The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Corrections in Ink
Corrections in Ink
A Memoir
by Keri Blakinger

Hardcover (7 Jun 2022), 336 pages.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN-13: 9781250272850

An electric and unforgettable memoir about a young woman's journey - from the ice rink, to addiction and a prison sentence, to the newsroom - and how she emerged with a fierce determination to expose the broken system she experienced.

Keri Blakinger always lived life at full throttle. Growing up, that meant throwing herself into competitive figure skating with an all-consuming passion that led her to nationals. But when her skating career suddenly fell apart, that meant diving into self-destruction with the intensity she once saved for the ice.

For the next nine years, Keri ricocheted from one dark place to the next: living on the streets, selling drugs and sex, and shooting up between classes all while trying to hold herself together enough to finish her degree at Cornell. Then, on a cold day during her senior year, the police caught her walking down the street with a Tupperware full of heroin.

Her arrest made the front page of the local news and landed her behind bars for nearly two years. There, in the Twilight Zone of New York's jails and prisons, Keri grappled with the wreckage of her missteps and mistakes as she sobered up and searched for a better path. Along the way, she met women from all walks of life―who were all struggling through the same upside-down world of corrections. As the days ticked by, Keri came to understand how broken the justice system is and who that brokenness hurts the most.

After she walked out of her cell for the last time, Keri became a reporter dedicated to exposing our flawed prisons as only an insider could. Written with searing intensity, unflinching honesty, and shocks of humor, Corrections in Ink uncovers that dark, brutal system that affects us all. Not just a story about getting out and getting off drugs, this galvanizing memoir is about the power of second chances; about who our society throws away and who we allow to reach for redemption―and how they reach for it.

Chapter 1

Ithaca, 2010

I have problems: I am out of clean clothes, I cannot find my glasses, my English paper is late, and my pockets are not big enough for all the heroin I have.

But, honestly, more than anything, I want a cigarette.

I'm only ten minutes from where I'm going, and it's cold outside. The sun is deceptive; it looks like a nice upstate New York morning, but really it's December and the wind is whipping up from Ithaca's gorges. I stop walking and push my fingers deep into my pockets in search of a Parliament.

In a minute, there will be police, with questions and handcuffs. By tomorrow, my scabby-faced mugshot will be all over the news as the Cornell student arrested with $150,000 of smack. I will sober up to a sea of regrets. My dirty clothes and late English paper—one of the last assignments I need to graduate—will be the least of my problems.

But that's all in the future. Right now, I just want that cigarette. Where the fuck did I put them?

When I woke up this morning in the stash house on Stewart Avenue, the first thing I did was look at my day planner—I am over-organized as ever, even on the brink of disaster. Then, I answered the phone after my boyfriend called repeatedly. We got in a fight. I emailed one of my professors to beg for another extension and promised myself today would be the day I would finally finish everything I need to graduate.

Then I mixed up a spoon of heroin and coke and spent the next two hours poking my arms and legs, fishing around under the skin with a 28-gauge needle in search of relief. My veins are all shot out and scarred and hard to find, so my stabs at oblivion usually involve a few hours of crying as I bleed all over the floor, leaving behind the speckled blood spatter of a crime scene.

This time, I got extra-high, and that last shot was really just out of spite; my boyfriend had the nerve to accuse me of stealing from our heroin, and frankly, I'm pissed. I'm pissed at him, I'm pissed at myself, I'm pissed at every moment that's led me here, and I'm pissed that he's calling on repeat, screaming and threatening me while I'm just trying to get high, to get smashed, to get far away from the darkness I'm running from—or toward. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

The phone goes off again, buzzing with the pop-punk notes of a New Found Glory ringtone bought with drug money.

You were everything I wanted, but I just can't finish what I started.

