"Hole in My Life," Vocabulary from Part 1

In a high school surrounded by a twelve-foot fence, Jack Gantos imagined what life behind bars would be like; after graduating, he landed in prison, where he was scared into focusing on writing. Check out this list of words that transformed him into an award-winning author.

Here are links to our lists for the memoir: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Here are links to our lists for his novels: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dead End in Norvelt

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. inflict
    impose something unpleasant
    I managed to avoid a lot of trouble because I knew how to blend in and generally sift through the days unnoticed by men who spent the majority of their time looking to inflict pain on others.
  2. offense
    a failure to show regard for others
    I had seen the results of violence so often—with guys hauling off and smashing someone's face with their fists or with a metal tool, a baseball bat, a rock—and all for no other reason than some imagined offense or to establish a reputation for savagery.
  3. remorse
    a feeling of deep regret, usually for some misdeed
    Ironically, in spite of all the fear and remorse and self-loathing, being locked up in prison is where I fully realized I had to change my life for the better, and in one significant way I did.
  4. restless
    lacking physical or mental ease
    I began to write stories—secret stories about myself and the restless men around me.
  5. feign
    make believe with the intent to deceive
    While among them, I may have feigned disinterest, but like my father I watched them closely and listened whenever they spoke.
  6. journal
    a daily written record of experiences and observations
    Then back in my cell I would sit on the edge of my bunk with my journal spread open across my knees and try to capture their stories with my own words.
  7. circumstances
    one's overall condition in life
    Someone once said anyone can be great under rosy circumstances, but the true test of character is measured by how well a person makes decisions during difficult times.
  8. redemption
    the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil
    Like any book about mistakes and redemption (Oscar Wilde's De Profundis is my favorite), the mistakes are far more interesting to read about (and write about)—so I'll start with where I think I went around the bend.
  9. judgment
    an opinion formed critically
    I didn't debate their judgment of me as "an immature, spoiled brat who needed a major butt-kicking in order to straighten up."
  10. prosperity
    the condition of having good fortune
    Even I knew enough to understand what Buddha meant when he said, "Always walk the road of happiness to prosperity."
  11. impact
    a forceful consequence; a strong effect
    I knew I was free to change myself—free to feel the entire impact of what I was doing.
  12. barren
    completely wanting or lacking
    I could blame the hollow feeling inside me on the hangover. But when the hangover passed, I knew I'd still sense that same barren internal landscape.
  13. flair
    distinctive and stylish elegance
    Then she reached into her large carryall purse, fumbled around and pulled out some odd object, steadied it on the wooden podium, and instructed the students to "describe the object and remember to write with flair."
  14. skeptical
    marked by or given to doubt
    When I heard this, I knew I was doing better writing by myself no matter how skeptical I was of the results.
  15. entry
    an item inserted in a written record
    The first and most obvious was my daily entry section, which I filled with a wild stream of thoughts in a conscious effort to capture my honest feelings, true motivations, and crazed activities of each day.
  16. envy
    a desire to have something that is possessed by another
    Each time I read a book, I cataloged the parts that struck me dumb with envy and admiration for their beauty and power and truth.
  17. impunity
    exemption from punishment or loss
    The third section was plain and simple vocabulary building, where I'd write words and definitions I wanted to learn and use. Words like: viscous, impunity, paroxysm, unctuous, nefarious, onanistic, perfidious, lugubrious.
  18. inspiration
    arousal of the mind to unusual activity or creativity
    The fourth section was devoted to the moments of inspiration when book ideas came to me in full-color flashes, like bits of a film remembered, or a forgotten conversation suddenly pulsing to life.
  19. potential
    the inherent capacity for coming into being
    I couldn't seem to concentrate long enough to weigh the worth of each thought, isolate its potential, allow it to grow.
  20. observation
    a remark expressing careful consideration
    I figured I might start out talking about some personal observations inspired by Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, then move on to a sensitive appreciation of Plath's The Bell Jar and its story of a woman's journey into madness.
  21. incarcerate
    lock up or confine, in or as in a jail
    Earlier in their prison lives they had spent some time incarcerated where we were now going to school.
  22. regret
    feel sorry for; be contrite about
    These men you see here will never be released from prison. They regret their crimes, but it is too late for regret.
  23. peril
    a state of danger involving risk
    Their lives are ruined, but they have volunteered to speak with you all today about the perils of a criminal life.
  24. abandon
    leave behind empty; move out of
    I seemed to become the main character, as if I had abandoned myself and allowed some other person to step right in and take me over.
  25. regain
    get or find back; recover the use of
    It was a great ride becoming a fictional character for a day or a week, but when the temporary visitor left I felt as empty as a bottle, and when I regained my own voice it was always strangely scarred from the experience, as though something in me had been torn open and then healed over.
  26. insight
    clear or deep perception of a situation
    I had a sneaky suspicion I was going to be the other kind of smoker—the kind I had also read about who go off the deep end and let life drift way out of control, and become dependent on dope and other users to help them out, and are abused and broken down and the only deep insight they gain from the experience is that they have totally ruined their lives
  27. void
    an empty area or space
    While in high school I accepted that I was living in a void, but now that I was heading for college I needed some fresh air and fresh thinking.
  28. notion
    an odd or fanciful or capricious idea
    I couldn't explain myself to anyone because I was only full of excited urges and notions and desires, kind of like the Hulk before he transforms.
  29. accomplishment
    the action of achieving something
    But now my accomplishments just seemed like survival routines, and I wanted to move on to more romantic turf and find out who I was and what might happen to me when the rubber met the road.
  30. stumble
    encounter by chance
    I figured if I crisscrossed Florida from coast to coast as if I were tying up the laces on a high-top sneaker I would eventually stumble on something juicy to write about.
  31. vision
    a vivid mental image
    As Kerouac wrote, "I was a young writer and I wanted to take off. Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me."
  32. segue
    proceed without interruption, in music or talk
    My brain hummed along as one thought segued into another.
  33. suspect
    imagine to be the case or true or probable
    I knew something about literature and what people plotted in their hearts and thought and suspected, but he knew the secret why behind each thought.
  34. maxim
    a saying that is widely accepted on its own merits
    I had always believed in the maxim that the best way to predict the future was to create it.
  35. stimulus
    any information or event that acts to arouse action
    Without science I was just another stimulus-response cave dweller howling at the moon.
  36. conviction
    an unshakable belief in something without need for proof
    In the morning I found where Stephen Crane had lived and sat in front of his house reading The Red Badge of Courage, which was so good I couldn't figure out why I hadn't read it earlier. Henry Fleming's convictions impressed me. His desire to fight. His fear of being a coward. His renewed battle courage.
  37. impression
    a clear and telling mental image
    I was so happy to be the first one on the scene and wrote down all my impressions—just as Hemingway did in Spain during their civil war, and Crane after the sinking of the Commodore.
  38. fate
    the ultimate agency predetermining the course of events
    Fate, it seemed, had brought me down to Key West. Fate brought the storm. And I felt fated to write.
  39. significant
    important in effect or meaning
    I still didn't have anything significant to write about so I just smoked another joint and recorded observations and reflections—just like Sal Paradise.
  40. contrast
    the opposition or dissimilarity of things that are compared
    I sat at the bar and read A Moveable Feast and cried with a kind of jealous disappointment because that beautiful time in history had passed me by and the contrast between the lush enchantment of Europe and my welfare-motel life was suddenly very sad indeed.

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