CONCRETE CARNIVAL by Danner Darcleight


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Candid account of life in a maximum security prison.

Darcleight has served more than 17 years of a 25-to-life sentence for murdering his parents while in thrall to addiction. “I am responsible,” he writes, “but absent heroin, I’d still have my parents....Self-loathing accompanies my grief.” The author captures the complex relationship between guilt and imprisonment, arguing that many prisoners endeavor to live an ordered life and “recast [their] predicament into an opportunity for growth.” Darcleight developed a passion for writing and deep friendships: “We understood that we enjoyed better luck than our peers, living better than most of our brethren...[despite] how precarious is living well in prison.” Additionally, he credits marriage to a civilian woman for his stability, though this relationship resulted in a punitive transfer to a distant prison: “Despite being shackled and under armed guard, I feel an exhilarating sense of freedom traveling through the world, sharing the road with citizens.” In asking readers to look beyond “the abstract label of me, the murderer,” he’s able to focus on the absurdities and hidden rituals of imprisonment, starting with the distorted expectations of civilians regarding gangs and violence, “given soft-core gore-porn treatment in pop culture.” Darcleight argues that the fascination with sexual assault between inmates both overstates the problem and simplifies such aspects as staff collusion. “Rape,” he writes, “is one of the few prison issues for which the public has an appetite.” Similarly, drug trafficking within the walls seems inevitable given that “sobriety is indeed a cruel mirror for those who have destroyed like we’ve destroyed.” The author alternates cohesive chapters on his prison experiences with more rambling ones recalling his early life of privilege, a callous youngster careening toward tragedy without realization. The distance between Darcleight’s current perspective and his destructive past underscores his argument that the lives of the imprisoned warrant consideration.

A provocative work focused on empathy and redemption rather than the setting’s natural grime and melodrama.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-57962-437-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016


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