Gritty, gruesome and real – Matthew Parker’s debut novel, “Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs and Higher Education” is just as brutally honest as the man who penned it. It delivers an uplifting and powerful story of how one man bounced back from impossible circumstances.
Through crude black and white drawings, Parker tells how he turned from drugs and petty theft to the Ivy League. Though the concept isn’t new, Parker’s indictment of America’s revolving-door prison system feels fresh because of the simplistic and often humorous scribbles.
Parker was born to a seemingly inescapable life of heroin and crime in the 1960’s. Based on Larceny’s retelling, his home wasn’t necessarily broken. But, as his mom programmed his mind to rely on crime to get by, it’s clear his upbringing was anything but average.
From there, Parker found himself in and out of odd jobs and crime on both coasts. The novel deals heavily with Arizona, where Parker served much of the time related to his eight felonies. It’s also where he came to some of the toughest decisions he had to make.
Clearly, the worst moment for Parker was being placed in the same penitentiary as the man who killed his brother. Parker talks at length about the bizarre experience of being bedfellows with someone who committed such an atrocity.
However, there’s a weird sense of acceptance, too. It seems as if Parker believes the horror of the prison system is a fate far worse than any revenge he could dole out. Perhaps, it’s a fate far worse than he can even imagine.
That realization turns into the driving force to become better. After several relapses, Parker checks into a different institution – Arizona State University. After discovering his passion for writing is enough to overcome his passion for drugs, he moves all the way to a Master’s program at Columbia.
The narrative sometimes bounces back and forth between the prison and the university. By doing this, Parker paints some interesting syllogism between jail and college.
His struggles with intimacy and his feelings of isolation ring true whether he’s behind bars or in a desk. Being twice as old as those around them – Parker graduated in his 40s – only magnifies this.
It’s an effective, interesting tale. Though it’s not the first and nowhere near the last prison success story, the humorous drawings and witty parallels make it well worth the read.