Book Review: Once A Jolly Hangman

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once_a_jolly_hangman* Also on The Online Citizen and The Real SG.

The contents of this well-researched book were so depraved and disturbing, that it took me several weeks to (1) finish reading the book in its entirety, and (2) gather my thoughts about it in order to write a cohesive review.

I would have thought that the book was a work of fiction were it not for the ‘non-fiction’ label at the back of the book in the print version.

Back in 2013, former ISD director Mr. Yoong Siew Wah mentioned “the callousness of the Singapore government” on his blog.

This callous and insensitive aspect that is completely lacking in any compassion for humanity, is certainly apparent in Once A Jolly Hangman. The title alone points to the bizarre nature of the system, where the macabre act of hanging a human being is undertaken with joy as if it were a festive occasion and cause for celebration.

Perhaps the most morbid fact mentioned is the “Death Row Diet.”

As it says in the book, “Beyond the walls of Changi Prison hanged prisoners’ organs are worth tens of thousands of dollars each.”

As if this fact of profiting from dead prisoners’ bodies were not deplorable enough, the prisoners on death row who sign the consent form to donate their organs for transplant or research are put on a special regime known as the Death Row Diet. This diet consists of high-quality, nutritious food to “ensure the organs are in perfect condition for transplant after they are hanged.”

Is this not a form of ultimate exploitation of human life, where one profits handsomely from the dead and forgotten?

The other thoroughly disgusting component of the book has to do with the racial bias of the elites. The author, Alan Shadrake, structures the book around several real-life accounts to show how people with money and the right connections have the means to prevent themselves from being executed by the state. If you’re poor, uneducated, or of an undesirable race (or, to phrase it a little better, your skin colour is not the right one), yours is the “pitiful, hopeless situation” where even the innocent may end up being executed.

Alan Shadrake went to jail because of this book — for contempt by scandalising the court. A scandal can be defined as an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage. How is the author scandalising the court when his book is based on scandalous facts?

What Alan Shadrake did with this book was to give the deceased a human face, since their lives weren’t worth anything to the Singapore authorities (apart from what could be gained from their organs, post-mortem). This further highlights the hypocrisy of Changi Prison’s motto.

I didn’t even know Changi Hilton — I mean, Changi Prison — had a motto until reading this book. That motto is:

“Captains of Lives: Rehab, Renew, Restart.”

From their own website:

“RENEW is a commitment an inmate makes to change his/her life for the better. Through the CARE Network, our offenders are given opportunities to restart their lives.”

Renew? Restart? Tell that to the families of Flor Contemplacion, Angel Mou Pui-Peng, Amara Tochi, Shanmugam Murugesu (a Tamil Singaporean former jet ski champion and army regular), Nguyen Van Tuong, Vignes Mourthi, and countless others who were executed in Singapore for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, without the riches or powerful connections to help them out of their dire situation. Or to the family members of Huizuan with regard to her tragic death in Changi Women’s Prison in 2011, which could have been avoided if more care had been shown by the prison staff in her medical condition before her death.

What is even worse is that Changi Prison sends out a letter to the families of the individual on death row informing them of when the execution will take place — a letter which has that same motto emblazoned on the bottom of the page.

This was truly one of the most despicable and morbid books I’ve ever read. It reveals a darker side which the authorities would likely prefer to keep hidden beneath the country’s veneer of justice, cleanliness and efficiency.

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More Information:

Once A Jolly Hangman (Amazon.com)
Book Depository (Free Shipping)
Wikipedia | Guardian UK | Interview (Author: Alan Shadrake)
Murdoch Books / Pier 9 (Publisher)
Singapore sentences UK author to jail (Amnesty International)

Katherine Mayfield, Interview

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Interview #78, with author of BULLIED: Katherine Mayfield!

Katherine was first interviewed on this blog in 2012. She has written a new, very important and socially-minded book titled BULLIED — so read on for more details on the project!

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Hi Katherine! Describe your latest book in 5 words:

bullied

Guide to recovery from bullying.

What inspired the book?

