Excerpt from My Friend Leonard by James Frey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Friend Leonard

by James Frey

My Friend Leonard by James Frey
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 416 pages

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From three o'clock to six o'clock, I read to Porterhouse. I sit on my bed and he sits on the floor. He leans against the wall and he closes his eyes so he can, as he says, do some imagining. I read slowly and clearly, taking an occasional break to drink a glass of water or smoke a cigarette. In the past twelve weeks we have worked our way through Don Quixote, Leaves of Grass, and East of Eden. We are currently reading War and Peace, which is Porterhouse's favorite. He smiled at the engagement of Andrei and Natasha. He cried when Anatole betrayed her. He cheered at the battle of Borodino, and though he admired the Russian tactics, he cursed while Moscow burned. When we're not reading, he carries War and Peace around with him. He sleeps with it at night, cradles it as if it were his child. He says that if he could, he would read it again and again.

I started reading to Porterhouse the day after he hit me with the tray, my second day here. I was walking to my cell and I had a copy of Don Quixote in my hand. As I passed his cell, Porterhouse said come here, I wanna talk to you. I stopped and asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted to know why I was here and why a County Sheriff would give him three cartons of cigarettes to beat my ass. I told him that I had hit a County Sheriff with a car going five miles an hour while I was drunk and high on crack and that I had fought several others when they tried to arrest me. He asked if I had hit the man on purpose. I told him I didn't remember doing it. He laughed. I asked him why he was here and he told me. I did not offer further comment. He asked what the book was and I told him and he asked why I had it and I told him that I liked books. I offered to let him have it when I was done with it and he laughed and said I can't read motherfucker. Fucking book ain't gonna do me no good. I offered to read to him. He said he'd think about it. A couple of hours later he showed up and sat on my floor. I started reading. He has been here every day since.

At six o'clock, I walk with Porterhouse to dinner, the only meal of the day that I eat. It is usually foul, disgusting, almost inedible. The meat is mush, the bread stale, potatoes like water, vegetables hard as rock. I eat it anyway. Porterhouse eats seconds and thirds and fourths, which he takes from the trays other prisoners. He offers to get food for me, but I decline. When I am finished eating, I sit and I listen to Porterhouse talk about his upcoming trial. Like every other man in here, regardless of what they might say, Porterhouse is guilty of the crimes that he has been accused of committing. He is going to trial because until he is convicted, he will stay here, at county jail, instead of doing his time in state prison. Jail is a much easier place to live than prison. There is less violence, there are more privileges, most of the prisoners know they are getting out within the next year and want to be left alone. Once they're gone, they don't want to come back. In prison, there are gangs, rapes, drugs, murder. Most of the prisoners are in for long stretches and will most likely never be free. If they are ever free, they will be more dangerous than they were before they were imprisoned. They could give two fucks about rehabilitation, they need to survive. To survive they need to replace their humanity with savagery. Porterhouse knows this, but wants to remain human for as long as he can. A guilty verdict is coming his way, but until it does, he will stay here. He will remain a human being.

From My Friend Leonard by James Frey. Copyright James Frey 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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