"This author brings a nuanced, wry perspective to the prison memoir genre."– Kirkus Reviews
A no-holds-barred account of life at several different levels of the American correctional system.
After being arrested for “official misconduct”—he cheated on his expenses while working as a government official—author Alfredano (Be Strong, Be Tough, Be Smart, 2014) embarked on a harrowing journey through different levels of the American correctional system, starting at New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail and ending at a state prison. He candidly reveals his experiences behind bars, one he hopes show “what incarceration is all about.” “We deal with the idea of prison the same way we deal with cancer,” he writes. “We merely latch on to complacency and focus on the reassuring notion that ‘it could never happen to me.’ ” Alfredano provides few details of his pre-incarceration life, preferring to immediately plunge the reader into prison life. At Rikers Island, he faces “the absolute worst of humanity” in both the detainees and the correctional officers, spending four days in an observation cell where he witnesses a “psychotic kid” stick another cellmate in the eye with a plastic spoon. “I remember thinking that there were probably prisoner-of-war camps with better conditions than this,” he says. At the state prison, he has to strike a “delicate balance between staying out of trouble with the COs and commanding enough respect from fellow inmates to keep them from challenging you.” Alfredano is treading on somewhat familiar ground, Orange Is the New Black being another recent addition to the prison memoir genre. But this work benefits from the author’s distinctive, hard-boiled turns of phrase—a detainee at Rikers was “like some cartoon circus act on steroids”—and his sense of the absurd. In a county jail, he recalls, five of the inmates were related, the whole family having “apparently been in and out of [the] jail facility throughout the years like a vacation home in the Hamptons.” Alfredano also finds the humanity in such characters as a jailhouse lawyer who can’t write his own letters because he is illiterate. “Only those who have experienced living behind bars are able to know the veritable depth of their fellow man,” he observes.
The author brings a nuanced, wry perspective to the prison memoir genre.
A father’s guide to raising an autistic child.
In this debut—part memoir, part self-help manual—Alfredano chronicles his parenting journey. When his son Denny was first diagnosed with autism in the mid-1980s, there wasn’t very much information available about the disorder, so Alfredano became adept at dealing with his son intuitively. Early on, he found a successful approach: turn Denny’s “defenses” into resources. Like many autistic children, Denny relished routines, so Alfredano tried to make them work to their advantage. For example, Denny loved nature, so one of the author’s first breakthroughs was to regularly take his son for a walk, pointing out the exact same landmarks each time. Learning these individual patterns was crucial to his son’s success, but raising an autistic child wasn’t easy, and the author is honest about the patience and fortitude that was required. Denny went on to do remarkably well academically, even earning a doctorate, but his father is realistic about his son’s limitations: “Denny had triumphed over essentially all of his autistic behaviors and excelled communicatively,” he writes. “And yet at twenty-five years old, he still seemed to have no genuine interest in dating, in nurturing long-term friendships or relationships, or in going out to social gatherings.” A long, final chapter by Denny’s sister, Giada Star, is welcome, as it adds a unique, personal element and provides a very different take on Denny. There are moments when Alfredano’s tone is a bit preachy, as when he repeatedly reminds readers that their children should be their first priority. However, his overall approach is highly engaging and sympathetic. As he shares his story, he’s very open about his own failings, such as focusing too much on Denny’s interests at the expense of other academic topics. His conclusion—that Denny’s success must be taken in stride—gives the book a very human touch.
A thoughtful, helpful memoir about the challenges and pleasures of living with an autistic child.