UCI Illuminations hosted a Q&A session and book signing with author, activist and journalist Keri Blakinger at Winifred Smith Hall in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts (CTSA) on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
The event was held in conjunction with their Prison Pandemic Exhibit, which ran from Sept. 27 to Oct. 14 in CTSA, and highlighted Blakinger’s recently released book titled “Corrections in Ink: A Memoir.” The book depicts her harrowing journey through addiction and incarceration to sobriety and becoming a voice for the unheard, a criminal justice activist and incarcerated persons’ advocate.
Throughout the Q&A session, the facilitator, Keramet Reiter, a professor and vice chair of the Criminology, Law & Society department in the UCI School of Social Ecology, as well as the audience, asked questions that touched on numerous different topics in relation to Blakinger’s memoir and the American prison system. Topics included gender roles within the prison system and the free world, Blakinger’s opinion on the death penalty and media sensationalism of the prison system.
When asked about the best and worst parts of writing her memoir, Blakinger described the process as a dark experience that took a toll on her personally, having to revisit and replay these dark events from her life in order to depict them as accurately as possible.
“Despite having lived through it, despite having covered it for so many years, when I actually put it all together and stepped back, I was like ‘Wow. In some way, in compartmentalizing these stories, [I] managed to hide from myself how bad it was,’” Blakinger said.
One audience member asked if she felt a sense of relief from completing hard chapters, referencing the more difficult parts of Blakinger’s memoir which detail her battle with addiction as well as mentions of suicide and sex work.
In response, Blakinger explained how she didn’t feel any “sense of catharsis” due to her familiarity with difficult topics.
“A lot of this trauma I’m seeing everyday … From having worked in this world that I’m writing, a lot of these kinds of stories that are touching on a lot of these same things, I was pretty familiar with, like, thinking through them to some degree and like writing through these things,” Blakinger said.
However, Blakinger reiterated that she does feel comfort in remembering that she gets to tell the stories of those who lose their voice in her journalistic work, echoing the goal of the memoir, which was to encourage community engagement with incarcerated persons.
To round out the event, attendees were invited to head over to the Prison Pandemic Exhibit in CTSA to view the exhibit in its last few days, and also receive a free signed copy of Blakinger’s memoir while supplies lasted.
“Overall, I think [the event] was really inspiring and very eye-opening. It was not like a regular seminar where people just drone on … it was more connecting and a lot more active and everybody seemed really invigorated by it,” third year criminology student Tiffany Cross said.
Makyla McLeod is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.