Stranger in Two Worlds

Harris, Jean

Macmillan, 1986

p. 227

Unsurprisingly, life in prison is for Jean Harris a revelation. (She had been convicted of murdering her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower.) She had been head mistress of an elite boarding school for girls and had encountered educated, elite, wealthy people every day. Now she lives with largely underclass women and tries to understand them: They are convinced that “my truths are as good as your truths. If they aren’t, then we aren’t equal.” Underclass women aren’t worldly. Many are babes in arms, full of outrageous whims, with big worries about small things (all fields are full of snakes) and serene acceptance of being a grandmother at 28. “To them they are not shameful because the way they live is the way they know. One grows up accepting what is acceptable in one’s culture.” Behavior toward one’s future is a class indicator. Lower class: live life for the present, following the line of least resistance, . . because tomorrow will never come.” Some prison women will give themselves to anybody who’ll pay the rate, but they don’t want to be seen in bra and briefs. They take no pleasure in small, simple things. They scribble wildly on brand new prison dictionaries. They litter. They lack love for cleanliness or beauty, including flowers. Their kids’ first two words are “s%*t” and “f#^k.”