With the Silent Knowledge
by Ray Elliott
Michael Callahan was serving his third stint in prison, but he wasn’t a bad man, really. In fact, he was smart and talented and came from a rather privileged upbringing. But he also happened to be an alcoholic with sociopathic tendencies—meaning he didn’t particularly care whether he did something wrong if it served his purpose—like getting more money to extend his drinking binges. So he forged checks among unsuspecting and unthinking victims, and this time, he wound up with a one-to-five-year sentence in a maximum-security prison in southern Illinois.
Prisons—whether in the 1970s, when this story takes place, or present day—are built as society’s way of removing the unlawful and the downright dangerous from the law-abiding and relatively peaceful citizenry. Some may also say they are places where a percentage of those incarcerated have the potential to actually endure prison life and become rehabilitated, ready for re-entry into society one day, good as new.
Michael Callahan’s story will argue that many of those who perpetrate non-violent criminal behavior aren’t being given any favors by being thrown into an over-crowded, under-staffed prison environment of power and deal-making just to get along. Instead of administering the kind of psychological and medical help that many of these people really need to have even as much as a glimmer of a chance to break their illegal behavior patterns and one day rejoin society as a functioning participant, they are simply dropped into an environment to fend for themselves and harden themselves even further against the outside world.
But that doesn’t mean Michael Callahan won’t try to outsmart and outlast the conditions that only beat him down before he can try to make parole. And perhaps with the help of Blaine, a well-meaning counselor who recognizes Callahan’s real potential beneath the veneer of his intellectual gamesmanship, maybe there is that small glimmer of a chance that he can finally get the help he needs.
"The total institution of prison is a world unlike any other, complete with customs that must be understood and navigated carefully. With the Silent Knowledge brings us into the reality of Michael Callahan, an exceptionally bright and likable con who lives by a code and who personifies the varied and complex archetypes that make-up our broken criminal justice system. This thought provoking novel brings its readers into the guts of prison life and raises many questions about justice and the necessity of keeping one’s soul intact while adrift in a culture of chaos.”
- Dr. Nicholas J. Osborne, director of the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Author: Ray Elliott
Ray Elliott is an editor, a publisher and an author of numerous works of nonfiction. As a longtime English and journalism educator, he has encouraged and inspired young people to pursue their dreams. In 1999, he left the classroom to pursue his own dreams and began work on the book that had been running through his mind since the days following World War II. Since that time, he's also been a farmer, a Marine, an oil field roughneck, a construction laborer and a truck driver. He now lives in Urbana, Illinois, with his wife and two daughters. This is his second novel.
Read an Excerpt
Were you to pick any one hundred people off the street at random, Callahan thought, set them down in a room, tell them everything you know, which is only a very small percentage of what there is to know, about what goes on in prison, let them ask any questions that they wish to ask and answer them truthfully to the best of your knowledge and ability, there wouldn’t be a person to leave the room who would believe one-twentieth of what you had said. And you’d be angry that they didn’t believe you, as you’re always angry when they don’t believe you in this regard, because you know that the non-belief isn’t born of ignorance, but of malice.
They wouldn’t believe you because they wouldn’t want to believe: To believe you would be a self-indictment; to believe you would impose a responsibility on them that they neither wish nor know how to handle; to believe you would disrupt years of smug complacency; to believe you would make them realize that they’re not so ***damn secure as they thought, that conceivably, it could reach out and touch them, too, someday; to believe you would be to rub their own noses in their own sh**. “And baby,” they’d say, “you belong locked up; you make us nervous with all that bullsh** talk.” And this is where the malice lies, and this is where the honest man discerns that this type of non-belief can be nothing but malicious, anyway you choose to cut it.