Two things: one is that I feel very sad when I hear about another teen who has committed suicide in response to bullying, and the other is that I was bullied as a child, and when I was in my thirties, I thought seriously about committing suicide because I was still so full of pain. It took me a long time to recover from the bad experiences I had as a kid.

With this book, I wanted to reach out to young people who are in distress and pain, and show them that there is a way out of the darkness, that bullying does end, and that by letting go of their bad feelings and focusing on what they enjoy and do well, they can move forward and create a much better life. I wish there had been a book like this when I was growing up.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):

“If someone is bullying you based on what you look like—if you’re taller or shorter than other people, or if you have braces or glasses, or anything else—they are using one single characteristic about your physical appearance to judge the entirety of who you are. One trait does not define your real self. You are not a nose, or a pair of glasses, or the clothes you wear. Everyone has talents and gifts, and no matter what you look like, when you focus on your gifts, you can live up to your potential and ultimately become a much happier person.”

BULLIED: A guide to recovery from bullying, by Katherine Mayfield

Share some of your favorite quotations (10-100 words):

These are some quotes included in Bullied:

“Imagine the choices you’d make if you had no fear—of falling, of losing, of being alone, of disapproval.”
~ Martha Beck

“One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.””
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
~ Albert Einstein

“Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself.”
~ Samuel Butler

“Instinct is the nose of the mind.”
~ Madame De Girardin (French author)

In the introduction, you mention that you were bullied during school days. Did you ever want to retaliate against the people who bullied you at the time?

Great question, Jess! Yes, I did, but I was way too afraid. The feeling of violence was in my nerves and wanted to get out, and so one day I started petting the cat a little too hard, and my mother said, “Gently! Gently!” I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I spanked my dolls when I was a kid to try to get rid of some of those bad feelings.

I think that a lot of bullies have been bullied themselves, or violated in some way, so they take their anger out on people who seem quiet or weaker or less able to defend themselves. Sometimes the smartest, most creative and innovative people are the ones who are bullied, because others are jealous and want to cut them down to “normal” size. But I believe that people are meant to grow and explore and invent and create, and become the very best and biggest that they possibly can. I wish our society encouraged that more than it does.

Well-said! What were some of the challenges involved with writing BULLIED?

Another great question! There’s a part of me that really does not want to look at these issues, at the pain in my past, and at the continuing stories about young people who end their lives because they can’t stand the bullying anymore. So I had some resistance to finishing the project, even though I believe it will be helpful to others.

In my family, a huge value was placed on helping others and relieving pain, and that’s what keeps me writing books on these subjects even though sometimes it’s difficult for me. If I can help people heal the way I have healed, then the work is absolutely worth it.

What are some of your plans for the rest of the year?

Resting! Relaxing! Having fun! And I have two other memoirs in process, along with a workbook for people who have been emotionally abused that my muse is encouraging me to work on. And then there’s the novel I’ve been writing for about ten years…

I’m also going to be teaching a couple of writing workshops, and several workshops on writing and publishing memoir. I always think, “When winter gets here, I really want to hibernate for awhile,” but so far it hasn’t happened.

It’s good to be busy ;) Please share with us your websites/blogs/etc:

www.theboxofdaughter.com/dysfunctional-families-blog.html

www.katherine-mayfield.com

www.katherine-mayfield.com/bullied.html

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Much thanks to Katherine for stopping by — be sure to check out the above links for more info on BULLIED!

Katherine Mayfield

KATHERINE’S BIO: Katherine Mayfield is the award-winning author of Bullied:  Why You Feel Bad Inside and What to Do About It, The Box of Daughter;  Healing the Authentic Self, and Dysfunctional Families:  The Truth Behind the Happy Family Façade.  She blogs on dysfunctional families on her website, www.TheBoxofDaughter.com.

P.S. Here’s Katherine’s Q&A with JCS (2012) and her guest post on Recovering From Being Bullied.

You can also preorder a copy of BULLIED on Katherine’s website.

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Why You’re Gorgeous, Book Review

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Quick Review of Why You’re Gorgeous (by Katy Gilbert)

I interviewed Katy Gilbert a few weeks ago on this blog. Katy’s latest book is titled Why You’re Gorgeous, a book that’ll leave you “inspired, relaxed, smart, confident, and a hell of a lot more self-loving” (text from official blurb).

