I wanted to like this, I really did, especially because this story is regional and was published by a local publishing house, University of Minnesota Press. Zeke Caligiuri is currently serving a 34-year sentence for robbery and second-degree murder. Caligiuri grew up in South Minneapolis in the early 90s. At that time, the city was dubbed ‘Murderapolis’ for its extremely high murder and crime rate.
Caligiuri’s memoir, This is Where I Am, attempts to understand why he landed in prison, but like life in general, it’s still not very clear. Caligiuri spends most of the memoir recounting memories from early middle school right up to the moment he ends up in prison. Interestingly, he spends only a quarter of the book on his experiences in prison, which is unfortunate because this was the most interesting part. Getting inside the mindset of someone who’s imprisoned, and for a long time, is fascinating and heartbreaking.
The writing ruined this book for me. Caligiuri tries to be profound with every single sentence, using overly lyrical and metaphorical language. This made it hard to follow what was actually happening…did his friend get shot, or did he get shot in the metaphorical sense? Seriously, I asked myself this question. And the chapters felt like they were written separately and then ordered in what seemed a logical way. People and events mentioned in earlier chapters were recounted in later chapters like the reader didn’t know about the person or events. What Caligiuri really needed was a good editor who could have toned down some of the overdone language, tightened up the chapters, and created a connection through them.
The Local Connection
What I found most fascinating was the connection to South Minneapolis. I work in South Minneapolis and take the bus through it every weekday. It’s haunting to realize crossroads he mentions are streets I see everyday. I do think being immersed in the same place gave me a sense of ownership or understanding of how his life ended up the way it did.
I read this for a book club I’m in and while many expressed the same frustrations I did, it created a lively discussion. We’re all upper middle class, white (so is Caliguiri), educated mid-20-somethings and it was refreshing to look at a perspective completely outside of ours. We talked about incarceration, education, parenting, and whether or not our choices are a reflection of nature or nurture.
I admire Caligiuri for his tenacity while in prison. I imagine the process of writing this book was painful, having to relive all the choices that led to an orange jumpsuit. But admiring his tenacity is not enough for me to recommend this book. 2 out of 5 stars.