriters — twins Noah and Logan Miller, and Michael Tolkin —  served as judges at the next week’s class.


In trying to reflect on what moved me most about the experience, I keep coming back to the intensity and generosity and humility of the men in that writing program. A number of them reminded me of former clients I had, working as a private investigator — guys who had made mistakes, serious ones, stupid ones, or who had suffered black periods of shoddy luck so savagely overwhelming they’d succumbed. Some had plunged face-first into oblivion — alcohol, drugs, rage — and all but drowned. Some had given in to the seduction of power crime provides, and awoken on the sharp end of its consequences. None would qualify as evil, but nobody was innocent either.

They had names like Rolf, Pitt, Frenchy, Banks, Mister Morrison, Big H, Daleadamown, Jo Jo and JFK, even Dinero D the Dynamic “P” (for pimp) and, yes, Buckshot (his given name, oddly enough).  But they also were William and Tim, Dennis and Daniel, Kent, Raul, Jonathan, Todd. Almost to a man they possessed insight into what had brought them to that place, that prison, insight into their natures, revealing a depth of self-examination often rare in people on the outside, which was what made their writing so compelling.

And they were grateful. They appreciated the fact someone bothered to show up, pay attention, not dictate but share.

They also understood things about writing itself I wish more of my own students grasped so instinctively: Tell a good story, don’t waste time, momentum matters, be honest, focus on specifics, make it funny. And God, those guys can be funny. They can also break your heart.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t think I’d been transported to some kind of testosterone Magic Kingdom. There was bullshit on both sides, and a lot of feeling each other out, the natural cagey distrust of men with men, inside or outside, though accentuated by the higher level of scrutiny inmates live with day in, day out. They look at you carefully, assess you hard. By and large they were incredibly gracious and accepting in their welcomes, but they were also sizing us up. And my guess is they got us a hell of a lot more than we got them.

That sense guided me when I wrote my own piece. I knew that whatever I wrote, it had to be real, it had to be true, it had to strike hard and deep. Anything less was chickenshit, and the whole room would know it.

We were given thirty minutes to write longhand—no computers allowed—on a topic that was sprung on us right before we were told to begin. The topic was, “Damn, Back at Square One Again.” (To read what I wrote, go to the bottom of this post.)

* * * * *

It wasn’t just the inmates who impressed me.

Memoirist Joe Loya, himself a veteran of crime and prison, reached out to those men in a way none of the rest of us could. He let them know they had strengths and virtues every writer needs: a high tolerance for ambiguity, a knack for risk, a long experience of story-telling that lacked patience for vagueness, dishonesty or digression. And they all had at least one good story: the story of their arrest. (And yes, most of them wrote about it for the throwdown — everything from a screen door blown off with a shotgun during a speed binge to a DUI car wreck that killed two people.) 

Screenwriter and novelist Michael Tolkin told them that he was blown away by the stories he heard — they were actually about something — and how strong they were compared to the recent offerings by the newly anointed geniuses in the New Yorker’s fabled summer fiction issue.

And Bucky Sinister read a poem from his collection All Blacked Out and Nowhere to Go that blew me down — it hit everybody hard. The kind of magical moment that can’t be faked. I was grateful, for I didn’t feel I’d given back as much as I’d been given. Mister Sinister bailed me out.

Oh, and as for the competition: The judges tallied, the votes were counted. We held our breath. The winners? The inmates. By half a point. (Frankly, I didn’t think it was that close.)

Last month, the brothers had me back, this time as a judge. Anne Marino’s creative writing class took on the inmates this time. I remembered some of the men from the first go-round, some were new to me, some of the ones I’d met before had been released and replaced by new faces. Again, the pieces were strong and wild, heartbreaking and funny. Once again, the inmates won — this time, going away.

For a good long while there’s been an upsurge of the throw-away-the-key zeitgeist in this country, a knee-jerk belief that people don’t change and everyone in prison deserves what they get, or worse. Criminals are animals to be kenneled and quarantined. My experience with these men in this classroom reminded me of just how mendacious and self-serving and just plain wrong that is.

