Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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18 Responses to “From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story”

  1. Jess Athorn Says:

    I love stories like this, I find it such an interesting read!

    Jess
    acornlifefitness.com

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Interesting review. How did you find this book–I suspect looking for Minnesota authors? I just finished Murder Book and really liked it. Thanks for hooking me up with a free copy! Much appreciated.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    I know nothing of Zeke Caligiuri but the way the media has taken to him sounds like a distant echo of Jack Abbot.

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    We are all different people than we were ten years ago, ten days ago, ten hours ago and even ten minutes ago. Some people create something better and choose change. I think this is the story of a remarkable being.

  5. I heard about this author and others who have/are incarcerated when I attended a reading at Hamline University put on by the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop http://www.mnprisonwriting.org/ If you are ever interested in hearing other stories from people who have been in prison, this annual event is well worth attending. The stories I heard reminded me that no one is immune to circumstances that influence life-changing decisions that result in a loss of freedom, among other things.

  6. Cheryl Nagel Says:

    I liked your comments on this book – I agree with you… It is certainly thought-provoking, and I would like to read the book!

  7. We all set a course to journey on, right. I find human life and living interesting and I am guilty of being an observant people watcher. I also enjoy a good true crime/mystery (solved/unsolved). I hope one day that there will be a resolution in an unsolved murder in my own family. Thanks for sharing – Happy Day – Enjoy.

    • Being an observant people watcher is a good thing, in my opinion.

      I am so sorry about the murder of a member of your family. Did this happen in Minnesota? With new forensic evidence, many unsolved crimes are being solved. Has you family put pressure on authorities to reopen the case? I do hope it’s solved and the perpetrator is brought to justice. Your family member and all of you deserve that. Again, I am so sorry.

    • Not really have pursued that avenue. There is that leaving the past in the past to not open that wound again. Then the need to have a resolution, but nothing is going to change the fact that person is gone. I think it will happen organically over time when it becomes the right time.

  8. I like to hear that he’s holding himself accountable for his actions and made improvements to his life.

    You might enjoy reading a book I just finished. “A Walk To Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne” it is his true story of surviving child abuse, the foster care system, and how he overcame it and is raising awareness


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