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Leslie Jamison has a sprawling, elegiac piece in the Oxford American that starts with visiting a friend in prison, and becomes, amongst other things, a story about strip mining in West Virginia, about relationships, and about following the rules:
It’s a Monday, not a weekend, so the visiting room isn’t crowded. Nearly everyone stays until three. We’re an ecosystem. The family sitting next to the vending machines reminds me to take my leftover twenty cents. Two little girls are obsessed with the thin line of ants near the window. One of them starts telling Charlie about a sorcerer, and something about her birthday, a monologue that remains largely unintelligible until she pauses to say, quite clearly: “I hate evil.”
Charlie says, “I do too.”
When these girls first came in—with their pretty, dark-haired mother—Charlie told me he heard their father got reduced time for telling on an innocent man. I hate evil. What do we call a government with marijuana laws so strict that one man has to tell on another so he can get out in time for his daughter’s fifth birthday?
The girls seem so comfortable with their father—eager to sit on his lap, laugh at his funny faces, gratuitously court his already-granted attention—but this ease feels deceptive. They must associate this place with long drives, nebulous fear, men in uniforms, and their mother’s sadness.
I’m quoting too much of it, but it’s something special. You should read it.