Insight matters, and writing requires it. Men who write about themselves this honestly have what it takes to begin the long hard fight to change. I left that prison wanting to say one simple thing: Listen to them.

So, Murderateros: What would you have written about, given the theme: Damn, back at square one again? Do you believe people can change, or is that just bleeding-heart BS? Where do we draw the line between bad luck and bad character? And what about the families of the victims of men like this — do I mock their pain when I speak of these men the way I do?

* * * * *

 Here’s what I wrote for the throwdown:

Twenty-four hours before my wife died, I walked out of her room at the Stanford Cancer Clinic, stood in the center of the reception area, and bellowed at the top of my lungs: “Who the fuck do I have to kill to get my wife out of pain?”

A mere twelve hours earlier, I’d made the decision to end all treatment and feeding. I’d given the hospital the go-ahead to let the love of my life die. I’d fought with her brother about it—he was a gentle, caring guy who believed in miracles and such. But I knew the science and I knew the odds and I knew, despite enough morphine pulsing through her body to anaesthetize seven men, my wife was still in horrible pain and demented from the drugs and the chemo. Her name was Cesidia Therese Tessicini—Terri, we called her—and she had stage IV epithelial clear-cell ovarian cancer, a death sentence, and I had no right to prolong her agony out of some sentimental need to hang on or prove I loved her not just to the end but beyond the end. I was her husband and I had power of attorney and I said do it, let her go. I did it because she gave me that power, sure. More to the point, I did it because I loved her and she knew that, trusted that. It still haunts me, ten years later, the guilt of that decision, even though I know I did the right thing, the loving thing. But guilt and love sometimes walk side by side in a human heart. They do in mine.

But back to the story—everyone told me they’d control her pain. And that was a lie.

In truth, some genius had decided to lower her medication level then bring it back up bit by bit until they knew just how much morphine she needed—this after already telling me they were baffled by her pain, baffled by how much morphine she needed, but not baffled about her needing it. They turned my dying bride into a guinea pig and I watched her writhe in pain for four hours until I couldn’t take it any more. The nurse was helpless, she could only follow the protocol the doctors had laid down. And so it was up to me, and there I was, in the center of the reception area, shouting like some demented creature who’d just escaped hell: “Who the fuck . . . do I have to kill . . . to get my wife . . . out . . . of . . . pain.”

There was just one doctor on duty. He sat there in the reception area, jotting notes in somebody’s chart. He was a young guy, hip little beard, chi-chi glasses, looked like he played tennis or rode a bike to keep fit. Probably a lady killer, ho ho. I strode up to him: “Are you treating my wife?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the door to Terri’s room. “She’s not my patient.”

Later, I’d tell myself: I’d be a hero in prison for killing this punk just for saying that. But in the moment, I said: “I was promised my wife wouldn’t suffer. Get in there and find out what’s wrong.”

He would later tell security that I lunged at him. I remember him shooting up from his chair and running away, and I just followed him. We’re probably both right.

Then a nurse’s aide named Esmerelda swooped in, snagged my arm, said, “Come with me, my dear,” and delivered me to a waiting room. She told me to sit there quietly, don’t come out, then closed the door.

She and the other nurses stuck up for me when security arrived, letting them know I wasn’t a menace. I’d not slept or eaten in days and I was raw and exhausted and despondent. But no threat.

A bargain was struck. I’d go home. The doctors would change Terri’s protocol and her pain would be treated as promised.

And that was why I wasn’t at her bedside when she died the next morning just before 7 AM. I drove in after hearing from her brother, crying over the phone, that she was “gone.” When I got there, I asked to be alone with her for a few minutes, and I kissed every inch of her body. I had never loved anyone like I’d loved her and I’d never been loved the way she loved me. But that was over now. Love was gone, death had won. I was alone again, but worse, because now I couldn’t pretend that being alone was okay, that it was enough.

Terri had sometimes joked that I was a Lone Wolf when she met me, but she’d changed that. And that was absolutely true. Because of her — and no one else in my life — I knew what it meant to trust, and I knew Terri would insist I not give up on that. She was dead but I wasn’t, and I would have to learn to love again.

