Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Glenn Langohr's Front Page Story in the Orange County Register About Prison Life and His Books

Former inmate looks to write new life

Glenn Langohr’s novels about prison life are part fiction, part autobiography – and he’s pinned his hopes for the future on them.

SAN CLEMENTE – Biceps bulging under a black T-shirt, the man who says he was once one of South County's biggest speed dealers assumes the position.
Head down, hands on floor, Glenn Langohr raises his legs into the air as if he were doing a handstand with his feet against the wall.
Then he begins his routine.
Pump ... pump ... pump ...
Each handstand push-up is as fluid and forceful as the last.
Langohr learned to do this in prison. In a 10-foot prison cell, there was barely enough room to do even these space-efficient push-ups effectively. But here, on the back porch of his brother's ocean-view pad in San Clemente, he has all the room in the world.
Pump ... pump ... pump ...
Langohr, 42, has spent 10½ years – roughly a quarter of his life – in prison, the result of drug-related convictions. About four of his prison years, he says, were spent in solitary confinement.
All that alone time may explain Langohr's unbridled desire to talk and talk – and talk some more – about his past, and to tout what he hopes will be his new calling as a writer of slightly fictionalized accounts of his experiences in prison.
He has written eight books. He has been invited to speak before criminal justice classes at colleges.
He has the makings of a life.
Pump ... pump ... pu-
Now, the questions for Langohr are these: Will he screw it up? Can a man whose life has been as upside-down as it is during this workout keep himself upright long enough to stay out of prison?
You expect a battle-scarred ex-con to be covered in tattoos, but Langohr has none.
And you expect his self-published books to be chores to read, but they aren't.
The writing and editing is sloppy; the first sentence in one Langohr book includes two typos. But Langohr also has an eye for compelling detail.
In the most recent of his Prison Killers series, Langohr writes about being one of two white inmates who get mixed up in a riot between rival Mexican gangs at the California State Prison in Solano.
I walked to the trash can against the wall and pulled back the plastic trash bag and dug my hand down the edge of it. I felt what I was looking for: a sock with a can of beans in it ...
A few paragraphs later, he adds:
I whipped my can of beans at the tsunami of rushing inmates ... punches from all sides were landing and I heard them cracking the side of my head and face.
Is it true?
Langohr says his writing paints "true colors of life on a fictional landscape."
He sticks to what he knows and delivers, at times, raw stuff – and he isn't shy about word count. His first book, "Roll Call" (2010), is 732 pages.
Of the aftermath of the riot, Langohr writes of a wounded inmate:
I counted six stab wounds and again wondered who had the weapon. The stab wounds started at the lower stomach and climbed up the chest. They were clean lines about an inch and a half long. Whatever weapon was used was a good one.
The inmate later died.
In America, a country with about 2.3 million adults behind bars, Langohr's story is so old and so routine that it's cliché: Boy gets into drugs, gets in trouble with the law, goes to prison, finds God, gets sober.
Only the wished-for final step – turns his life around – remains in doubt.
Sitting on his brother's balcony, storm clouds massing, Langohr dishes openly about his troubled life, although he requests some details be kept private to protect family members.
Langohr, who rents a room in a home in San Clemente and is separated from his wife, grew up in the Lake Forest area.
A child of divorce, he was young when he started to rebel.
At 12, he ran away. By 15, he was selling pot supplied to him by a Mexican smuggler. By 18 he was serving his first stint in jail. When he got out he resumed dealing drugs, this time speed, and became, by his telling, one of the busiest amphetamine dealers in South Orange County.
He also became an addict.
Langohr started his first stint in state prison in 1991. He served 16 months in Chino. When he got out he went back to dealing. He needed the money, he says, and he was either uninterested in or unable to generate legal income.
It wasn't until after getting out of prison for a third time, in 1999, that Langohr took his first shot at cleaning up his life – quitting drugs and finding legitimate work. He'd just spent a stint in prison that included a long stretch in solitary, where he read a lot and began to write, and he felt he was ready for a change.
He succeeded, for a bit, but a bad romantic split and the dissolution of a limousine business he'd started torpedoed his spirit. Soon, the self-described "genius moron" was back to using and dealing drugs, a combination that soon landed him in prison for a fourth time.
Now, once again a free man, Langohr is pinning his future on a career of letters.
He makes some money from sales on Kindle and audio books he narrates, and also from a part-time restaurant job.
More than spinning slightly shaded accounts of his decade-plus in prison, Langohr hopes to inspire other inmates to write as a form of self-therapy – for redemption, self-respect.
He also wants to send a message to politicians and the judicial system: California's strained prison system is a mess.
"By locking up low-level drug offenders, we're breeding bigger criminals," says Langohr, who advocates drug court and other diversionary programs for most addicts. He knows how prisons can fall abysmally short of rehabilitating offenders and, in many cases, perform the opposite:
Create monsters.
He says writing and reading helped keep him sane when he was behind bars.
He says never joined a prison gang – one explanation for his lack of tattoos. Langohr survived, he says, by ending up on the winning side of many fights – and by using his wits.
"My reputation preceded me," says Langohr, who as a drug dealer rubbed shoulders with Mexican mobsters. "Perception is reality in prison. And your brain plays a big part in surviving."
So does writing, he adds. And knocking out push-ups.
Especially when life is upside-down.

No comments:

Post a Comment