Gerry B's Book Reviews

Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison, by T.J. Parsell

A fascinating read…



fish - coverStory blurb: When seventeen-year-old T.J. Parsell held up the local Photo Mat with a toy gun, he was sentenced to four and a half to fifteen years in prison. The first night of his term, four older inmates drugged Parsell and took turns raping him. When they were through, they flipped a coin to decide who would “own” him. Forced to remain silent about his rape by a convict code among inmates (one in which informers are murdered), Parsell’s experience that first night haunted him throughout the rest of his sentence.

In an effort to silence the guilt and pain of its victims, the issue of prisoner rape is a story that has not been told. For the first time Parsell, one of America’s leading spokespeople for prison reform, shares the story of his coming of age behind bars. He gives voice to countless others who have been exposed to an incarceration system that turns a blind eye to the abuse of the prisoners in its charge. Since life behind bars is so often exploited by television and movie re-enactments, the real story has yet to be told. Fish is the first breakout story to do that.

About the author: T.J. Parsell is a writer and human rights activist dedicated to ending sexual abuse against men, women and children in all forms of detention. He is currently President-elect of Stop Prisoner Rape and serves as a consultant to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Parsell has testified before numerous government bodies and was instrumental in passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the first ever federal legislation to address this issue. He lives in Amagansett, NY.


Review by Gerry Burnie

Non-fiction books seem popular among the viewers, and so this week I have chosen one that is somewhat different. Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison by T.J. Parsell [Da Capo Press, November 2, 2006], is described as a memoir, but for the most part it reads like a coming out story.

It is not a pleasant recollection at times, although here, once again, there is a dichotomy. While prison life is brutal, the rape scenes especially, at times there seems to be a measure of relish involved.

The memoir part describes how the author as a 17 y.o entered the prison system, and what he encountered on the first night and onward. Raped by five men, and then ‘won’ in a lottery by one of them, it is a brutally frank story that pulls no punches. Indeed, the raw sexual activity, graphically described, dominates the first two-thirds of the book. [See my discussion on this point, below.]

The coming out part involves the discovery of his own sexuality, and the evolution of a romantic side to all the sex. It also leads, ultimately, to a happy ending.

Critically speaking, the overall story is both intriguing and revealing; however, the sexual activity in the first part is somewhat overwhelming—almost to the point of being super-saturating. Of course, one can argue that this is the way it happened, and you can’t second guess fact; nevertheless, a little less graphic description might have alleviated the super-saturation.

Which brings us around to editing. Oh, my! One reviewer speculated that an unedited version might have somehow made it to the printer, and if this is the case it would explain the inordinate number of typos, malapropisms, and otherwise obvious faux pas.

Taking all this into consideration, I still think it is a fascinating read. Three and one-half bees.


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January 13, 2014 Posted by | by T.J. Parsell, male rape, Non-fiction, prison story | Leave a comment


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