The Human Zoo: A Death Row Collective
Timothy Motley, editor
Poundstone Press, 1997
141 pages
$12.95, paper

By Stan Burriss

This book speaks of death. It speaks with the voices of men, women, who have been sentenced to death (by our court systems) for some individual act of death (sometimes called murder).

It is a grim book.

It speaks with anger and with a lot of pain.

Yet, even with its heat, The Human Zoo is also...warm. It is a book built through a collection of poems by women and men who have been sentenced to death, but who are still alive in the prisons.

Editor Timothy Motley, who worked with Poundstone Press here in our city, asked persons living on "death row" throughout America (Washington, Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida..., are a few of the states) to contribute their words. It must have been a sudden (if not a strange!) request to these persons who lived in prisons cells.

Motley must know the personal story of just how these voices spoke to him – he did spend several years gathering this writing.

This is a book about the law. The voices come from people who are sheltered, although in prisons. It might be asked here: What does this have to do with our question to the homeless people?

And the answer contains: These people have... lost. They have lost time, and they have been told how their lives will be taken.

Time...lost. Day-by-day, and not to be touched. Really!

No longer. We read this book, we can see how it speaks of death. It’s the penalty, and as our Seattle groups of homeless persons, such as SHARE/WHEEL, will say to our city’s government: persons have good right, to sleep tonight... then tonight... and tonight... until Seattle offers enough shelters (sheltered space!). So that all persons can sleep tonight.

Simply...daily life.

Our folks in government offices, are persons who are giving their lives – daily! – to human service. The voices in this book come from persons who have been told they will die, not those told that they "do not understand." They have already been proven "guilty".

And now, in this book, they are saying – and often saying directly! – that "before (being sentenced) I did not understand. Now I have nothing left."

The first poem in this book, titled "Broken Dreams," says how, "...Boulevards across the nations/ are known.... caught.…" Another brief poem titled "take a trip" tells us how, "For days on end I’d walk the street.

In the poem "Judgment Day", a person tells us from the cell on "death row" that:

My fire is all but out

What’s left is a glimmer of what once was

Still slowly slipping way and always (...)

We see the death and sometimes we ourselves are homeless. By reading The Human Zoo, by hearing these voices, we learn that what’s meant – what’s left – can only be understood. Never imagined.

Active Books Review