I first downloaded a digital review copy of Corrections in Ink back in December and between then and getting the physical copy in January, I had forgotten that my initial inspiration for doing so was because Keri was a skater and it’d been awhile since I’d read a journalist’s memoir, my favorite subgroup of memoirs. Couple that with Keri’s electrifying writing, and I couldn’t put it down.
From the publisher marketing:
An elite, competitive figure skater growing up, Keri Blakinger poured herself into the sport, even competing at nationals. But when her skating partnership ended abruptly, her world shattered. With all the intensity she saved for the ice, she dove into self-destruction. From her first taste of heroin, the next nine years would be a blur–living on the streets, digging for a vein, selling drugs and sex, eventually plunging off a bridge when it all became too much, all while trying to hold herself together enough to finish her degree at Cornell.
Then, on a cold day during Keri’s senior year, the police stopped her. Caught with a Tupperware container full of heroin, she was arrested and ushered into a holding cell, a county jail, and finally into state prison. There, in the cruel upside down,” Keri witnessed callous conditions and encountered women from all walks of life–women who would change Keri forever.
Two years later, Keri walked out of prison sober and determined to make the most of the second chance she was given–an opportunity impacted by her privilege as a white woman. She scored a local reporting job and eventually moved to Texas, where she started covering nothing other than: prisons. Now, over her career as an award-winning journalist, she has dedicated herself to exposing the broken system as only an insider could.
Not just a story about getting out and getting off drugs, this rich memoir is about finding redemption within yourself, as well as from the outside world, and the power of second chances. Written in a searing voice, Corrections in Ink is told with unflinching honesty and jolts of irreverent humor, and uncovers a dark and brutal system that affects us all.
In the beginning, every horror story you hear in prison seems incredible – not just extraordinary, but impossible to believe. […] But eventually, you learn. […] You’ve gotten used to the idea that objectively shocking shit happens – and almost nothing seems so shocking anymore. Almost.
So it turns out Keri and I grew up about an hour apart in south central PA and we definitely had some similar regional growing up experiences. To break it down into a short list, we skated on the same rinks, Keri with toe picks on her skates, me on hockey skates, we share a mutual love of Hershey and both lament that the town itself no longer smells of chocolate as it did in our youth, we battled eating disorders, Keri and someone close to me were at the same rehab facility a year apart, Keri was at Cornell at the same time as a friend of mine who also went down a gorge and my brother-in-law, there are so many weird coincidences in this life.
It is here that our paths diverge, but for two girls growing up a few years apart (Keri is the same age as my older brother) in the same neck of the woods, the intersections are a little crazy – who knows, maybe we did bump into each other at Twin Ponds or in Hershey at one point in our lives. It also wasn’t until I read Corrections in Ink, though, that I realized how much I care about the people in our prisons. I’ve managed a bookstore for almost seven years now and one of our regular business clients is SCI Grateford, the state prison down the road and we supply hundreds of books for the library there every year. I am humbled when I see the titles on the request lists that come in, people working hard to earn their GEDs and prepare for a life beyond bars, it’s frankly inspiring. But there is also one other connection that has stuck with me in the months since I read Keri’s memoir.
My uncle, who has since passed of lung cancer, served time in prison on marijuana related charges. As a white man, even with multiple warnings and run-ins before, he served only the minimum sentence and was out on work release for most of it. The stories he told about his time in prison and the people he met who were far less lucky in terms of their sentences (from what any of us could tell, was based solely on the color of their skin) were heartbreaking. Just as Keri has in her life since her release, when he got out, he dedicated himself to advocating for those who had it rougher than he did in the system.
From the first page, of Corrections in Ink Keri did not disappoint. I laughed, I cried, I exclaimed “holy shit” out loud, and repeatedly shared facts about the prison system that I have learned with friends and colleagues. Keri writes with a finely honed and distinctive voice that makes her story all the more compelling. Alternating between chapters of her life, they are all seamlessly pulled together by her masterful pen.
To know that her work in recent years as a journalist has been focused on effecting change to the same system she experienced is inspiring and heartbreaking. Keri’s writing conveys not just her own experiences, but shows the human side of a system that many of us do not often think of, let alone experience. Prisons are a nebulous space and the people who are incarcerated there are not often people that the average American puts time and effort into caring about.
Keri has cemented her place on my shelf of favorite memoirs, right up alongside It’s What I Do and Sigh, Gone. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any future works from her and I encourage you all, dear readers, to read Corrections in Ink and educate yourself on our penal system. Reach out to your local representatives and look for ways to help.
Rating: 10 out of 10