Local press publishes imprisoned man’s book of haiku
Literature without parole
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
James Fuson has been in prison for two decades. At the tender age of 17, not yet old enough to buy cigarettes, he was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
“Prison is not for the naïve,” he writes, “and … a kid … is not ready for it. One of two things will happen to that kid: He will either break and become part of the machine or get tough and grow into a stronger individual. Either way… the abuse, alienation, loneliness and frustration will leave a scar that will remain until he dies. It comes down then to this: How does he deal with this scar?”
Poetry is the salve Fuson grinds from “20 years of observing (the) environment and the cold irrationalities it espoused.” He examines the chilling monotony of institutional life with a vivid yet anorexic style in his book of haiku, “Twenty Years Reflections of an Empty Sky.” Johnny Cash doesn’t visit the Macomb Correctional Facility; there is no Andy Dufresne to earn cold beers and play opera on the loud speakers; Chris Rock and Adam Sandler aren’t suiting up any football players to take on the guards. Instead, Fuson documents the stasis: The floor mopping and dust bunnies that survive it, and the violence occurring — as the seasons change — just out of sight.
Fuson manipulates time, similar to Thomas Mann or Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, in a magical way; isolated from life in the natural world, hours/days/years pass like Dali’s dripping clocks.
“The moon and the sun
Mock those lost below
With solstice days and nights”
“Twenty Years…” was published by [sic] Press, which has published 10 books since it was founded in 2010. Detroit-resident Jonathan Rajewski is a co-founder of [sic] Press and its editor. He is an artist who currently works with Writers’ Block, a poetry workshop in the Macomb Correctional Facility, where he met Fuson.
“Like the others in the group, (Fuson) is an exceptional writer with a deep understanding of form and imagery,” Rajewski told the Michigan Citizen. “It was important to me when I read the manuscript of “Twenty Years…” that it be shared. The juridical structure of the prison is widely misunderstood by the public and James, who as a teenager was sentenced to life without parole, now deemed unconstitutional, elucidates this space with poetic poise.”
In addition to Fuson’s strength as a writer, “Twenty Years” is laudable for its exhaustive survey of the prison experience, both the dramatic and the mundane. Much of the imagery in “Twenty Years…” is existentially brutal, as one might expect from a writer who has lived the life Fuson has, but sown through the work are moments of joy and hope that breathe a wind different from the stagnant air of prison.
“I do not claim to know everything or be all-wise anymore,” Fuson writes in the introduction, “but these truths are mine and I hold them tight.”
“Twenty Years Reflections of an Empty Sky” is available for purchase at DittoDitto at Trinosophes in Detroit, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and at www.sicpress.org.