It's him, of course: Alex. He's been smoking crack all morning, holed up with my skittish dog in our basement apartment beneath an unofficial adjunct sorority house up the hill in Collegetown. I can imagine him there, his tattooed arms prying the blinds open as he checks for the black bears and SWAT teams of his drugged-out hallucinations. He is fourteen years my senior, but I know how his face looks childish with terror when his dark eyes gape at what is not there and he begins muttering in his parents' native tongue. They are Greek, and he is whispering a tragic chorus.

Right now, it seems, he's more focused on his phone than on his fear, as he's been calling me again and again to demand that I come back immediately with our Tupperware of drugs. He wants me to bring the whole six-ounce stash so that he can check the weight and make sure I didn't steal any before we sell it.

Before leaving, I take out three or four grams and tuck it under the insole of my black suede sneakers. I like to be prepared. You never know when you might need more heroin. I leave behind the tiny digital scale, an array of baggies and needles, some assorted pills, and my backpack of schoolwork. But then the drugs kick in, and I accidentally nod out for an hour or so in the bathroom before I finally head out into the cold in a black, dragon-print hoodie that leaves me significantly underdressed for twenty-five-degree weather.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Corrections in Ink by Keri Blakinger. Copyright © 2022 by Keri Blakinger. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

From the suburbs to athletic competition to New York prison: After her figure skating dream fell apart, Cornell student Keri Blakinger was arrested for felony heroin possession.

Print Article Publisher's View   

Keri Blakinger wanted to be proud of herself. In the ninth grade, after years of persistence and practice, she mastered the triple salchow and the triple toe loop. But she catastrophized, not believing she deserved figure skating success. Sure, she had executed the jumps, but she didn't feel them instinctively and knew the skill was fleeting, not wired in her muscle memory. She focused on training harder.

Two years later, she competed at the United States Figure Skating Championships, known as "Nationals." Keri was encouraged by a fifth place showing, but her partner, Mark Ladwig, was dissatisfied and abruptly quit their pairing. "His ambition," she writes in Corrections in Ink, "had become my Olympic-sized tragedy." (Ladwig went on to participate in the 2010 Winter Olympics with Amanda Evora and finished tenth. The pair would win two US National silver medals.)

Her consolation prize, from her parents, was Harvard Summer School. But away from home, she fell into a sickly depression as she relived Ladwig's rejection over and over. Snorting lines of Adderall, smoking pot and sucking down ecstasy until it numbed her failure became her norm. Keri erased who she had been, trashed every goal she once had. "Instead of getting myself together," she writes, "I fell further apart, propelled by more self-hatred than I knew I had."

While Corrections in Ink is an immersive account of an athlete dealing with self-loathing, it also clarifies addiction for the untutored: It's not about what you do to yourself but rather how you feel about yourself. When Keri was competing, she was also vomiting and starving herself. But once her figure skating dream crashed, she was still self-harming. Throughout her sadness, her parents acted appropriately, sending her to therapists and nutritionists, but their intervention, the way Blakinger remembers it, fell short. She recounts her mother hearing her vomiting a stir fry dinner she had recently eaten and saying, "I heard you." Her shame blocked out what her mother said next.

Keri's story took a disturbing turn when, while a student at Cornell University, she was arrested for possessing $150,000 worth of heroin and ended up in Tompkins County Jail. She had been that once upon a time figure skater from the suburbs. Now she was notorious, a heroin addict and dealer, spied on by prison guards whenever she removed her tampon.

Blakinger's memoir, which reflects on both her own prison experience and the prison system in general, notes that black people are overrepresented in the overall inmate population, but weren't in Tompkins, a very white space. While Keri tried her best to adjust, Tompkins was still jail, a friable place with inconsistent medical care, spotty legal advice and capricious punishments. And women from a variety of circumstances were thrown together in a peculiar mix.

