Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist's Observations from Prison

Ken Lamberton, Author Mercury House $14.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-56279-116-2
Incarcerated naturalist Lamberton's strange and compelling debut examines the flora, fauna and microecology of an Arizona prison while describing the author's life before and during his sentence. Lamberton is a former biology teacher who has now spent over a decade behind bars for his relationship with a teenage student. After his conviction, he became a prolific nature writer, publishing largely in literary magazines. (A year free on appeal saw him become a nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review.) Lamberton's measured and exemplary prose follows the interactions among the prisoners, their built environment and the birds and plants they encounter there, tracing connections disturbing and consoling, ecological and metaphorical. Africanized killer bees arrive and depart, as does a terroristic guard; brittlebrush and goldpoppy's tough seeds (adapted to Arizona droughts) imply Lamberton's own need for endurance. The overcrowded facility's on-site disposal of toilet water ironically ""turned this bleak place into a wildlife island, a rest stop and refuge for wings and beaks and talons."" A few chapters near the end of the book put the desert biology on hold for straightforward accounts of Lamberton's recent travails. Usually, though, the book's two genres--first-person prison journal and third-person nature-description--complement each other. (Lamberton is especially good on insects, on ground-level flora and on the sometimes brutal criminal justice bureaucracy.) Arizona poet and essayist Richard Shelton (Going Back to Bisbee) offers a warm, persuasive introduction. Lamberton suggests that ""I learn more by walking across this same plot of ground again and again than if I had the whole world to explore"": his deeply moved readers are likely to believe him.(Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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