Saturday, March 5, 2011

Calvin Malone's "Razor Wire Dharma": Book Review

In short essays, that dwell far more on the life-lessons learned rather than his own troubles, Calvin Malone learns to transcend his cell's confines. A shiny apple, a pine tree, a brown banana, or fragrant oils inspire him. But so do the mad-dog stares of a hostile mess-hall mate, his forty-nine "cellies" to date with whom he's had to put up with and vice versa, his improvised Christmas presents, friendships broken and repaired, his former hobby of tying fly-fishing lures, artichoke hearts, and packaged soup. He can be wry, and he can be unflinching. He gets angry, he vows revenge, he paces and sulks and grumbles as anyone does after two decades behind bars.

But, he struggles to overcome his own aggressions and attachments. Thankfully, there's no sudden enlightenment into a saccharine feel-good moment or sappy morality tales. Malone keeps as he must his front to survive in a place that as he shows well can be fatal to the trusting, the unwary, or the distracted inmate. Few understand Buddhism in such an environment, although I wondered about what the staff and guards thought--these stories dwell nearly all on those doing time. He writes with clarity and compresses depth into simple prose, a quality common to longtime practitioners who have learned to cut through appearances to peel away lasting substance, it seems.

Yet, his honesty and goodness allow him to serve as a role model and leader of a "sangha" at Airway Heights prison in Washington State. He's preserved his dignity and protected his modesty. He retells the difficulties of those whom he meets and must live with and contend and confront. He appends a brief update on those who he's managed to follow up on, if only for a short time as they too must deal with a return to a very different society.

Since Jesse Kornbluth's "Head Butler" review posted [on Amazon] sums its message up well, I'll just add that from my admittedly limited perspective as one visiting a friend in prison, who struggles to practice and learn about his own ancestral faith in which he was not raised, the lessons Calvin Malone illustrates work well across the ecumenical spectrum. The advice he offers for overcoming frustration and becoming more forgiving, but not more naive, serves to uphold ethical ways of action that put dharma truths into practice, off the meditation mat.

He compiles also a list of contacts for books and supplies, he shares some favorite books, and he sums up neatly the Four Noble Truths. Invaluably, Malone offers guidelines for a wide variety of meditation practices that may fit those who live hectic lives, in or out of prison. I'd recommend this section to anyone, no matter where they find themselves. These examples are tailored for people with short attention spans, by nature or by circumstance. For example, he suggests those incarcerated may time their fifteen- or thirty-minute sessions to end with the shout-outs or bells for thrice-daily guard counts.

By the way, this account, as it deals with the library where Malone worked and where he first found out about Buddhism, will pair up very well with Avi Sternberg's spirited memoir "Running the Books" (reviewed by me on Amazon) about that Harvard grad/ex-yeshiva student's civilian job supervising the prison library in Boston. (Posted to Amazon US 3-3-11.)

15 comments:

Razor Wire said...

Really its a nice post

Anonymous said...

Isnt that nice? What Calvin Malone lied to you about was why he was in prison! Child Rape. Mr Malone was not only convicted of the rape of an 11 year old boy, he also has MANY VICTIMS going back DECADES! Wouldnt even been here if he had been honest. Take my word for it though you got conned! As one put it at Amazon I" I wish I was as good of a man as this convict". Well I think he is probably safe, unless he /you take the stance of moral relativism , then your in great company! PS the magic letter to learn this info yourself is E ! Yes thats as in Elmer . Calvin Elmer Malone is the full name.

Fionnchú said...

Anonymous, I am posting this statement so you can share your information. Perhaps the publisher and those at the site the author promotes should be informed of your claims in a forum where they can receive the attention you desire for them. I don't believe in moral relativism, by the way, either.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sir. I have been in contact with the publisher as well as Amazon . com who have been graciously cooperative. This is no mistake or case of mistaken identity I assure you. I would never put such information out otherwise. I thank you again and wish you the best of regards. Anonymity is unfortunate but required as I have a family to protect. A. Fyi , Nobles and Barnes is unfortunately nowhere as concerned with the truth being available to their customers. Oh well at least Amazon was .

Anonymous said...

Clarification; Amazon has been cooperative . From the publisher I have recieved no reply. I have a strong suspicion that the publisher was aware of the nature of Mr Malones offenses. But without a reply it of course is just that a suspicion . In reality I can say for me that I feel I need not go any further than I have. The truth is out here now with his full name , so the link is made. Also I trully hope that there has been a change for the positive in Mr.Malone. However any progress built upon a lie is questionable at the least . As I said the truth is out and without word from the publisher future claims can at least be taken with a grain of salt. THANK YOU !

Fionnchú said...

I understand taking claims with a grain of salt. In other entries on this blog, I have written about my own ongoing visits to prison and a few other accounts by prisoners and about prison.

