As a frequent guest on Texas Standard, Texas-based journalist Keri Blakinger of The Marshall Project has shared details of many of her stories and investigations into the state’s prison and jail system. Blakinger’s ability to get an insider’s perspective stems from the fact that she once served nearly two years in prison herself, for a drug crime in New York state. In her new memoir, “Corrections in Ink,” Blakinger delves into her journey, starting with a successful adolescent figure skating career that abruptly ends, leading her into a spiral of heroin addiction.
Blakinger’s memoir details an early childhood and adolescence focused around competitive figure skating, in which she eventually competed at nationals twice in the pairs category. But the intensity of the world surrounding figure skating – including a culture of eating disorders, hours of grueling practices, and the constant pressure of being replaced by other women in the sport – took a toll on Blakinger’s mental and physical well-being. Her skating career abruptly ended in her junior year of high school, and Blakinger describes the next nine years of her life as a blur of drugs, darkness and near-death.
“After my skating career fell apart, I very quickly got into drugs. And, you know, I ended up getting into hard drugs pretty quickly,” Blakinger recalled. “By the start of what should have been my senior year of high school, I was living on the street and doing sex work and addicted to heroin.
“On the one hand … I was trying to make my way through college. I started at Rutgers and then transferred to Cornell. So, on the one hand, I wanted to self-destruct, and on the other hand, I wanted to sort of succeed as much as I could in the meantime.”
Blakinger’s drug addiction led to a felony arrest, and she was sentenced to a two-year prison term in New York. She served 21 months of that term.
“Prison is, in the best-case scenario, deeply traumatizing. And I think that we should not be surprised that there are so few people that have the sorts of positive outcomes that I did,” Blakinger said. “The reason that I was able to have the comeback that I did, aside from racial and class privilege … I mean, I think I was at a point when I got arrested where I was ready to get sober and turn it around. … I think it’s important to understand that I don’t think that prison serves that sort of rehabilitative purpose. And when people succeed, I think it’s an accident more than anything.”
Blakinger said that, after getting out of prison, she made the choice to be public about her experience so that she could have ownership of the narrative, eventually deciding to write a book for a number of reasons.
“After covering prisons for all the years that I have, I’ve seen how much my story means to some of the people that I cover and how much they get out of seeing someone who was in the place where they are now, out and succeeding, and specifically using their own bad past to do something positive,” she said. “I think it’s really important for people to see these narratives and to see people succeeding, but also to understand what the barriers are and why it is that not everyone has this success story.”