I have a print copy of the book. To me, Why You’re Gorgeous is what a mainstream book should really be all about.

It’s a relatively slim, non-fiction book at 147 pages, but there’s very little fluff, so what you get is information that is sincere as well as useful / inspiring (refer to blurb text above to see what you’ll be getting).

Why You’re Gorgeous is divided into 10 chapters, which cover topics such as media and society, sex/relationships, body/appearance, and self-love. The book gets straight to the point in terms of literally reminding the reader why he/she is “gorgeous.” I think this is especially important in a world that’s very much driven by consumer culture, where materialism and external looks are given a lot more emphasis than something that’s more intrinsic and that sustains us from within (genuine self-love, in other words).

What makes the book extra special is the inclusion of contributors’ quotes and perspectives throughout the text. This was a very nice balance to the author’s main text, as it creates a tone that’s both personal as well as social.

Some excerpts:

(Pg 53 — Section on Bullying)

I have a right to freedom of speech!

Yeah, you do, and you’re lucky. What you don’t have it unqualified liberty to be a jerk.

Having the fortunate right to speak your mind does not entitle you to force your opinions on other people, cause physical or emotional harm to anyone in any way, or suggest that other people or their views are worthless. With freedom of speech comes responsibility for consideration, kindness and respect. Exercise it.

(Pg 62 — Section on Style)

Personal style is a goldmine of confidence, respect, creativity and fun.

“It’s not who we really are, it’s type of character we’ve morphed ourselves into because we think it’s right…What happened to ‘personality matters’? That has been completely overshadowed by these ‘clones’.” (contributor’s quote)

(Pg 87 — The fame game, all the same)

When so many celebrities are hand-picked and trained to be a certain size, their entire community appears to be made up of that one size and shape (skin tone, hair colour, etc etc). This presents an entire mini-world that is completely unrealistic but comes off as “normal”, so the lack of variation is projected as the way the world is — not true.

The writing style is suitable for all ages (tween, teen, young adult, older adult). I would’ve loved to have read this book during my teenage years :)

If you know anyone who’s struggling with body image issues, or is trying to develop a genuine/lasting/healthy form of self-love, do consider getting them a copy of Why You’re Gorgeous!

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Why You’re Gorgeous is available in eBook and print formats (at Katy Gilbert’s Website and her Lulu Shop), written by a lovely person with a lovely heart (Katy’s interview link).

My Lie, Meredith Maran

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Earlier last year, I worked as a research assistant intern for the fierce and savvy journalist, Ms. Meredith Maran, on a project titled My Lie: A True Story of False Memories.

my lie, meredith maran

Book Summary: During the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of Americans became convinced that they had repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, which they recovered in therapy, decades later. My Lie explores the psychological, cultural, and neuroscientific causes of this modern American witch-hunt.

I had a hand in fact-checking some of the information in My Lie, so I know it’s a brave and intense book. The internship certainly helped sharpen my detective/analytical skills (good preparation for my upper division BA courses), and I’m very thankful to Ms. Maran for giving me the opportunity to have contributed to such a riveting project.

The book is published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Company, and goes on sale in mid-September.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0470502142
Author Website: http://www.meredithmaran.com/
Events (book signings, etc): http://www.meredithmaran.com/res_groups.htm

Media Mentions for My Lie:

Article in Psychology Today (PDF download / one of my favorite magazines!) | October 2010
Great Reads | More.com
Press Release | Infozine/Literature News
Memory or Metaphor? | Book Review @ Lunch.com
“My Lie” by Meredith Maran | The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU and NPR
“My Lie” is a San Francisco Chronicle Notable New Book
Meredith Maran on HLN’s The Joy Behar Show | click for clip of CNN show (29 Sept 2010)
Feature on TIME.com
List of Reviews on MeredithMaran.com

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* My name on the acknowledgments page–

jess c scott, intern

“For finding the clips, crunching the stats, and checking the facts: stellar interns Julia Dilday, Elana Fiske, Emma Rae Lierley, and Jess C Scott.”

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