But that would have to wait. For now, I was just back to square one. A lone wolf. Howling at a ghost.

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: The late great Astor Piazzolla, whom I was lucky enough to see perform shortly before his death. He fought through decades of oblivion and opposition from traditionalists as he almost singlehandedly reinvented the tango. I once described his pieces as “music to die in your lovers arms by” — which, at the moment, seems apropos:



36 thoughts on “The Great San Quentin Literary Throwdown

  1. Reine

    I have to let this sit within me until my insides have something worth letting out. Right now I have no thoughts or feelings that touch anything you have written here tonight.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    My dear David

    A stunning post, as always. How could we possibly follow your words?

    Prison and its effects on those who come into contact with it is a dangerously fascinating subject. It comes down to: do we imprison to rehabilitate or to punish? And can one possibly work with the other?

    For evocative tango, I still think Carlos Gardel's 'Por Una Cabezza' clinches it for me ;-]

    Oh, and HUGE congratulations on the sale to Penguin!

  3. Alafair Burke

    I was all ready to say something snarky about the testosterone Magic Kingdom line, and then you had to go and write about Terri. You're a good guy, Corbett.

  4. Shizuka


    You wrote something this powerful in half an hour?
    That's humbling.

    Back to square one for me is also a death — my father's.
    It was the real end of childhood (at 30, I was still totally a kid).
    I lost the sense that things would always be okay, no matter what.

    As for people changing, I think behavior changes.
    Character's a lot harder. But possible. I think. On my optimistic days.


  5. Louise Ure

    God, David. What a post.

    I'm as impressed by the throwdown itself and I am by your description of it. You have a compassionate violence about you, my friend. And thank you for sharing that final night with … and without … Terri. I feel the pain.

    Now that the Supreme Court has demanded that California release 46,000 prisoners immediately, do you think that some of these men will still have some access, some desire to write? To be associated with literature in any way?

  6. Barbie

    David! You've made a blog fan out of me with less than a handful of posts 🙂

    I *have* to believe people change, that not all crime in the world is perpetrated by evil, that some of it is circumstancial. If not, it'd be… terrifying. I think not all criminals are bad people, or have bad character. Sometimes, life just throws enough shit your way to make you break down.

  7. Murderati fan

    Damn! Now I'm going to have to get another book autographed. Congratulations. Your writing churns my emotions like a blender on puree. Judy

  8. Allison Davis

    And people wonder why I weep at my desk in the morning, when I'm supposed to be some kind of tough lawyer. (I'm blaming it on the music, listening as I write.)

    The writings of the inmates, this experience, is no disrepect to victims if it provides more intelligence,information and insight into of how the crime came about, how the breakdown occurred, at what wrong turn did chaos and hell break loose….honest writing. So important.

    Huge amount of energy to do these programs — but as I always say, give it away, get it back twicefold. And now, over the next two years we have to reduce California prison population — so says the Supreme Court, these programs could be a vital life line. Another friend teaches incarcerated juveniles tech stuff (??), and is amazed at how they respond to focus and attention.

    So glad Penquin picked up the book — I wish that you, unlike Piazolla, get the recognition you deserve.

  9. Jake Nantz

    You asked what we would have written in that time frame.

    Then you post that.

    How the fuck can any of us possibly follow it with anything but pure tripe? Incredible. Simply incredible. If anything, my confidence in my writing is now back to square one, because I'm honest enough to know that I have never had, nor could I ever have, the talent to produce something so moving. Wow.

  10. David Corbett

    Ah, Zoë, you hopeless romantic. Could Al Pacino’s performance of the blindman tango have had anything to do with your choice?

    And Gardel of course was the gold standard prior to Piazzolla. They’re both giants, the Mingus and Monk of Tango.)

    I don’t think any of the inmates in that writing class would have questioned the need for punishment. They all got why they were in there. But they were also an exception to a number of the lunkheads who think prison is badass college, or just a way station between stints on the street. And there were definitely a few even in the class who didn’t quite get the memo. But those who did were impressive, as in humble, insightful.

