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CELL 2455, DEATH ROW by Caryl Chessman



Pub Date: May 3rd, 1954
Publisher: Prentice-Hall

A 32-year old ""criminal psychopath"" is awaiting death in Death Row in St. Quentin's, in a cell where he has spent one eighth of his life. Successive stays have given him the chance to fight for his life as his own attorney. But in final analysis, the important thing he has done, in these final years, is to take stock of himself, to find some reason for Caryl Chessman. This is his story, the story of a boy of good background, a better than average intelligence and education, devoted- and too forgiving- parents, who became, in his teens, a completely antisocial person, violently menacing society. Fear -- and hate -- these became dominant factors. Authority and discipline were catalysts that set off chain reactions of rebellion. He does not deny the long record of crime which brought him successively to court, to judge, to reform school, to one prison after another -- and yet left the major part of his crimes unpunished. He does deny the crime for which he is destined to pay with his life. He feels that- after living with Death for years, he is worth more to society alive than dead. And he hopes this book begins a journey back from outer darkness. Even if it helps society face the problems of the Chessmans, the problem of juvenile delinquency in the making, ""blazing guns, screaming tires, reform school educations...and the final chair"". The book is extraordinary in its vividness, its sordid and often meaningless detailing of crime, its usually objective viewing of himself. Often self-consciously ""highbrow"" in references, quotations, etc., it gradually takes on the sweep of sheer melodrama in the story telling, while rarely stirring the emotions beyond the sense of shock and credulity. He has a lot to say- and his points drive home. Shock techniques, crime comics in action, these one has to saturation. Sociologists and criminologists may well find it a human document of real significance.