Leland Heathco, Joseph Bell (who could not be reached for an interview), and Brian Maddock co-authored a piece titled “Legacy in Red” which appeared in the 2014 edition of the Rain Shadow Review, an annual publication that consists of work by current or formerly incarcerated writers (you can read the story at the bottom of this post). I was struck by the powerfully executed reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood,” in which the reader sees the concepts of power and gender reversed from the original. The red cape no longer represents a weak and startlingly naïve young girl, but instead a line of powerful women whose roles are complex and nuanced. In the same way that their characters consist of layers not previously attributed to them, interviewing these men helped me see past my preconceived notions and afforded me a richer, deeper view of a world that I had previously looked at with a certain shallowness. I encourage you to please look at the information provided after the interview about various prison writing programs and ways to become involved.
Brian Maddock is a 49 year-old kid-at-heart who graduated from AZ State University with a Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems. He has worked in large IT departments developing and fixing software to help businesses operate. He enjoys hiking in the woods, swimming, reading fantastical stories, and public speaking. He has published poetry, essays, and children’s stories while incarcerated and would like to explore the medium of flash fiction. Brian gets a kick out of teaching beginning Spanish, computer basics, and essay writing, but enjoys learning equally well. He is an Arizona native and would love to eventually reside near the Pacific coast.
Leland Heathco was born on May 5th, 1957. He was raised in southern Alabama on the east coast of Mobile Bay, in a small farming community called Barnwell. Because of his father’s work as a pipe-fitter, the family traveled, which provided a cultural awakening for him as a young boy and gave him an early opportunity to learn about cultural diversity. Leland learned about working hard side-by-side with migrant workers on the farms. After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, his first job was working on a copper smelter down in the Playas Valley, not far from Animas, New Mexico. In May of 1975, he joined the Army for four years. He has been married twice and has four sons. Leland suffers from chronic free-spiritedness, and been to 27 states, including Hawaii. He also traveled to the Philippines, Germany, and the Isle of Crete, and firmly believes that travel is good for storytelling.
I understand that the piece was put together collaboratively between the three authors with no agreed upon theme or prevalent story line. Why do you think the story ended up as a reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood”?
BM: This story began as nothing more than a blank notepad passed among three aspiring writers, each producing one line and passing it to the next as an exercise. The first line spoke of a hunter’s moon in a forest; the next author chose to add an owl on a branch. Ultimately, the word “wolf” led to a line of thought centered on the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale. From there, the “red cape” developed into a symbol for a strong line of heroines, and soon the coalesced fantasy/fairy tale emerged from the amorphous lines we all contributed.
LH: The collaboration started the same way that most of my writing does. A word or a line comes to me that seems to stand out, begging for my attention, so I write it down. I’ve often thought that what I write already exists, and I’ve been fortunate that the words were given to me to write. I respect Brian and Joe as writers, and I don’t think this piece would have turned out the way it did without them. I was curious as to what might emerge if writers with different styles were to write together using a single sentence and no outline or story idea. The collaboration is the reason for the “Riding Hood” theme, which really materialized when the wolves were introduced. But, I did not want to write about Ms. Hood in the same way that she’s been depicted before. She brought herself into the story, but with a little help from me and my “Brothers of the Pen.” She is not a child, but a young woman coming of age, and coming to terms with a responsibility she does not want, however, there is honor and strength in her bloodline that will not allow her to back down from what’s before her. She is a thinker and a bad ass.
How did this story, focusing on strong, non-sexualized heroines, evolve in the confines of the hyper-masculine culture in prison?
BM: Certain inmates certainly fit a classic stereotype; tattooed, self-centered thieves and drug users. Many more do not. Some of us are creative, decent, humble people who led “normal”, law-abiding lives and sorely rue the day they made a bad decision and landed here. As such, the three of us respect women and feel that gender-equality should be a given in today’s world. We find it refreshing and appealing to see women in powerful roles.
LH: Writing is a means of escape. If you’re surrounded by something all the time, you want to go as far away from that as possible. It’s too easy to write about macho culture because it’s so familiar. In writing about women, there’s the challenge of writing outside of a familiar mindset, and an escape to something opposite of what you are surrounded by daily. For me, it is a way to distance myself from my surroundings, which are super-masculine (or at least they try to create the illusion of masculinity). I’ve lived 60 years and I’ve known some strong women. I’ve been blessed to be loved by two. My appreciation of the beauty in life was taught to me by these women.
The generational line of women in the story showcase women’s strength. They don’t run from the forest, they don’t view the wolves as bad or are scared of them, in fact they look out for them. Women are more than I have knowledge to speak about. What I do know, I try to write into my stories. “Red” is not a woman to follow a man, nor be a mild-mannered companion. She would be an equal partner and a friend.
Do you think the environment you faced in prison had any particular influence on the piece, as far as characters, themes, etc.?
BM: I believe our lack of physical freedom led to an open forest for the physical setting of the piece, rather than a cramped apartment or crowded city! Perhaps the “old crone” came to life by witnessing how older inmates experiencing long incarcerations tend to be respected and influence behavior of other men.
LH: I never really thought it, but I suppose that is a possibility. The similarities between this place and the woods are certainly something to think about. Prison can be a dark place, so that had an influence in the setting of the woods, with this darkness being a backdrop. There are parallels between the men and wolves as well. There is the illusion of aggression, with men posturing and seeming to act aggressive as a defense mechanism. The wolves act the same way – they appear to be aggressive creatures, but aren’t in actuality.