There was Tawny, a heroin addict who looked like Katy Perry and was frequently in the system. Susan, a lesbian in her 60s, had done tours in the Merchant Marines and had a lot of DUIs. Brandy was a rule breaker, a resentful, loud-talking, obscenity-throwing hell raiser. Theresa was Blakinger's first "cellie" but was transferred rather quickly and followed by Deb, a nervy alcoholic who lacked remorse. Jenny, a crosswording partner of Keri's, had a keen wit and knew "how to jail."

Also appearing in Blakinger's memoir are the men she met at various times in her life, some of whom enabled her drug use leading up to her time in prison, her behavioral co-conspirators. Geeky Teflon taught Keri the ropes of being a dealer, leading her to discover it was better than turning tricks. She was in love with Hootie for three years: He introduced her to Saturday Night Live and the rapper Ice Cube; she introduced him to heroin. After Hootie broke up with her, his mother suggested Keri apply to college again. She did: Cornell. Todd was an angry, crack-loving boyfriend she couldn't stop fighting with. They sold heroin together. Alex was a fragile drug addict she married while in prison who was 14 years older than her.

None of the men she loved could save her once she was behind bars. Anxiety was her companion. Ever watchful of her release date, and terrified of being thrown into solitary, Keri artfully limped through her days, trying not to be noticed. In one jail, she was someone's girlfriend. In another, someone's confidant. She learned how to create makeup out of colored pencils and to hoard toilet paper. She dreaded her hair with glue and then had it cut off against her will.

Early in the book, Blakinger recounts trying to kill herself, while depressed, by jumping off a bridge, a 98-foot drop. It was a reckoning of sorts, an attempt to dissolve her body because her soul was dead. By sheer luck, she recovered with her life intact, a metaphor for the prison experience yet to come: Deadly but survivable.

We're conditioned to believe that athletes can overcome their failures through willfulness, but Blakinger reminds us that some have a spotty relationship with themselves. She spent years self-loathing partly because she never internalized the idea of losing with grace. Losing, for her, was an indictment of her shortcomings, and while that is part of the narrative focus in Corrections in Ink, it isn't the whole story of Keri Blakinger, and it isn't the whole story of women serving prison sentences. A breaking of one's self can occur at any age, and Blakinger shows that what matters is having the fortitude and self-reliance to put yourself back together again after a life of blight and emotional pain. If some flowers bloom in darkness, women in prison can, too.

Reviewed by Valerie Morales

BookPage (starred review)
An exceptional debut...a singular reading experience. Raw and important.

New York Times
Keri Blakinger's brave, brutal memoir, Corrections in Ink, is a riveting story about suffering, recovery and redemption...Blakinger's fine book offers promise to sufferers of addiction, eating disorders, depression or other manifestations of psychic pain, and to those serving time...inspiring and relevant.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Blakinger's voice is frank but compassionate, as she lovingly but truthfully owns up to her mistakes. Her deeply researched analysis of the dehumanizing nature of incarceration is trenchant and infused with the passion of her personal experiences. The story moves quickly, populated with characters who are deeply flawed yet often sympathetic. A gorgeously written, page-turning memoir about addiction, prison, and privilege.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A resonant call for criminal justice reform rings out from investigative journalist Blakinger's extraordinary debut...Her self-awareness is bracing and her indictment of the prison industrial system raises searing questions around its punitive culture. This is absolutely sensational.

Transferring powerful internal dialogue onto the page, Blakinger offers vulnerable, honest recollections, and a story that won't be forgotten and could even inspire much-needed change.

Author Blurb Elon Green, author of Last Call
Blakinger's harrowing tale of her stretch in the American carceral system is one of the more foreboding in recent memory. Thankfully, it's also punctuated by wonderfully bone-dry humor, which makes the book not only bearable, but brilliant. When it's over, you'll want to raze every correctional facility in the land.

