Jimmy Santiago Baca has been called an heir to Pablo Neruda and one of the best poets in America today. At the age of 21, however, he was illiterate and facing five to 10 years in a maximum-security penitentiary for selling drugs. Five years later, he emerged from prison with the ability to read and a passion for writing poetry. A Place to Stand is his memoir of childhood on the small farms of New Mexico, his adolescence spent in orphanages and detention centers, his years as a drug dealer in San Diego and Arizona, and his extraordinary personal transformation under the harrowing conditions behind bars.
Life in prison was often brutal, and Baca describes the extreme measures he had to take to survive, from beating another inmate with a lead pipe to slicing an attacker’s stomach with a butcher’s knife. Although these were acts of self-defense, they landed him repeatedly in solitary confinement. His time in isolation was intended to break his spirit, but it proved to be the catalyst for an extraordinary series of memories and revelations that endowed him with an indomitable will to resist the dehumanization of prison life. Poetry became an essential element of this newfound sense of self, and the act of writing offered a powerful means of transcending his surroundings.
A Place to Stand is a vivid portrait of life inside a maximum-security prison and an affirmation of one man’s spirit in overcoming the most brutal adversity.