A Place to Stand
Evaluation of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Memoir, A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet
Jimmy Santiago Baca is an American author who wrote a memoir called “A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet”. In this memoir, Baca addresses the many challenging adversities he had to face while growing up. In this chapter, Baca uses a notion of being unaccepted, violent scenes, and clear imagery displaying human nature in his narrative to distinctly portray the impact of being abandoned and how it affected his life drastically.
Due to the fact that he was usually alone from the beginning, Baca was not accustomed to being endorsed by others. Baca states, “I couldn’t talk to the kids because they were so much smarter than I was. They were the kind of kids my mother pointed to, saying I should be like them” (24). Baca already felt out of place because of his illiteracy. More so, his mother’s words made him think he couldn’t amount to much since he and the other kids had an obvious differential standing. This not only being in looks but wealth-wise and in education. This was very clear to Baca. Further, he adds, “I was invited to parties, over to kids’ houses, swimming, but since I couldn’t go or explain why I couldn’t go, I lied that I had things to do, places to go, and generally gave them the impression that my life was full of activities” (26). Baca felt as if he would be judged by his peers, since he wasn’t anything liked them. The difference between them was unmistakably visible. Because of this, he assumed that if they knew about his actual lifestyle, they wouldn’t like him. The thought of being shunned haunted him. He indicates how he was ashamed over something he obviously had no control over. As a result of that mentality, he would constantly lie to them. Accordingly, being too frightened to be criticized, he gave a false impression of his life, depicting his sense of being afraid of being alienated by others.
Baca began to use his fists to occasionally express the violent feelings reeling inside of him. He mentions, “I wanted to take his hurt away by hurting others, but it never seemed to work. When I finished a fight and we were alone again, he would explode. To vent his anger, he berated and demeaned me, and then he beat me, and I let him…And somewhere along the line I started fighting just for the sake of fighting, because I was good at it and it felt good to beat other people up” (34). The pain he was experiencing because of his brother’s abuse made him succumb to fighting repeatedly. Baca basically implies that there were times where a reason to fight was not needed. It was his way of conveying his own emotions, hence his constant engagement in fighting. In addition, he affirms, “I’d fight like a pit bull, my violence fueled by the fact that I had nothing to lose” (39). In this quotation, Baca compares himself to a pit bull. In people’s eyes, pit bull fights are deemed to always be aggressive and bloody to the point where someone would either come out dead or unable to move anymore. It makes the reader imagine a scenery of violence itself. Thus, by saying this, a person can easily visualize that when he fought, there was always a bloody mess, portraying the amount of animosity he had inside of him.
To make the reader “see” his story, Baca uses detailed writing of his perception on human nature. He states,” I’d always had a secret longing to have a place in the desert, all alone with the wind and the coyotes, or in the mountains by a stream, the forest beyond my door full of wildlife: birds, deer, elk, mountain lions, wolves” (36). By clearly describing what he would fantasize about, it helps comprehend what he himself would visualize in his mind. But, not only does he get specific about the certain animals but he also describes certain things about the view he’d see as well, making you question why he chose this scenery. Why would he choose where he would be alone when that’s the thing he himself has been trying to avoid? Does Baca imply that a strict surrounding is where he would abide to being alone? He then also states, “When I really needed to feel safe, I’d go to the mountains and hang out with nature. The ponderosa pines and running streams appealed to me…” (36). Whenever he encountered a problem, Baca would resort to “freeing” himself of his adversities by escaping to an actual scenery. This giving the impression that being enveloped with nature was presumably the only time where isolation was comforting to him. Furthermore, as a natural human response to escape one’s problems, Baca’s way of doing so was to emerge into a calmer atmosphere.
Altogether, Baca’s choice of words in this chapter is combined with vivid details of his many experiences. This being to not seem bland or dull. He explains his life in this book with complex vocabulary to show how his life changed. This being from at first being and illiterate twenty-one-year-old to being able to write his own books. Baca’s constant misfortunes made him into the person he is today. Finally, he effectively writes about his feelings of being an outcast, how he negatively used violence to express himself and his way of transcending into a new place to feel at peace in this specific chapter to show a mixture of the many tragic event he went through.
Bibliography on Distressing Experiences during Early Years of a Child and Its Impact
There are many negative repercussions a child can face as they grow up. These repercussions can then lead to making poor decisions in their life. Like in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir, A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet, he writes about a graphic event he witnessed as a child. He states, “I scratched at the ground with my fingers and shook my head to blur what was happening. Dizzy and terrified, all I could do was brace my knees to my chest and hug myself in fear as their bodies bucked back and forth and the iron legs of the bed scratched at the wooden floor” (8). Baca clearly gave a vivid image for the reader to portray what was going through his head during this event.Experiencing something traumatic can later affect the person as an adult, resulting in psychological problems.
