Hole in My Life Summary and Study Guide

Jack Gantos

Hole in My Life

  • 40-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Hole in My Life Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “Hole in My Life” by Jack Gantos includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Desire for Lived Experience in Order to Write and Prison Violence.

Plot Summary

In Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos recounts the story of his time as an idle teenager turned drug smuggler, including his eventual capture by the government and his time spent in Ashford Federal Penitentiary, in Kentucky. The biography serves as much as a lesson to readers in how Gantos turns his own life around as it does the story of how Gantos developed his writing style.

The story moves back and forth in time, starting with Gantos describing his mug shot, and the circumstances of his incarceration. From the start, Gantos ushers the reader down the aisle of his many youthful mistakes; he divulges the consequences of his actions and incarceration, and he also evokes the recurring theme of violence threaded through the autobiography: readers hear the echo of his father’s cautionary tales of lives gone astray.

As a nineteen-year-old, and still in high school, Gantos describes himself as an unmotivated student, yearning for freedom from his family: his father, mother, sister and brother, a group that moves from Floridato Puerto Rico (where Gantos spends time before returning to high school in Ft. Lauderdale). The family next movesto St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but allows Gantos himself to stay behind to finish high school. This soon goes awry, as Gantos is kicked out of his boarding home and moves to a motel, The Kings Court, where he spends his time working at the Piggly Wiggly, discovering the juvenile marijuana scene, and dreaming of becoming a great writer. After a failed attempt to sell laboratory-grade hash at a significant monetary loss, Gantos goes to St. Croix to live with his family.

Gantos finds St. Croix fraught with racial tension, with white and black residents at odds over economic inequality. The tension turns violent and the white residents abandon their vacation homes and building plans, leaving the Gantos family without their major source of income. Both father and son are forced to work making shipping crates. Gantos initially feels inspired by the scene and posturesas a journalistuntil a violent encounter with black rights workers leaves him feeling hopeless. In addition to the racial tension, the area is a hotbed for drug smugglers.One in particular, Rik, asks for a special crate from Gantos, in order to smuggle hash. This project turns into a proposal: Rik offers Gantos a job smuggling the drugs to New York. Desperate to escape the turmoil of the Virgin Islands and eager for adventure, Gantos agrees and sets sail with Rik’s associate Hamilton, a British sailor with a violent disposition.

Through reading classic tales of sea travel, Gantos rediscovers the love of writing he briefly loses while in St. Croix; he takes to journaling in the captain’s log, detailing his concerns over his captain and his fear over their venture. During the voyage, and with the aid of Hamilton’s verbal tirades, Gantos learns to sail in a haze of hash and adrenaline. The two survive a stop to find the hash hidden by Rik, and Gantos endears himself to the crew of a Japanese fishing trawler. They narrowly avoid a dangerous run-in with the US Coast Guard in Cape May, NJ before finally hiding the hash and docking in New York City, where the three, Harrison, Rik and Gantos, sell the drugs throughout the area.

As the trio near the end of the drug haul, Gantos chooses between using his share of the profits to attend to his dream of joining a creative writing program or accepting Rik’s offer for another smuggling job. On their last unload, however, the FBI boards their boat; both Harrison and Gantos flee, and Gantos is able to board a train back to Ft. Lauderdale. Checking into his old motel home, the King’s Court, Gantos thinks he has escaped, but after speaking with his father realizes he is wanted by the FBI. Gantos listens to his father and connects with a lawyer, Newman, and turns himself in.

Gantos discovers the prosecuting attorney has evidence from the Virgin Islands to New Jersey to New York, all directly implicating Gantos. As the last to turn himself in, Gantos realizes that everyone, from Rik and Hamilton, to the several clients the trio sold drugs to,has turned against him. He buries the hash to find later, assuming a light sentence. After months of trial, Gantos faces actual jail time and is sentenced to between sixty days and six years in prison for his smuggling involvement. The judge considers Gantos’ greatest offense is his lack of remorse for selling and smuggling drugs. Prior to his transfer to a federal prison, Gantos gets his first taste of the potential horrors that face him after he hears of the brutal gang rape of one of the men they sold to, Lucas, and realizes that any show of weakness will be his undoing.

Gantos is taken to Ashford prison in Kentucky, where an opportune case of lice puts him in a solitary cell until he’s no longer contagious. Upon healing, Gantos offers his services to the prison hospital. The physician’s assistant accepts him as his X-ray tech and Gantos is saved from general population and the horrors he suspects wait within. These horrors are confirmed as he aids the physician’s assistant; in the medical ward, he witnesses evidence of violence again and remarks on the irony of his incarceration for drugs, as he treats the many overdoses and maladies that result from makeshift drug use on the inside. He loses further hope after learning that the parole board thinks he is a fraud and remorseless liar.

After one particularly gruesome case involving a prisoner with a broken lightbulb in his rectum, Gantos begins to write in earnest, chronicling his time and the violence he witnesses, and finally finding his voice as a writer: embracer of the ludicrous, the violent, and the bleak reality of his life and the lives of those around him. Keeping a contraband journal, Gantos becomes the writer he always wanted to be, but was never before motivated to be. He also comes up with a plan to attend school and secure an early prison release. He applies to college, is accepted and secures his conditional release: if he works and secures housing, he may attend school. Gantos leaves prison without his beloved notebook, but he does depart with a new identity: he understands that what drove him to these adventures was his belief that to be a great writer, he needed great experiences. Gantos concludes this is incorrect: he rediscovers that he always had the ability to write, and only lacked developing motivation and a distinct style.

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