The first stanza of Etheridge Knight’s “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” begins the account of the long-term prisoner Hard Rock, who had a reputation for being impossible to bully, for which he suffered great abuse and physical injury, including split lips, cauliflower ears, and a long scar from his temple up through the hair on the top of his head. He has purple lips, yellow eyes, and curly hair.
Stanza 2 tells the story—“the WORD”—going around the prison that since his return Hard Rock is not an unruly person (“mean nigger”) anymore, because the doctors performed brain surgery on him and gave him shock treatment. Hard Rock is brought back to the prison handcuffed and chained. The other prisoners watch him, uncuffed and the chains removed, as if he were a stallion that was just castrated. Like Native Americans (“indians”) at an area where livestock are fenced in, they wait to see if it is true that Hard Rock is no longer unruly.
The third stanza recalls how they wait in anxiety to see how Hard Rock will act, and they take comfort in memories of his heroically rebellious deeds: To punish him for the last of these “exploits” committed by him before the reprisal surgery on his brain, it took eight prison guards, or “screws,” to put Hard Rock into solitary confinement (“the Hole”). Moreover, it is a thrill to remember again when he hit the captain of the prison guards with...
(The entire section is 476 words.)