I wrote my review with no knowledge of the author except what his book presented as his story, and most prisoners behind bars understandably may not be totally forthcoming for their own safety or their own predicament. With such stories, we have to accept the possibility of redemption--after all, supposedly prison is not only to "correct" but to "rehabilitate"-- even if in our climate we tend to emphasize punishment and retribution, which the author in this book attempts to replace with more healthy reactions to making right out of wrong, past and present.

As with the case of another inmate from a similar background who turned to (Tibetan) Buddhism and has written about this (and who has angered some who oppose his own claims of a turnaround as a calculated "jailhouse conversion"), Jarvis Jay Masters at San Quentin, I reckon that turning to more peaceful ways of resolving conflict is a sign of hope for an inmate, no matter the damage done in the past. This is not to minimize the pain inflicted, but certainly any sincere attempts to turn one's life around speak to one's basic goodness coming through the darkness that once trapped someone?

Best wishes in your own quest for justice and for understanding-- we're all complicated and none of our stories are easy to account for! Even if we don't publish them. I'm a skeptic by nature, but my reviews are based on the books themselves and the stories told.

Anonymous said...

calvin elmer malone is a rapist plain and simple. The man Prayed on an 11 year old boy and threatened his family. Im a personal friend of the family and the fact that he is getting out of jail is sick.
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930121&slug=1681228
and
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19921209&slug=1529222
These links show him for what he really is, a sick, depraved predator.

Fionnchú said...

Anonymous (not sure if you're the same as the Anon earlier), I refer to my previous comment. When I read this, I reviewed it based on the contents alone, as I would any such memoir. As the author did not reveal this information, it is outside the scope of my review written without this knowledge.

Perhaps your understandable concerns are better directed to the publisher, agent, and the author himself? This does raise the question of how much was known by those involved in bringing this book into print of the author's past. I aver that many inmates may be reluctant to present information in print or on record while incarcerated that may jeopardize their attempts at parole, release, or reform. The ethics of this admittedly raises a worthy debate.

Anonymous said...

I too am intrigued by the apparent gap between criminal behavior and redemption. I may have some interesting information about the author (Calvin Malone and can be reached at;

dwain.sparrowk.5@facebook.com

Boaz Yaniv said...

Your information contributes nothing. As a practitioner and one that teaches vipassana in jails I believe that the seed of full transformation is in every one of us where ever we are and whatever our past is. I am sorry for the people who were hurt by Calvin or by any other person and hope they will heal their suffering, this however does not change this book to be a profound testimony of a transformed man.

Jim Jellison said...

The State of Washington is holding a trial to see if Calvin Malone meets the legal definition of a sexually violent predator that needs to be civilly (involuntarily) committed to a state facility.
I was in the jury pool for this trial.
Mr. Malone's lawyers admitted that he raped multiple children.

Anonymous said...

I would guess that Malone has painted exactly the type of picture that he wants you to see. His current persona is a blind/hide... it is likely camouflage of a sort, by design to give him an advantage or to protection or advantage.
Malone uses distraction,charm and swagger to "wow" you... he is an apex predator, who can/will hide his intent. He strikes at the most innocent, his prey usually too young and confused to fully understand the what/why.
Perhaps YOU can gain from his book? but what about his victims? Lives cut short, damaged, altered and in 2 cases ended. What about the that?
"Monsters" DO exist... I have met. I have seen his game first hand. The lies,betrayal and the destruction. The pain he caused to so many...pain that will never go away.
Feel free to "admire" the man...
Buy his "book"...
But remember who and what HE really is...
Go ahead- and believe the pretty, pretty picture that he has painted for you.
I did... when I was 12.

Anonymous said...

FOR THOSE WHO CAN SEE PAST THIS BS BOOK...HERE'S THE TRUTH

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930122&slug=1681411

Anonymous said...

I am the original anonymous at the top of the column. Thank you, you are a scholar and a gentleman for allowing this to be aired here. I agree that another forum would have been better. However those who would normalize Mr. Malones preferences seem to think differently and at the time you were the only one who would allow the truth to be told. His publisher and others dont want that obviously . And yes of course I have been in contact with them and made them 100% clear as to the false claims they and Mr. Malone have made. I am all for improvement in ones life ,however the truth needed to be told.. Best wishes to you and yours and take care... A.

Anonymous said...

I am the original anonymous at the top of the column. Thank you, you are a scholar and a gentleman for allowing this to be aired here. I agree that another forum would have been better. However those who would normalize Mr. Malones preferences seem to think differently and at the time you were the only one who would allow the truth to be told. His publisher and others dont want that obviously . And yes of course I have been in contact with them and made them 100% clear as to the false claims they and Mr. Malone have made. I am all for improvement in ones life ,however the truth needed to be told.. Best wishes to you and yours and take care... A.