The first journal entry is an introduction to a young man who is in prison for the very first time and is frightened out of his life. He begins by explaining that the best to time cry in prison is at night when someone is being beaten up and screaming for help to cover up the noise of the tears. Then, you can’t be beaten up later for being weak. He wonders when he looks into the scratched mirror whether he will look like himself when the trial is over. He describes an incident at breakfast when inmate is hit in the face with a metal cafeteria tray. He comments that “they” say you get used to being in jail, but he doesn’t see how.
All of these inmates are strangers, but they still find reasons to hurt each other. He feels like he’s walked into a strange movie with no plot and no beginning. It’s in black and white and it’s grainy like an old film. He realizes that it’s not a movie about bars and locked doors. Rather, it’s about “being alone when you are not really alone and about being scared all the time.” However, for the most part, he just can’t make sense of it, so he decides to make his own movie of this experience and he’ll title it what the prosecutor called him - Monster.
This opening journal entry is significant in that the writer has not yet introduced himself, but we learn a great deal more about him than just his name could reveal. He is young and alone in prison for some reason. He is frightened and he is trying desperately to make sense of what has happened to him. He turns to writing down his experiences in the form of a journal and a screenplay to try to document what is happening to him. He is already labeling himself for the reader by giving the play a title - Monster.
The young man uses all of the correct stage directions and abbreviations for camera movements. This day begins in the Manhattan Detention Center where the voices are clearly Black or Hispanic. We finally learn this character’s name and age - Steve Harmon, 16 - and see him sitting on a cot with a suit and tie next to him. Around him are the realities of prison life - screams, cursing, and men sitting on toilets in front of everyone around them. He tries to hide his head under a blanket, but is cautioned by a Voice Over that he can’t hide under it, because this is reality. The voice continues explaining the realities of this Detention Center while the credits begin rolling from the bottom of the screen and shrinking at the top like Star wars. The title is Monster! The Story of My Miserable Life and he is the star, the producer, and the director. The credit calls it an “incredible story about how one guy’s life was turned around by a few events and how he might spend the rest of his life behind bars.” The other individuals who take part in the trial are introduced under the “Featuring . . .” part of the credits.
The Voice Over and a prisoner named Sunset help to show the irony of life in the Manhattan Detention Center: Steve is new to this, so he refuses food, but the other more experienced prisoners eat with gusto, even finishing his food; and other people are outside going about the everyday patterns of their lives while he is handcuffed and finally wearing his suit for court.
Steve meets with his lawyer, Kathy O’Brien who is all business. She explains that he is on trial for felony murder along with a guy named King and that the prosecutor is good at what she does. She wants the death penalty for both of them. Steve asks her if she thinks they’re going to win and she replies that it depends on what Steve means by “wins.”
In the holding room, the reader is introduced to 23-year-old James King, the other man on trial. He gives Steve a hard look. The stenographer and the guards discuss the case as a motion case: they go though the motions and they lock them up! The fear is evident on Steve’s face. Once in the courtroom, O’Brien tells him he should be scared and that it’s her job to make him a human being in the eyes of the jury. The trial then begins after the judge and the lawyers comment on their Fourth of July weekends.
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