I am a mother of three children and the partner of an incarcerated individual. He’s a good man. A man who made mistakes as a young individual, more because of his upbringing and social standing than the heart inside his body. He has a good heart. Bigger than any I’ve ever known. His intentions are even bigger.
Michael is an author. He’s published several novels. Day in, day out, he writes. Not just his horror fictional stories, but also articles to address the social injustices faced by his fellow incarcerated community.
So imagine my surprise when I received an email from the publisher of his most recent novel — which had hit Amazon a few days earlier — telling me they were cutting ties with him — because they hadn’t realized he was a prisoner!
The email read: “The official release from your contract for your novel Secret Harbor, is attached. The contract and publishing process was initiated under false pretenses. The fact that you are incarcerated should have been clear from the beginning.”
Is this really happening? The book had already been published! It’s no secret my partner is incarcerated if you just google his name. Yet, a few days after publication, he is released from a contract, just because he is incarcerated? Not because the book isn’t selling well, because today it’s racing up the Amazon charts! Not because he did anything? But because he’s incarcerated, and that fact wasn’t stated on the submission process? Isn’t the most important factor, the book dealing with social commentary that was written, which was receiving outstanding reviews?
I felt as if I had been punched in my gut. The cars passing by could no longer be heard and the noise of my children playing in the house was drowned out by my thumping chest. Could such a statement really be made by a person who is a publisher? A person who, by all accounts, is more knowledgeable in the English language and the demographics of the world than me?
So, with fortitude, I posed this question to the publisher: “Is it necessary for every member of an underrepresented community to state this fact, when it’s not asked?”
The response was mind-blowing. I summarize: “An incarcerated individual is not a member of an underrepresented community.” For about five seconds, I started to question myself. Have I misunderstood the whole point of equality for all, a subject touched upon by the Black Live Matters protests? Have I misinterpreted the bigger picture?
I understand that it will take time for perceptions to pass and to change. I comprehend that what I feel or even write won’t change what happened with this publisher, but I’m pleased change is on its way. The Black Lives Matter movement will, in time, I hope, lead to a greater fairness and justice for all communities.
After all, haven’t we all been taught that a book should not be judged by its cover? It’s not the cover that matters. It’s what’s in the book that really counts.