Coleman, Ian, Garad, Yasmin, Zeng, Yiye, Naicker, Kiyuri, Weeks, Murray, Patten, Scott, Jones, Peter, Thompson, Angus, Wild, T. “Stress Development of Depression and Heavy Drinking in Adulthood: Moderating Effects of Childhood Trauma”. Social Psychiatric Epidemiology: The International Journal for Research in Social and Genetic Epidemiology and Mental Health Service. The authors in this article provide information based on how a variety of childhood traumatic events can lead to depression. They conducted a study using a high number of people of ages eighteen and above and asked them specific questions about their past events. Some questions that were asked include” …family problems due to parental substance abuse; and physical abuse by someone ‘close’. They then concluded that the people who experienced more than one type of traumatic even are at a higher risk falling into depression opposed to the people who had one traumatic event or none at all. Because a child’s mentality is a lot more vulnerable, witnessing or physically experiencing a traumatic event can easily adhere to them for quite a while.in the article, it discloses numerous events that could have affected a child such as “… a frightening experience that was thought about for years after”. This plainly expresses how seriously a child can be damaged when undergoing an appalling event. Not only does it highly affect them but it lasts for a considerable amount of time. The child can then end up acquiring symptoms of depression. As it states in the article, “Reporting two or more childhood traumatic events was consistently associated with adult depression”. this quote explains how likely it can be for a person to have depression obtain one’s mind.
The authors in this periodical conducted a study on men, who would occasionally drink, and the relevance to their drinking because of previous childhood trauma. They used a questionnaire that included questions about any traumatic experience as a child. Whether it be physical abuse, neglect or sexual abuse. In the questionnaire it was a “ranging from Never True to Very Often True” to help determine the severity of their experience.
They also “included age, race and education”. An awful experience can easily make a person turn to negative things. If that experience is a constant strain in their minds throughout a child’s life when growing up, they usually try to find ways to block off the thought of any traumatic event. Usually, a common coping method people resort to is alcohol. Sarah F. Eams and the further authors state, “Whereas a childhood trauma/adversity is a significant factor for alcohol-related problems in adulthood” (2). This quotation essentially explains how the cause of a tragic event can affect a person so negatively they can fall into the habit of drinking. This can be seen how it impacts a person seriously to the point where it can easily influence them in a terribly way.
In this article the authors write about the connection between suicide, drug usage and childhood trauma, they use a questionnaire from CTQ (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire) to find a link whether a negative childhood experience is a cause for the usage of drugs and a reason for suicide attempts. “We observed an increased hazard of suicidal behavior among persons who reported experiencing severe to extreme levels of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse”. In this quote, it explains how the higher the malice someone experience the higher there is a risk of suicidal behavior. This clearly exposes the after-effects of how such traumatic experiences can take upon someone. It leads to the point where a person’s mental health can drop to such a miserable state that they resort to suicide.
Altogether, those who once suffered through any type of childhood trauma can easily end up suffering throughout their adult life. There are many kids that can easily avoid such future if this is addressed more often. Also, the encouragement about speaking out about this can help evade someone from going through any of this and getting the help they need. A child’s innocence should not be taken away from them. Therefore, the more this is spoken out about the lower the circumstances of another child experiencing it.
A Book Evaluation of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s, A Place to Stand
Birth of a Poet
A writer’s work is influenced by life experiences and his or her interpretation of the world. In Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand, he gives an autobiographical account of his childhood and eventual incarceration in prison. Baca makes the journey from illiterate youth using violence to survive the harsh realities of prison life, to a poet with a sense of purpose in life. While in prison, Baca is sent to solitary confinement more than once. This greatly influences his growth as a person and as a writer.
“More than anything else, I loved open space” (Baca 104). This realization hit him as he was on the bus to the prison he would spend the next five years of his life. Baca’s first time in solitary confinement proved to be the hardest. With the days only broken up by the daily meals pushed through a slot in his cell door, he had nothing but his own thoughts to keep himself company in the darkness. Baca went through a gamut of emotions during his 30 days of solitary confinement that tested his sanity. From nightmares of the fight that put him there, to paranoia about crawling rats, insects, and other prisoners about to come through the walls, Baca had to somehow fight his growing panic and make it through the seemingly never ending aloneness. After trying to exercise to stem the boredom and to stay sane, he eventually fell into a depression and just laid there letting time pass. After hitting rock bottom, he could keep living in despair or look for ways to get back up.
