Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching in a Men’s Prison, A Memoir

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When she was appointed to lead the Arts in Correction program at a California prison, Deborah Tobola knew how much an assistant’s job description mattered. She looked for “someone with a good heart who has gone astray somehow” to meet the necessary demands. As a creative writing instructor, appointed to teach poetry at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, she valued personal safety no less than her clerk’s ability and interest in the work.

Tobola describes her early awareness that “misery’s persistent whisper” could “turn into a collective groan.” It spurred her to develop a poetry program that encouraged her students to develop and express their talent. Over the years, she expanded her classes to include plays written and staged by inmates. The productions generated camaraderie among her students and heightened awareness of a discrete lifestyle when performed to the public.

She tells how the monotony of prison life was relieved by the unexpected. At one stage, in short order, a stabbing after a soccer game was followed by a suicide attempt and a fatal heart attack, and drama following an escape.

Tobola’s family memoir with her Czech-Scandinavian heritage runs parallel but wholly separate from the realm of her working days. Her vigorous, brash father is a lasting role model, while from early years she is unable to adopt her sisters more docile ways. The vivid style sustains a lively pace but scarcely veils the sadness of a prison existence.


Reviewed By:

Author Deborah Tobola
Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 256 pages
Publisher She Writes Press
Publish Date 2019-07-23
ISBN 9781631525056
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue November 2019
Category Biographies & Memoirs
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