Jimmy Santiago Baca

A Place to Stand

  • 39-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 13 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a Master's degree in English Literature
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A Place to Stand Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “A Place to Stand” by Jimmy Santiago Baca includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 13 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 Family and Language.

Plot Summary

Jimmy Santiago Baca, born in 1952, is an American poet and author of A Place to Stand. This memoir begins with Baca’s early years at home with his drunken, abusive father and his unhappy mother. Baca loves his father, who is continually in and out of jail, but Baca’s mother abandons her three children to marry a man who can provide her a more stable life.

Baca, his brother, and his sister live with their grandparents following their mother’s desertion, but the two boys are sent to an orphanage when their grandfather dies. Baca has vivid, pleasing memories of the time with his grandparents, a period that will be the last time he lives with his family until he marries and has a wife and children of his own. At thirteen, Baca runs away from the orphanage.

After he leaves the orphanage, Baca attempts to replace the family he has lost with friends and lovers. He finds it easy to meet women as he drifts from place to place in the early 1970s. Soon Baca, his friend Marcos, and Baca’s girlfriend Lonnie, decide to enter the lucrative drug trade. They are arrested for drug possession, and the twenty-one-year old Baca is confined to the Arizona State Prison.

Once incarcerated, Baca learns to survive in prison. Any affront must be addressed, and Baca finds himself drawn into violent confrontations with other inmates. Most of these he would prefer to avoid, but he learns that he must not appear weak.

Baca is functionally illiterate when he arrives at the prison. He wants to earn a GED while he is incarcerated, and he stops working when prison administrators deny his request for education. As a result of his protest, he is housed with some of the most dangerous prisoners.

Baca manages to educate himself when he begins to correspond with a pen-pal named Harry. Soon Baca feels an insatiable need to improve his reading and writing skills. The time he spends in his cell is productive, for he is able to probe his memories at his leisure. These reveries provide fodder for his writing, and soon he is writing poems based on his memories. He also writes for other inmates, producing letters and poems to commemorate special events for his fellow prisoners. Baca begins to submit his poetry to magazines, and he starts to correspond with several writers and editors.

When Baca’s father dies, the warden informs him of the death. The warden also tells Baca that, even though the prison would grant furlough for him to attend the funeral, his family does not want him to come. Later, Baca learns that his uncle has pretended to speak on behalf of the family, but in reality, he wants to keep Baca away from the funeral, so he can embezzle funds Baca has inherited from his father.

After more than six years, Baca is released from prison. He is a changed man. Prison, for Baca, has been a crucible in which he has been able to discover his gift for writing. Baca, still wishing for family, reconnects with his mother. She decides to be honest with her husband and her children, and she reveals that she no longer loves her husband Richard. When she informs Richard of her plans to leave him, he shoots and kills her.

Baca’s brother, Mieyo, despondent over his mother’s death, continues his self-destructive path. Mieyo begins to drink to excess and is beaten to death in an alley by unknown assailants.

At the end of the memoir, Baca has a wife and children, the family he has always wanted. Perhaps more importantly, he has earned for himself an identity that provides him “a place to stand” in the world.

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