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Herminio Serna and Death Row Childhood

Joe Lockard


Pages 327 - 340

DOI https://doi.org/10.33675/AMST/2023/3/5


open-access

This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

Creative Commons License


Herminio Serna (1966-2018) was an incarcerated Chicano / Indigenous writer on San Quentin State Prison’s Death Row for twenty-one years, most of which were spent in solitary confinement. His sole volume of prose poems, "Whisperings from Death Row", appeared two years prior to his death from a drug overdose. Like nearly all incarcerated writers, Serna’s work has received no critical notice. Serna’s writing describes a hellish psychological landscape within death row. The first section of this paper introduces Serna briefly, then explores questions relating to dialogism in prison writing and the exclusion of incarcerated writers such as Serna from public dialogue. A second section discusses Serna’s “death-bound childhood” as a function of death-bound subjectivity created by social terror regimes. A third and final section analyzes the transformation of Serna’s cell into a psychological purgatory, filled with darkness and pain. The context of writing under prolonged state terror in the imposition of capital punishment generates imagery, content, and a death row style.

Key Words: Chicano literature; prison literature; San Quentin State Prison; death row; capital punishment; solitary confinement

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