    Alafair: Don’t be shy. You can’t show the snarky card and not play it. (I’m sure Terri would insist. And no doubt agree.) As for your assessment of me: Thank you. You are, as you know, far too generous. And largely incorrect.

    Shizuka: That insight into death, the realization things will not turn out okay, is the shocker that separates the strong and insightful from the blind who follow the blind. To continue living with that underlying hum of fear, the sense that luck determines more than we want to admit, and that everything can be stripped away in a heartbeat, requires a certain strength of character not everyone possesses. And yet many do — it’s sometimes surprising which are which — and I think it defines their character.

    Which gets to your remark about character. My girlfriend insists that people don’t change, and she’s sure I was pretty much the way I am when I was a kid. But a friend of mine who knew me before I met Terri and after says the change was noticeable and profound. I think people do change, and that love and death/loss are the transformative keys. However, I would agree that what changes is a view of oneself in the world, an assessment of one’s place and value. Behavior can of course change as well, though that too is difficult. Ask anyone on a diet (or in AA).

    Louise: I think most of the guys in the class relished the opportunity to put words down on paper and to reflect on their lives, but most lack the skills to go much further. For the most part, the value of the class was the encouragement to be honest—and these guys bullshit like no one else. Just the ability to reflect quietly like that, express it, was a gift for many of them. And yeah, a couple were still phony, show-offy. The pimp kid got a talking to by Bucky that was gentle but to the point: You ain’t getting nowhere with that bit on the outside, bucko.

    As for “compassionate violence” — see Alafair’s remark about the testosterone Magic Kingdom.

    Barbie: There are indeed certain men who need to be in prison. But most cops will tell you 90% of the crime in any area gets committed by the same handful of guys. The error is in thinking everyone in prison is like them. Each man — and woman — on the inside needs to be treated as an individual, just like the rest of us. And, of course, the number of poor people in prison far exceeds the number of wealthy — which some would say just proves how worthy the wealthy are of their “abundance,” as they say these days.

    Judy: I churn, therefore I write.

    Allison: Oh sweetie, I didn’t mean to make you cry. And from your lips to New York’s ears. Though I’m always mindful of the line by Tom Lehrer: “It’s sobering to realize that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years.” I figure I’ll be hot when my body turns cold.

    Jake: Well, to be fair, the subject matter had been on my mind for ten years — big surprise —and I’d written about it in the journal I kept at the time, so the words and the images and everything else were there, they just kinda spilled out in that environment.

    (Sorry for the late start, guys.)

  11. Jenni

    What a beautiful piece! As someone else posted, nothing any of us can say at this point would be anything but trite.

    I worked with a mediation center, and in a criminal law practice years ago. I have long felt this country is on the wrong path with our approach to criminal justice and our trail 'em, nail 'em, jail 'em philosophy. The mediations we conducted in the center I was involved in were mostly with juvenile offenders, and it was the most rewarding job I've ever done. It's important to reach these kids before they get too hardened by the system, while you still have a chance of getting them to see their victims as people. One of the mediators I worked with had spent a decade in Lompoc Federal penitentiary for murder. He helped start the first mediation program in the prison and was dedicated to living a life of peace when he was released. With his assistance, we were able to conduct mediations with adult offenders. He felt doing hard time in hard places helped him turn his own life around, but he admitted his story was not the norm.

    I believe warehousing people, especially in corporate-run prisons, just creates more hardened criminals. I think it is the rare inmate who can turn his or her life around through incarceration. I also think by far too many offenders are in for drug related issues, and our focus should be on the underlying addictions. A country that locks up such a huge percentage of its population has no business calling itself a free country.

    A few years ago I visited a friend in Norway and asked about her country's criminal justice system. She told me Norwegians believe it is important not to keep the offender locked away for too long. They try to get people back into a sense of community as soon as possible. Their emphasis is on the community and reconcilliation with the offender, and not on the offense. As a result, they have fewer people locked up for less time with less recidivism. I think fixing our criminal justice system will take a paradigm shift in the way we think about the people thrown into the system.

