cover image Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison, 1958-60

Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison, 1958-60

Neal Cassady. Blast Books, $12.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-922233-07-6

For those interested in the Beat Generation, this selection of letters reveals a brilliantly playful and spiritually struggling Neal Cassady (immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road ), who was sentenced in 1958 to five years to life in the California prison system after selling small quantities of marijuana to federal agents. Addressing his wife as ``Dear Diligent Dharma Decoding Directoress Carolyn,'' Cassady seems buoyant in his early letters. Transferred to San Quentin Prison, he becomes more somber, writing to his godfather, Father Harley Schmitt, about sinners and saints, and ``the crime begotten Hell of this 412 712 912 foot cell.'' To his children, Cassady offers intensely whimsical history lessons about the Fourth of July and Mother Goose nursery rhymes. He apologizes to his wife for acting mean when she visits and writes of his eagerness to see her as his 1960 parole date approaches. However, as Carolyn Cassady writes in her introduction, her husband's release did not lead to a flowering of love but rather to a divorce; still, she states, ``I have never stopped loving the man I knew he truly was.'' (June)