Piri Thomas Tom Seligson - Essay

Tom Seligson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is his experience behind bars—seven years for armed robbery and felonious assault—that Thomas examines in … "Seven Long Times."

Thomas served his time in both Sing Sing and Great Meadows (Comstock), and his narrative account of what passes for life in these institutions may not be new…. [However Thomas] has written an intensely human document of one man's will for survival. (p. 10)

Thomas follows in a long tradition of prison writers: Jean Genet, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and George Jackson. If his prose lacks the intensity of Genet, or the rhetorical passion of Cleaver and Jackson, it is because this book, though commenting on life inside prison, was written from the outside. The difference also stems from Thomas's seemingly apolitical nature. The appendix to his book, in which he argues for prison reform along with changes in the equally medieval system of parole, seems an afterthought. A much stronger case for the total abolition of prison has been made by Jessica Mitford in her well-documented "Kind and Usual Punishment." (p. 12)

Tom Seligson, "'Seven Long Times'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 22, 1974, pp. 10, 12.

As fine as was Down these mean streets …, [Seven Long Times] surpasses it. The book is simply a description of Thomas' experiences as an inmate in the New York State correctional system during the 1950s. There has been a recent onslaught of books about prisons written by inmates and ex-inmates. Indeed, the oversaturation of such writings has made the subject area appear somewhat mundane and overstated. However, the style of this work is most readable and lucid, and the message carries great impact. In light of the recent politicization of prisoners, one might attempt to argue that the book is dated, in consideration of the era in which Thomas' experiences took place. Nevertheless, this work is a marvelous description of human experience and emotion, which transcends all time parameters.

"Sociology: 'Seven Long Times'," in Choice (copyright © 1974 by American Library Association), Vol. 11, No. 9, November, 1974, p. 1393.