Author Blurb Piper Kerman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orange Is the New Black
Corrections in Ink is a groundbreaking debut from an extraordinary writer; in her memoir, Blakinger offers a searing work of self-examination, an inquiry of power, and a funny, provocative, and inspiring personal story of addiction, prison, and investigative journalism. Her book stands as a feminist response to David Carr's The Night of the Gun, a testament to where a woman can go after rock-bottom, the power to transform oneself, and the imperative to discover and tell the truth.

Author Blurb Sarah Hepola, New York Times bestselling author of Blackout
[Corrections in Ink] is a hair-raising tale of a girl torn between perfectionism and self-destruction, and a woman who uses her profound gifts to help set others free. How that girl became that woman demonstrates the beauty of storytelling―and sobriety.

Print Article Publisher's View  

Eating Disorders in Figure Skating

Silhouette of figure skater on ice A tiny, limber child, Keri Blakinger at the age of nine yearned to be smaller than her six-year-old dance classmate. To spite her health-conscious mother, Keri began sneaking brownies and cookies and the occasional Big Mac. Then, she would bike four blocks away and vomit in the bushes. "I've puked here so many times," she writes in Corrections in Ink, "that the whole building emanates a vomity aroma on rainy days. Other people can smell it while they walk by."

Blakinger was well practiced in starving herself. It was something she would do now and again, a game of will. If she was successful in denying herself, she felt joy. If she couldn't resist a temptation, she became anxious.

"The less I ate, the more I thought about it. Sometimes I would chew up food and spit it out in the bathroom. Other times I would eat an entirely normal or very small amount of something—twenty jellybeans, or half a Reese's—and throw it up anyway."

Athletes like Keri, a competitive figure skater, begin training when they are very young. Keri started at seven years old (some skaters start as young as four). She was malleable and competitive, and the message she received was that smaller was faster, quicker, stronger. As sports psychologist Riley Nickols, director of the athlete treatment program at a St. Louis eating disorder clinic, explains, "People who struggle with eating disorders have a heightened attunement to their body, bodily sensations, and comparisons to others — all things already part of the athlete's psyche."

Figure skating has a particular problem with eating disorders because of the perception that thinner skaters are better skaters. "We see girls who are really young and thin and who do really well in our sport. Maybe that's why they're so skinny — because they're still children," says Josefin Taljegård, a Swedish skater who competed in the Beijing Winter Olympics, differentiating between what a child's body looks like and what an adult body has developed into.

Skater Gracie Gold has spoken about her journey through anorexia, including the pressure she felt from the skating community to lose weight and her choice to pull out of competitions to allow herself time for recovery, offering important insight to young skaters who wrestle with the demands of coaches and fans who want skaters thinner so they will rotate better. Ice dancer Kaitlin Hawayek, who has also had an eating disorder, says of young skaters, "their body is great exactly the way it is." Referring to critical comments people have made about her own body, 16-year-old skater Alysa Liu remarks, "Why are they looking at a minor's body that way? It's just a little weird and kind of wrong, obviously."

Figure skating is a sport in which skaters are judged by how they execute a variety of skills and how they look when they execute those skills. I remember when French skater Surya Bonaly, who is of African origins, competed in the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics. She was criticized for the size of her thighs and her body, which wasn't slim and tiny like most of her white and Asian competitors. She was shamed.

Elizabeth Daniels, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado who studies body image in sports, comments, "When…you are judged in this artistic way, the question becomes 'Does my body conform?' That, I think, increases the potential for eating disorders."

If smaller automatically translated into better, then 93-pound Keri Blakinger wouldn't have finished in fifth place at Nationals, but first or second. The truth of her finish was that her self-destructive attempts to adhere to body image expectations hurt her personally more than they helped her competitively. As Blakinger shows in her memoir, while size is a real factor in how skaters are judged in the sport, harming yourself to achieve a certain size isn't worth the deterioration of your physical and mental health. Excellence shouldn't be a derivative of how much you weigh or how delicately your bones show through your clothes.

Silhouette of figure skater, by Manfred Richter

Filed under Society and Politics

By Valerie Morales

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