The Camp by Ralph Inzunza. ISBN:978-1548274757. $23.95. 6" x 9"282 pages
Fiction Latino Hispanic, Chicano literature, Latino literature, Latino Fiction Book
The Camp is a novel inspired by real events, and the story emerges from many conversations with inmates, whom had received ten, fifteen, and twenty-year sentences for non-violent offenses at the Atwater Federal Prison Camp in Central California. The protagonist is a law and order, nerdy politician, former Deputy Mayor of a large California city, who goes to prison for “dishonest service of government,” and is feeling sorry for himself until the minute he steps inside the fence. El Mayor, as he was called by the inmates, narrates for us first-hand the unfair plight that many of his fellow Paisas, Chicano inmates, are suffering, and the impact of incarceration on working class families of color in America. As the only person of Mexican descent at the camp with a college degree, who had never smoked a “joint” in his life, he begins to transform in order to survive, and eventually extract his own judicial revenge.
Ralph Inzunza tells a complex, semi-autobiographical tale of a college educated, Mexican American former politician who spent a two-year-jail term with other Mexican Americans, Paisas—short for Paisano—who are doing much longer-jail time for non-violent crimes. The narrative, at first focuses on the Mayor’s –his nom de la prison–self-realization that his previous life was abruptly destroyed and thrown into literally a cell and bunking with strangers. Then, the Mayor’s survival instincts and political skills lead him to gain respect among his peers and become the consiglieri in situs. Next, he describes the prison bureaucracy, which created a massive set of rules to protect itself, dominate, and dehumanize the imprisoned population, but keenly aware that will spend as long, if not longer time in the prison system than the inmates. The Mayor is touched, not by the dehumanizing brutality of the imprisonment, but by the dichotomic views of the prisoners whose truncated lives stopped when they entered jail and their hopes and dreams to reiniate it again are to begin one or two decades into the future, at the time of their release. So, their present is their nightmare; they make themselves numb to their existence for it is immaterial, worthless, hopeless. Ralph Inzunza’s first novel makes the reader realize how fragile life can be and how people manage to survive a dialectical relationship as those of the inmate and his guard bound to spend decades together without any consideration for each other. LatinoBooks.Net
Ralph Inzunza received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies from San Diego State University. He ran political campaigns and worked on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. for a United States Congressman, and as a Chief of Staff to a San Diego City Councilman. He ran for a seat on the San Diego City Council in 2001 as a vocal advocate for the downtrodden and the Latino community. After two years of elective office, the downtown power brokers decided they had seen enough of his activism. In 2003 the FBI raided his office, and he was indicted on frivolous charges, “dishonest service of government.” He fought the charges for nine years, eventually lost, and was forced to surrender in January of 2012. He served for fourteen months at the Atwater Federal Prison Camp, where he began collecting stories of other inmates, and writing about his life altering experience at “The Camp.”