Did you pursue creative writing endeavors before attending the workshops ran by Shelton and Toso?
BM: I’d always enjoyed reading Isaac Asimov, Terry Goodkind, David Eddings, and other fantasy/sci-fi authors, but I never pursued creative writing until I signed up for the workshop on a whim at the Tucson complex of the Arizona State Prison system. I wrote software in information technology departments for huge corporations most of my life, and my writing was always technical until I began writing in prison.
LH: I started writing late in life, and I actually spent the first six months watching and listening to others in the workshops before I wrote anything, but I’ve been writing now for about 8 years. However, I have been an avid reader most of my life. My first adult book was A Girl Named Tamiko. I found it in a box of my father’s books when I was 7 or 8. My father was a writer, but I don’t believe he was ever published. My love of reading and writing came from my father. I told him that I would keep writing, so that someday, perhaps, our last name would be seen in a good way. I wrote a poem and a short story for him just before he passed.
What does the opportunity to write creatively mean to you, personally?
BM: Creative writing acts as a mentor that prompts me to stop immersing myself in the daily grind of infinite tedium. It moves me to look at the cascade of stars above, consider a world of artificially enhanced human lifespans, or the power of a selfless, precocious child influencing a town of curmudgeons. Writing reminds me to explore, grow, and enjoy!
LH: You can be yourself while writing. It’s a way to take away the mask of anger and to let other emotions comes through. It’s an escape from the anger and from your environment. Writing is also therapy, because if you get something down on paper it doesn’t own you anymore.
People only see one side of a prisoner. Even though we are in this place, we are more than a crime or a number. We are artists, painters, wood-crafters, musicians, singers, and yes, some of us even write a little. I write, not just for me, but for everyone behind a wall, living in a box on the street, or sitting in a lonely room with no one to hear their pain; for the people society chooses to forget.
Free copies of Rain Shadow Review featuring Leland, Brian, Joseph, and many other talented writers can be obtained at the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center.
For more information about the U of A’s prison education initiative, please visit https://english.arizona.edu/prison-education-project
To support an amazing nation-wide prison writing program, please visit https://pen.org/about/programs/prison-writing/
Interview conducted by Tiny Donkey editorial intern Cat Solewin.
Legacy in Red
A hunter’s moon rises slowly in a cold, black sky over a forest of thick oak trees whose limbs are bent and twisted from the ravages of time and gravity. Things are as they have been since the day women stopped hunting, a long time ago.
But on this night, a single shadow moves through the darkness beneath the trees, not knowing why she is in this place, knowing only that she is heeding an urge that would not be denied. She moves on an errand only vaguely understood, but driven by the need to remember.
An owl hoots in oddly deep tones, as though searching for a reason to do otherwise. Beneath its perch, two wolves pass silently, hunger pains driving them on in their search for the legend, the one known as Red Riding Hood.
The girl does not notice these things as she steps from the trees into a small clearing. Her eyes are focused on the dark cabin before her. She hesitates, wanting to turn and run, but knowing that she has no choice. She pulls her gray cloak tighter around her, steps on the porch and reaches for the doorknob.
Inside, the small, wrinkled hand of an old crone places a lit candle stub in a saucer. The saucer rests on a worn table marked with runes and words from the time of magic and wildness. An old red cape hangs on a peg by the door. “Huh, one hell of a birthday,” the old woman mutters, amazed that the earth has circled the sun ninety-seven times since she first wore the cape.
Nature isn’t kind to the flesh, but like last year’s leaf, clinging tightly to the stem, she refuses to wither, looking for a remedy to defy mortality, while painstakingly ensuring her life’s legacy on parchment for future generations.
The girl is met by the crone at the door. The old woman motions her in. The girl closes the door and hangs her drab cloak on a peg protruding from the wall.
Strange, she thinks. The cabin’s warm, but stranger still is that she can see perfectly, although there is no visible light in the room where she stands. There’s no furniture, and the walls are bare. The cabin is empty except for a chest on the floor in the middle of the room.
The old woman points to the chest. She motions to the young girl to open the chest and she complies. She kneels and wipes the dust from the lid, revealing strange markings. She traces them with a finger and speaks the words of a language she did not know, until now.
She places both hands on the lid, the symbols beginning to glow as she opens the chest. A voice speaks softly, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. “This is your legacy and your destiny”.
Twelve portraits stare up at her, some etched in dark ink, others painted in swirls of color – generations of women, grandmothers and granddaughters, each wearing the velvet red cloak, the color of blood and huntresses. Their history is recorded on parchment and bound in a leather journal and she reads it from beginning to end. That cloak was made before women had been kept from the woods, confined to kitchens, made to stay only in the village under the watchful eyes of the priest and councilmen.
There, beneath the parchment, rests a dagger in a jeweled scabbard. A blade capable of cutting the ties of subjugation, imprisonment, and complicity.
Of those who had come before, none had been strong enough to find their way without the trail, to defy their mothers, or to find within themselves the wildness of their ancestors.
The crone, carrying the red cape across her forearms, kneels and offers it to the girl. She stands with resolve, touching her neck where the garment’s clasp will soon rest. It smells like a memory, something untamed and primordial. She remembers some old business, something about a wolf. She turns to meet the forest carrying only the dagger and her wits. She whispers to herself “This ends with me!” and steels herself for a world of trouble.