Rebel Hell!

rebel hell imageIn Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison, A Memoir, Jan Smitowicz offers ‘Dear Readers’ a deeply honest, intimate, detailed, first-person portrayal of his two-year prison bit. This is so overarchingly the case, there’s no other way I could have started this ‘review’. I usually don’t get so personal in my book reviews, but Jan’s unchained creativity with literary devices & comic cunning inspires me to explore & expand my writing boundaries. Ya see, much of his philosophies, dreams, and lifeways reminds me of my own ten years back. So as his ‘now voice’ went back to chat with his ‘then voice’, my ‘reader voice’ engaged in a one-way conversation with them both. I’ve never chatted & chortled & cheered with a book this much. Jan’s story, especially the ‘prison plot line’, has a one-of-a-kind specialness to it that stole my heart, and my life for a ‘bit’. I had to clarify which ‘line’ because there are numerous intertwined lines performing a nimble dance. An example, his ‘identity line’: he recaps and reasons a litany of standpoints, writers and past experiences, weaving them through happenings in his forced subculture context. {Here I debated: subculture, culture, subsubculture – finally opting to erase one ‘sub’ considering the enormous number of beings baselessly behind brutalizing bars.} His ‘identity line’ harmonically two-steps with his ‘philosophy line’, enlightening the reader on the analytic grounds justifying the essence of who he chooses to be.

I keep wondering, who is the audience here? It isn’t until after I read the final sentence that I realize – there is no intended audience. The making of this tome was his therapy, his medicine, the crux of his coping while he planned out the book as he lived it, and part of his post-release healing in writing it up. But instead of burying it in a secret spot to protect any vulnerabilities mainstreamers would ploy and pounce upon, Jan’s emotionally strong enough to share it with whomever in hopes that it might ripple into better humans and a better world. This memoir is a sword striking at structures of power affecting him and all. This leads me to ponder his vision, on which the foundation he might be building I rowdily bicker.

Anyone who reads Rebel Hell is no doubt going to bicker with Jan, each on our own preferred topics, which is a great exercise in critical thinking. See Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living. As for my preferred topics, well let me first fess up my lens. I identify as a vegan anarcho-primitivist. Here’s a sampling of how I wrangled with Jan: You’re an anarchist who wants to smash the system and “build” something anew on top of its ashes. Yeah, it’d break too far from your focus, but I long for more on what you want humans to ‘build’? Oh, how I howled to know. For example, do you merely prefer a green lifeway with reduced human population, vegan agriculture, rescuing and loving ‘companion animals’, etc.? Do you believe humans have a rightful dominating place in the world to say, shuffle species (animal, plant, etc.) wherever we prefer, or breed them into what we crave, essentially attaching our affection and/or control at the center of landscaping Earth? Are you anti-agriculture? Is your vision a softer human supremacy (that slows to a gentler creep toward human-caused ecosystem collapse, imo), or a world of wildlife (including humans. human wildlife.) in thriving natural communities and habitats (wild human habitat range limits included)? As early Jensen elucidates on the definition of civilization, the moment a human clan has a lifeway other than self-sustaining, they become an exploiter, a dominator who invades Earth. Are you anti-civ, and how do you define it? Have you explored the depth of your wilderness awareness? Do you have an instinct to rewilding yourself, to manifest your animal self? Forage from plants and mushrooms?

I’m also a restoration ecologist forest steward who sees, deals with and cries over encroachments and impacts of not only humans, but their extensions, dogs and cats, on wild life and wild places. When a dog runs through the forest, do you see the impact of its sound, scent, presence and energy on wild animals and their habitat? Akin to antinatalism, we’re at the point where you’re either pro-pet or pro-wildlife, no squirming out of it. Hard choice for domesticated companion lovers, and hard to sell in a pet-mania culture. On & on my one-way dialogue went with Jan’s written words. No matter your answers to my wild questions, thanks Jan for inspiring me to remember where I came from, to remind me of why I do what I do, and that life fluctuates, be humble, embrace change. I sense Earth calling writers and all to signal a return and giving back to Earth.

The coolest thing about Rebel Hell is the scope of strata via shifts in style. Jan takes you from raw antics in sordid or sexual or asinine prison subsubculture (indeed, subsub), to higher forms of philosophical contemplation. This brings us back to the question of audience. Firstly, this is required reading for anyone involved in the prison-industrial-complex in any way, on every side of the power spectrum, and not just reformists, but abolitionists, and specially prisoners [sic]. Vegans of all stripes, especially those who question or support animal rights activism. People with disabilities, particularly unseen disabilities, will take solace in struggles to cope with operose plights. Anarchists and pre-anarchists (you know who you are – flirting with an identity is fun, but action takes you all the way). Speaking of flirting, all those who are flirting with hazy boundaries of today’s marijuana laws, who too often choose not to look too closely at exactly what you’re risking, heed this lesson from what they did to Jan, at least so you make your choices clearly knowing your risks, to get out while the getting’s good, or to clamp down on vigilance in your protection strategies.

Jan, I’m profoundly moved that you shared your ordeal. How strong-minded and big-hearted to open your life this way. May your good intentions come to fruition, giving humans and all beings a better life. You’re such an avid reader, I’d like to offer you a customized list of entertaining book recommendations: Lee Hall’s On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, Yi-Fu Tuan’s Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets, Jim Mason’s An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of Our Domination of Nature and Each Other, John Livingston’s Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication, John Zerzan’s Future Primitive, and Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Now I’m adding Rebel Hell to my ‘highly recommend’ book list. Much gratitude for inviting us along on your bodily and cerebral escapade into the depths of hell… I mean civilization’s bureaucratic terrorism. It serves as inspiration to resist, rise & smash!

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