  12. lil Gluckstern

    God, what a wrenching post, and what a wrenching experience. I also can't convey what I'm feeling except that I respect what you do, and look forward to reading your book.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    "Ah, Zoë, you hopeless romantic. Could Al Pacino’s performance of the blindman tango have had anything to do with your choice?"

    Bless you, David, for that assumption. The truth is far more low-brow than that. Actually, it was Arnie's performance in 'True Lies'.

  14. David Corbett

    Oh God, Zoë, I’d forgotten that scene:

    Can I just say that Jamie Lee Curtis is one of the great comic actresses of our time—especially for a hermaphrodite?

    (The Gardel tango is an incredible piece, btw. Thanks for reminding me of it.)

    Lil Gluckstern: Thanks for the kind words.

    Jenni: Well said on all counts. I know a handful of ex-cons who describe well their “crucible” experience in prison, and how it turned them around. Often it amounts to a kind of religious epiphany—and the bible (or in Joe Loya’s case, a Buddhist text) played an instrumental role. But sometimes it isn’t—as in the case of Jimmy Santiago Baca, whose A PLACE TO STAND is a great prison memoir.

    Regardless, the fact that many criminals have their awakening in prison doesn’t mean prison is a necessary and sufficient condition for that experience. Joe talks about the faith an FBI agent placed in him—despite his own betraying that faith, and having to re-earn it—as the key factor in turning him around. Again, it’s love and loss that changes us, and it’s either confronting the misery that prison entails or having someone see you truly for the first time—or both—that makes the difference for these men.

  15. Reine

    I woke up to the news that Jared Loughner was judged incompetent to stand trial, so will be sent to a mental health facility for a few months. After that he will be allowed to return to court – I guess if he is a good boy, that is. I hope that facility is competent to hold him. I am scheduled to go to a meeting about disability stuff next week. It's being hosted by staff from Gabby's office. Because of what that piece of shit did to my neighbors, and to her, I don't know if I can do it. I must be a piece of shit myself, for thinking this way.

  16. Jenni Legate

    Oh, my gosh, no Reine. I think you're having a very normal, human response to that tragedy. My perspective on the overall justice system is that, as David said, we need to deal with the offenders as individuals, not as a class of throw-away people. What Loughner did is in a category of its own. There are people who can be rehabilitated, and others who can't. He clearly needs to be locked up.

  17. David Corbett


    Odd, I was just looking at that article when your post sprang up.

    What I find astonishing is the total lack of any conversation of how we might keep weapons out of the hands of people like Loughner. The Second Amendment — which is the real third rail of politics (Social Security doesn't come close) — doesn't protect the right to bear arms for the mentally ill, unless I'm missing something.

    But apparently the dread of gun control among weapons enthusiasts has reached the point that any reasonable effort to monitor gun purchases by the unstable feels like it's targeting them.

    Which, if they're really that paranoid, may be true.

    As for your emotional state concerning Loughner–rage does not make one "a piece of shit." Unless, again, I'm missing something.


  18. Reine

    He went to our neighborhood Walmart to buy ammunition for his trip to the grocery store. The person working the gun and ammo counter turned him down, because he was acting strangely. So this "incompetent" little shit goes to another Walmart and acts not so confused . . . and . . . now he isn't competent?

    Oh god, David, I just feel so angry. I do care about people who have done wrong. I do care about people who change – who examine – who work hard at the business of life. But I am so goddamn mad at Jared Loughner, I could just puke my brains.

  19. Lynn in Texas

    Gut-wrenching post, David. I also believe that most people are capable of change, for the better, if not the best.

  20. David Corbett


    It's true that so much of behavior is unconscious that it's hard to know what can truly be changed or not. And Joe Loya, my partner in crime, as it were, has admitted that he'll always have the same impulses that nudged him into a life of crime, but insight, family, and learning self-discipline all have joined in granting him the strength to overcome those impulses. Does that mean he's changed, or just has a different command of what was there to begin with — or is that a distinction without a difference?