Being placed back into the general prison population was like being given a new lease on life. After his senses being deprived for so long, even the random sights and sounds of the prison looked good. “My new beginning had a real sweetness to it; I was eager to start doing my time from a whole different vantage point” (Baca 126). Not yet a writer, but with more of a sense of being happy just to be alive.
Baca started his second period of solitary confinement with the view that he survived it the first time, so could do it again. Instead of the darkness and loneliness of isolation being treated as a terrifying prospect, Baca used this time to remember and reflect on his past. What was at first just a way to pass the time, thinking about the past strengthened Baca’s concentration and grew into something more. “I’d never gone into my memories so vividly before. I felt more outside my cell than in it” (Baca 134). He became so immersed in his memories, that the past and present became a confusing jumble. The waking dream always ending in the lonely dark cell.
Emerging from the isolation cell this time, Baca felt a change within himself. “I was seeing things as if for the first time because something was different inside me” (Baca 155). He wanted to attend the prison school to get his GED. Despite being on his best behavior, he was denied this chance at his reclass hearing. Without the time in solitary confinement, Baca may have acted out against this with violence, but he instead protested silently by refusing to work and doing little more than stare at the bars of his cell. “It was the first time I felt I was accomplishing something, even though I couldn’t see why” (Baca 166). In this seemingly small way, he was taking control of his life as much as one can in a prison setting. Being led to his third stint in isolation, Baca felt a sense of his own self worth for the first time in his life (Baca 168).
This third time in solitary began with a difference. Whereas the first two began as a result of violence, this one began as a result of sticking up for himself and what he thought was right. Not resorting to violence, which was what everyone expected, turned out to be the most powerful thing he ever did (Baca 169). As before, Baca played back the memories in his mind, but went deeper within himself. He faced the pain of his past. Facing his emotions, both good and bad, was a step in the healing process and brought him the realization of why he did what he did to end up in isolation again. “I could never again tolerate the betrayals that had marked my life, stretching back to my earliest years” (Baca 175).
Out of isolation for the third time, and with a kick start from a kind stranger named Harry who volunteered to write to a prisoner, Baca began the process of teaching himself to read and write. Writing became a way for Baca to let his emotions out and released the good and bad experiences hibernating within (Baca 189). This was the beginnings of a writer. Memories dredged up during the weeks in isolation could now be put down on paper in the form of journals and poetry. As time in isolation forced Baca to grow as a person, Baca’s poems grew more complex and conveyed more emotion the longer he wrote.
Baca again found himself being sent to solitary confinement. For a five week stretch, it was to Reclass, then the cell, then to isolation for a day, over and over. He had already tore himself down and built himself back up the previous times. Now isolation was seen as a place to meditate and think about the writings of others. He memorized poems and went over “plots, characters, styles, and descriptions of landscapes in novels” (Baca 193). By studying other writers, he was better able to develop and hone his own style.
Written years after his stay in prison, Baca’s feelings of his life during that time are seen in his poem “Who Understands Me but Me”. They turn the water off, so I live without water, they build walls higher, so I live without treetops, they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine, /they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere, they take each last tear I have, I live without tears. Prison took his freedoms away and tried to bring him down to nothing, seeking to control all aspects of his life.
Jimmy Santiago Baca’s View of the Significance of Optimism in Prisoners as Illustrated in His Book a Place to Stand plus Kathy Boudin’s Personal Story
Hope Behind Bars
The life of a prisoner is not one to be envied. Nearly all facets of daily life are controlled by external forces. Robbed of life’s liberty, one is left to ponder the reasons to maintain hope while surrounded by four walls: Hope for oneself, and hope for those who face a similar fate. Hope is a powerful thing. While it can’t physically save a life, it can sustain a person’s livelihood, even in the darkest of times. Countless stories exist from prisoners sharing their accounts of life on the inside. But the common thread that ties together the most widely-read prison texts is the idea of hope. Through Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir “A Place to Stand”, as well as the poetry and life of Kathy Boudin, one can truly appreciate the importance of hope, even for those destined to live behind bars.
