How to Write from Prison (Part I)

“You want to be a journalist, my son?” said my late father, himself a journalist on the now-defunct Montreal Star, when I announced at a very young age my intentions to follow in his footsteps.

By Colin McGregor

“To write, he said, “You have to suffer.”

I did just that.

I come from a single parent family. I have fought against depression, a lack of self-esteem, and that worst of all medication to take to combat these, alcohol. To top it all off I’ve been convicted of the most unpardonable of crimes, for which no reparations are possible.

Before getting back on the horse and resuscitating my professional path, I had to first learn, among other things, to like myself again. After years of attempts littered with angst and psychological reluctance of several sorts, I got back the thirst to write. Writing is in my blood, and in the blood of several McGregors who make their living doing just that.

Restarting to write from prison seemed impossible. Unveiling scandals, muckraking, those had been my stock-in-trade. But what if you are the wrong others want to right? So I had to forget the scandal-mongering ways of my past.

All crimes come from a mentality of extreme selfishness. You think yourself better than others. My interests, my success, my mood, my happiness, my pleasures, get placed above everything else. So we steal, we assault, we kill without putting ourselves in the shoes of the victim.

To cure this, we must first isolate and kill the disease of egotism. Journalism looks at the world. It incites us to see things through the eyes of others. To look at things the same way as would a citizen, a family, a community, a world.

It began slowly. The Montreal Anglican, a monthly newspaper for parishioners, asked for 700-word articles, book reviews. A prison chaplain would bring me the book to be reviewed: always tackling heavy, complicated subjects such as faith and the human genome, or the marginalization of women within the Catholic Church. I wrote more than 35 of these reviews. Lots of time to read in your cell, especially on weekends.

I participated in neighborhood literary contests. I was lucky and quite grateful that the prison allowed me to. I won the title of radio playwright of the year for the Eastern Townships in 2012 for a radio play I wrote for a local contest.

And I wrote for the Journal de la Rue, which runs the publications Reflet de Société and The Social Eyes.   

First seen in: Reflet de Société, Vol. 27, no. 2, printemps (spring) 2019, pages 26-27.

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