    I know that Terri's love made me a calmer, more caring person, a better listener, a better friend. I know her death (especially after my brother's death at age 39 from AIDS) gave me a perspective on what's important and what isn't.

    But I still regress sometimes, more often than I like to admit, and it takes constant work to let the better angels of my nature drive the bus.


    P.S. Dusty — Thanks, brother.

  21. PD Martin

    The throw down is such a fantastic idea. But it's hard to even think about the first part of the post once you've read your piece. Just beautiful, heart-wrenching stuff. You had me there, with you. Feeling your pain, your anger. On a personal note, touching; and on the professional note – you've done your 'job' as an author perfectly.

  22. Shizuka

    Reine, I can't imagine what it must be like to live in AZ and actually know one of the victims.
    I'm so removed from all of it, yet still have harbor intense rage towards Loughner and the lack of gun control. And the fact that although Obama gave a beautiful speech, he completely evaded the gun issue.

  23. Chris Hamilton

    I have a family member who was arrested and convicted for having child pornography on his computer. It didn't get there by accident. There was a lot of it. He was bipolar, though. And he's been seen by a few psychologists who all agree that he's not a pedophile–he just…did something incredibly stupid and self-destructive.

    He was given the harshest sentence possible and after he gets out of prison, he will always be a sexual predator. He will never be allowed to be alone with his own children. Several of my family members are still upset about this, several years after he was sentenced. They see him as a victim of an overzealous judge looking to get re-elected by being tough on certain types of crime.

    Can he change? Yeah, probably. I think he can. But if I had an elementary or middle-school aged daughter, would I want him to be alone with her?

    I can't. I just can't. It's my job not to allow that. And personally, I wouldn't have a problem if he spent another twenty years in prison.

    Callous? Lacking in compassion? Hard-hearted?

    Maybe. Probably. Maybe it makes me a horrible person. I've changed from destructive habits, too, and maybe that makes me a hypocrite. So be it.

    My faith, which I take seriously, while trying hard not to bludgeon others, tells me that no one is simply the sum of the worst things they've done. If they were, none of us would have hope. If he were trapped in a dangerous situation, I would try to save him. If he asked me to visit him (he's in eastern MA and I live in Florida), I would try to find a way to do it. But I'm okay with his being there. I kind of have to be, I think.

    I think. It's not one of the convictions I'm really sure about.

  24. David Corbett


    The problem with seeing this situation through the prism of sexual predation is that it skews the discussion so wildly. Not all guys in prison are predators, let alone sexual predators, and especially sexual predators of children. Most inmates are in on drug violations — and there is big money to be made in keeping them there.

    But predators are exactly the kinds of people who deserve and need to be behind bars.

    I don't fault you for your feelings about protecting your kids. And I'm sure noting the nuance between child porn and child predation isn't something you want to waste time on. When a balance has to be struck between protecting a child and caring for the feelings of an adult with a record, there's no choice. None. But if this person has done his moral and emotional homework — which may or may not be possible given that he's bipolar — he'll understand why parents don't want him alone with their children. And if he doesn't understand, I'm not terribly sympathetic of his plight. Is that fair in the big picture? Maybe not. But you can't see into another person's soul, and you're responsible for the safety of your kids. If you're going to err, it's on the side of caution.

    Reine: Who knows whether Loughner acted any more sane at the second place than your Walmart? The second clerk may simply not have been as observant — or as conscientious.

    But the fact someone like Loughner can be "competent" enough to purchase weapons and ammo but not stand trial says more about how we as a society value life than it does on Loughner.

    I get the sense from you comments you think this guy is fooling somebody. I doubt it. The tests are pretty sensitive to posturing.

    And it's not like he's being set free. He's still incarcerated and will remain so until he's competent enough to stand trial. If that never happens, he's still not free.

    But no amount of punishment will ever undo what he did, so the trial is in many ways superfluous to the real work that needs to be done, which is find some way to reconcile oneself to the tragic loss of life, to grieve, and to find some way to work toward a community, a nation and a world where these things are less likely to happen. And one way to do that is to fight for real measure that keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the mentally unstable.

