Keri Blakinger’s Memoir, “Corrections in Ink,” Is a Riveting Story About Recovery and Redemption

From a New York Times review by David Sheff of the book by Keri Blakinger titled “Corrections in Ink”:

Keri Blakinger’s brave, brutal memoir, “Corrections in Ink,” is a riveting story about suffering, recovery and redemption. It’s funny at times — and I felt bad laughing about someone sinking as low as Blakinger did, but she’s sardonically witty, so I couldn’t help myself. Ultimately, there’s nothing comical about her descent.

Many families and many people have parallel narratives: one for public consumption, another the truth. From the outside, Blakinger had a charmed childhood. Her Harvard-educated lawyer father drove her to skating practice, and her Cornell-educated grade-school-teacher mother gave her standardized tests “for fun” and made sure Keri tried “all the possible childhood activities,” including piano, soccer, horseback riding, gymnastics, Girl Scouts — “a smorgasbord of suburbia.”

Blakinger was an A student, won writing awards and became a competitive figure skater. But what reads like a perfect college résumé (she enrolled in Cornell) belies Keri’s anguish. She was teased and bullied; by fifth grade, she “discovered self-destruction,” learning from other girls how to throw up on purpose. She “dabbled” in cutting. She became obsessed with suicide: “I dreamed of death.”

Blakinger drank alcohol, huffed glue, ate Tylenol 3s, smoked pot and took Adderall and Ecstasy. She began starving herself “in earnest” in high school. “They say that eating disorders are about control, but it is not that straightforward,” she writes. “They are also about self-destruction that feels like success. I wanted to waste away, slowly and tragically.”

She began using crack and heroin and quickly developed a life-threatening substance-use disorder. She describes mixing coke and heroin and, with hard-to-bear detail, writes, “My veins are all shot out and hard to find, so my stabs at oblivion usually involve a few hours of crying as I bleed all over the floor, leaving behind the speckled blood spatter of a crime scene.” When I read that passage, I was tempted to close the book — it’s hard to witness self-harm — but Blakinger is a gifted writer and she’d ensnared me. I needed to stay with her; I wanted her to be OK.

At 17, Blakinger began engaging in sex for the money she needed to support her addiction. She writes, “I would always count the stars through every trick. If I could not see the stars, I would count ceiling tiles or specks on the floor. If I could not do that, I would close my eyes and count twinkling points of light in my mind.”

Her eating disorder worsened, and she attempted suicide. She survived “with nothing more than a few fractured vertebrae, some broken ribs, a clamshell back brace and a cornucopia of new pills — a regular supply of uppers and downers I could trade for better drugs.”

Many of us devour headlines like one that appeared atop a Washington Post blog in March 2011: “ANOTHER IVY DRUG BUST.” However, it reads differently if the busted is you, a person “decaying with a vengeance,” as Blakinger was when she read the report of her arrest.

Blakinger was convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance (six ounces of heroin in a Tupperware container) and spent almost two years in jails and prisons. The experience was traumatic and sobering in every sense of the word. “You’ll always be scared,” she writes. “But the things that scare you in jail are not what you expect them to be. It’s not getting shanked. It’s not dropping the soap. Instead, these are things that keep you up all night: What does the fact that you ended up here say about you as a person? Does it mean you are bad? Or just bad at life?”

With that kind of self-reflection, and obstinate determination, Blakinger committed herself to prison programs and counseling, which led to recovery.

She was 28 when she was released. At a time when drug overdose deaths are skyrocketing — there were more than 100,000 of them in the United States in the 12-month period ending in April 2021, a record — sufferers of substance-use disorders and their families may need stories of hope. Blakinger’s fine book offers promise to sufferers of addiction, eating disorders, depression or other manifestations of psychic pain, and to those serving time.

However, “Corrections in Ink” doesn’t stop at recovery.

Over the course of her incarceration, Blakinger witnessed (and experienced) abuse and inhumane conditions. “In the beginning, every horror story you hear in prison seems incredible — not just extraordinary, but impossible to believe. When a woman tells you about the officer who punched her in the face, you think there must be more to it. When old-timers warn you about the brutality of women raping each other, you wonder if they’re hazing you.”

Post-prison, Blakinger started writing about the criminal justice system. I’ve read her pieces for The Marshall Project, where her “Inside Out” column is always smart and topical. At The Washington Post, she went from sensational headline to lauded byline, joining a team that won a National Magazine Award for coverage of women’s jails.

“People say when you’re in prison that you’re doing time — like it is a thing you will do and it will be over,” Blakinger writes. “But then you get out, and you discover that there is more, as if the wasted hours and minutes follow you around and now your life is about reversing them, making good, undoing time. And when I looked at what I’d done with my time, I wondered: Was it enough? Would it ever be enough?”

With her journalism and now this inspiring and relevant memoir, she’s made a good start.

David Sheff is the author of “Beautiful Boy” and “The Buddhist on Death Row.” He is working on a biography of Yoko Ono.

 

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