Jimmy Santiago Baca spent his young adult life seemingly stuck in a revolving door of institutions. Having never learned to read or write, he was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison at the age of 21, stemming from a drug charge. Over the course of his memoir, “A Place to Stand”, Baca grapples with two identities; There is ‘Baca the gangbanger’, and ‘Baca the reader’. As he struggles through the arduous process of learning to read, sounding out words letter by letter, he posits, “guys like [himself] hung out and bullshitted all day” (Baca 100). He had no use for reading because he was ‘Baca the gangbanger’, the rebel who was only teaching himself using a book that he had just stolen. He saw himself at the time solely through the lens of the gangbanger identity, not as a man destined for anything different or better. Though he taught himself to read, it was not from a need for self-improvement.
Rather, Baca’s wake-up call came much later, as his former girlfriend, Theresa, comes to visit him in prison. Though she has moved on romantically, Baca is stuck in the past, expressing his continuing love for her, despite her denials. It is Theresa who incites Baca to improve himself, asking “how [does he] ever expect to get out of [prison] if [he doesn’t] follow the rules?” (198). This confrontation leads Baca down a path of introspection. Having spent significant amounts of time in solitary confinement for violence and assorted rule-breaking, Baca reflects on his past and serves the rest of his time efficiently, and within the guidelines set by the prison. He continues to learn, and writes poetry. He maintains some hope for his future.
It is this hope that Baca holds on to, against all odds, while in prison. He has hope, not for his fellow inmates, and not for his family, as he has none. But he does have hope for a better life for himself. While serving time in solitary confinement, he allows his mind to wander to happier memories through his “desire to fight to remain human” (Baca 149). Without hope, Baca does not believe that one can truly be human. But it is with this renewed hope that he is able to survive prison, to survive a life otherwise robbed of humanity. A man of less than 30 years of age, Baca had the opportunity to better himself and maintain hope for his life beyond prison. He had hope for a better life for himself, and he fulfilled that hope.
For Jimmy Santiago Baca, his sentence had an expiration date. At some point, he would regain his freedom, rejoin the world of those who are not incarcerated, and have an opportunity to continue his life. However, some inmates are not so lucky. Inmates like Mumia Abu-Jamal receive death sentences, occupying a cell indefinitely, until law enforcement officials decide that it is time to end his life. Poet Kathy Boudin, a prisoner herself, serving a lengthy term, wrote of the concept of hope and hopelessness for prisoners on death row. Her poem “For Mumia: I Wonder” openly asked how one maintains hope when facing down that sentence.
Boudin lived out her prison sentence by making consistent efforts at self-improvement. An underground radical before her imprisonment, she had graduated from college, but her only known activity after that involved the Weather Underground and occasional trips to the Soviet Union or Cuba. However, while she was incarcerated, Boudin sought a better life for herself. She spent a significant amount of time writing, finding in that some hope for herself, winning the PEN prize for poetry in 1999. But she also had hope for her fellow inmates, those in similar situations, founding programs while in prison that were designed to help mothers and children. Boudin’s hope for others even extended into her writing, penning a poem for Mumia Abu-Jamal while he was awaiting his own execution.
Capital punishment is final. Knowing that one will die without having another moment of freedom is enough to make one lose hope. When confronted with a death sentence, Boudin wondered, “… how you grow your life / In a row they call death” (Boudin). However, over the course of the poem, she realizes the opportunities that one has to maintain hope. The hope that one has on death row, after all appeals are exhausted, no longer exists for oneself, but for the others around him. To help others who may still have a chance at freedom can provide enough hope to be sustaining while on death row. In a position where the outlook on life is bleak at best, Boudin contended, “that life is full / when you are full of life” (Boudin). Maintaining some semblance of hope, even if the grimmest of circumstances can improve the quality of whatever life one may lead. Even on death row, Boudin maintained, one can have hope for the betterment of others, even without hope for oneself.
Hope is the driving force that sustains people. Without it, life seems bleak, any negative circumstance more foreboding. While in prison, and faced with a significantly austere outlook, hope is even more important. For the writers mentioned in this essay, hope drove them toward self-improvement. Today, Baca is an anti-prison activist, and writes memoirs and poetry reflecting on his prison experience, but he did not return to prison after serving his sentence. Meanwhile, Kathy Boudin is a professor at Columbia University, having removed herself from the life of radical extremism and crime that led to her sentence. Even Mumia Abu-Jamal receives a happy ending, having written essays for the Yale Law Journal and segments for NPR. His sentence was commuted in 2012 from death to life-without-parole. But while in prison, he realized the importance of hope for himself and for others, speaking about prison life in multiple radio broadcasts. Hope helped each of these prisoners retain their humanity and live a life beyond the walls.