    The reason this is so problematic is that all of us are diagnosable as something, and where do we draw the line between those worthy of the right to bear arms and those who aren't: Neurosis? Psychosis? Personality disorders? Depression? Bipolar disorder? And gun proponents will see the entire effort as eerily reminiscent of the Soviet use of psychiatry as a form of social control.


  25. Reine

    Hi David,

    You could be right about Loughner and Walmart clerk #2. I have no doubt that Loughner is mentally ill. I hope security is as high where he is, as people believe. I have no need to see him in prison, just secure until he is tried. I don't have much faith in those assessments. I was trained in giving them. I did internships and a fellowship and was a licensed therapist in Massachusetts when I had to take disability leave. My paying job as a counselor/advisor to medical and theology students paid for my private practice and my practice at a non-profit agency. I never took payment from the agency or from my private-practice patients. All were people I believed in. They were released from prisons and psychiatric facilities. They were street people. They were addicts. They were prostitutes. Most of them are dead now. One is an opera singer. One is a chef. I hope you will forgive me for this day of anger.

  26. David Corbett


    Uh, yeah, I think I can manage a little forgiveness in your direction.

    Once again, your posting had me sitting back in my chair. Jesus. Thanks.


  27. JT Ellison

    David. God. I'm really speechless, but it's hard to think through tears.

    A do believe people can change. But I also think that there is true evil in this world, and it manifests itself in myriad ways. There are people who should be given a fresh start, or a chance at one, and people who shouldn't. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be as much common sense in the law as there should be.

    You have my deepest respect for your work. And many congrats on the sale to Penguin. Hoo-rah!

  28. Reine

    David, you are the one to be thanked. And congratulated on your Penguin sale. I've been writing too much today my fingers are giving out and so must stop now. It is a great thing to write, though, and a struggle to stop. i'm trying to avoid a mouthstick – oh the vanity. Or it could be to spite my cousin Jeanne who teases me, "Oh my God, Reine! Ur gonna be one of those people with a stick in their mouth!" [Jeanne, if you're reading this – eat poutine.]

  29. Anonymous

    David your posts have been archival for me and your responses to blog commenters thoughtful and inspirational. I have to bookmark every post of yours to reread and absorb.
    Thank you. Your posts are as intellectual and passionate as your novels.

  30. Anonymous

    Oh yeah…….and the tango was good, too. I am a dancer. Tango is the essential fire poetry of the kinetic soul.

  31. David Corbett

    Thanks to everyone for your kind and thoughtful posts. I came down with a miserable head cold yesterday and so couldn't sit at the computer for as long as I wanted. I hope you don't feel neglected.

    Phillipa, JT & Anonymous: Thanks for your very generous words.

    reine: I hope today is better, in that the anger is less volcanic. But anger is hardly inappropriate. Some day, I'd love to hear more about how and why you believe the competency tests are inadequate. But for now, let's give Zoë the attention she so richly deserves.

    Thanks one and all:

  32. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, David. I had to make that decision with my mother. She didn't have cancer, but was dying and I reamember the horror and surreal feeling of knowing I HAD to do it for her . . . that it was what she wanted.


    Back to square one?
    That's pretty much describing a big chunk of my life right now. But unlike the incredible sorrow you faced, I have moments of hope — of excitment — that this might, just maybe, lead to a lighter life.

  33. David Corbett


    I'm sorry to hear you had to go through that with your mother. I'd like to put some sort of positive gloss on it, and there is one — we did it from love, it's what they wanted, their trust in us to do the right thing was a testament to their love and confidence in us — but it still feels hellish and wrong. But so it goes.

    I think your back to square one experience does have its positive elements, especially creatively, but I've often remarked that losing Terri to cancer, as terrible as it was, did not compare to some of the divorces i've seen friends go through. Because Terri and I loved each other profoundly, and we affirmed that even more as she was dying. I never questioned myself in the way a break-up obliges. The fact you see that positively is a testament to your character and your heart. And, I'd guess, your kids.


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