The tanks were racially segregated for the most part. One except was the "queens" tank. With towels wrapped like turbans around their heads, jail shirt tails lied at the bottom like blouses, makeup ingeniously concocted from God knows what, jeans rolled up and skin-tight, they were all flamboyant parodies of women. Spotting me, as I walked with the guard along the length of their tank, they hurried along beside us: "Put him in here, Deputy! We won't hurt him."
The deputy snorted and quipped, "All we'd find his his shoelaces."
"What's your name, honey?"
I didn't reply.
"Who'd you kill, kid?"
"If you go to the joint, I'll be your woman-and kill anybody that fucks with you."
There is a James Ellroy blurb on the cover of EDUCATION OF A FELON and knowing the character, first thing I told myself is how difficult is must have been to get a few lines from him. But reading Edward Bunker's memoir, it became very clear why Ellroy enjoyed it and would've given it his stamp of approval. Bunker basically is a living and breathing character that would've felt at home in the pages of WHITE JAZZ or L.A CONFIDENTIAL. If you don't know who the hell is Edward Bunker and where he's coming from, you probably first saw him featuring in Quentin Tarantino's movie RESERVOIR DOGS, as Mr. Blue. Well, he was a real felon before that movie and also a real novelist. EDUCATION OF A FELON isn't a novel (it doesn't even read like one), but it's the recollection of the crazy life that lead him into the legend.
I took forever to read this book, not because it was boring, but because there is so much material to process, reading ten pages felt like reading fifty. I can't really resume what happens in there without confusing you, but the important is that the L.A streets found Edward Bunker very young and trouble ensued. He went through all the possible reform schools and even landed in prison at fifteen years old, doing all sorts of crazy stuff like fist fighting a death sentenced murderer. He got in there so young, he learned the code of survival better than anybody else and forged some friendships that would serve him both inside and outside the walls of Folsom and San Quentin. Whether he was in or out of jail, Bunker's life was anything but normal. Crashing William Randolph Hearst's estate to go swimming. Really, who does that? I'm sure a lot of mid-century Californians dreamed about it. I'm sure James Ellroy did too. But Edward Bunker did it, because he was that guy.
If Bunker would've wanted to, he could've made at least two books with the material in EDUCATION OF A FELON, maybe even three. While it's chronological, it's not really a straightforward story rather than a collection of anecdotes that range from one paragraph to several pages in length. It's rather challenging to follow at times, because if you zone out during one page, you can't really catch up (hence my slow and methodical reading). My favorite aspect of EDUCATION OF A FELON was Bunker's observation on capital punishment. It's a personal favorite subject of mine and Bunker spent years in prisons during an era where executions were really frequent. During his stay in San Quentin, one inmate hit the gas chamber every Friday at 10: 00 AM, some inmates were executed for committing aggression on guards during riots, he saw the legal system kill people from up close, many, many times. His bits on fist fighting also were captivating.
Mr. Hawkins, the black handyman whose apartment was over the immense garage, had once been a prizefighter, and he taught me how to throw a left jab.The jab I learned wreaked havoc on the nose of Buckley, the home bully. We started to fight in the upstairs hall. I backed up, one step at a time, down the length of the long second-floor hallway, sticking a jab in his nose whenever he seemed coiled to charge. One of Mrs. Bosco's pretty daughters, a USC coed, came out of of her room and broke it up. Buckley has two rapidly swelling eyes ans a bloody nose. I was unmarked. About the same time, I learned the value of the Sunday punch, which was simply striking first. In reform school I would study expects on the Sunday punch and hone my own ability. Fistfighting is a useless skill in boardrooms and business meetings. It will not get you the girl. Most middle and upper class whit men go through adult life without ever having a single fistfight. But where I spent youth and young manhood it is a useful skill, especially since I hadn't been given strength, speed, or stamina. My reflexes were mediocre. I do, however, take a good punch without falling. I have beaten bigger, stronger men, who were faster and in better shape, including a U.S Marine karate instructor, simply by punching first and continuing to punch with both hands before they ever got started.
There is no book like EDUCATION OF A FELON and there won't be any, because there is nobody else like Edward Bunker. He comes from a bygone era and his memoir reads like a treasure chest for fans of true crime. I can't say Bunker is a stylish, because he isn't. His style is as raw and truncated as possible, but the sheer amount of crazy anecdotes make any literary considerations I may have about EDUCATION OF A FELON irrelevant. It's a terrific testimony to how gems are often buried by the system and circumstances. From the artistic aspiration of Bunker to his powerless witnessing of executions and crazy misadapted lifestyle outside the prison walls, EDUCATION OF A FELON reads like The Odyssey among thieves, pimps and murderers. It's a strange and fascinating anomaly.
Book about prison
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.