Manghan’s debut draws on the time he spent as a volunteer chaplain at an unnamed American prison. Inmates were eager to tell him their stories, in person and in letters; these tales make up the bulk of this work, and many end tragically. The author questioned whether some of the prisoners he met were wrongly imprisoned, and he even went so far as to examine court documents for inconsistencies and questionable practices—which, in many cases, he found. The titular storyteller, Gitano Cervantes, found himself in prison for a crime he insists he didn’t commit. It turns out that the crime, the sexual assault of two boys, took place two years before Cervantes even entered the United States, but despite this, he sees little hope for release. Manghan tells stories of other men in the prison system; some admit guilt, while others maintain their innocence. One terminally ill prisoner tells of being mistreated by prison officials; another died as the result of neglect. Still another claims that he’s incarcerated due to false accusations by his stepgranddaughter, alleging the sexual abuse of her younger siblings. Manghan often tells these stories in the prisoners’ own words, through letters they sent him during his chaplaincy, and he uses court documents and prison records to bolster the accounts. Overall, the book is a frank look at the horrors of the American justice and prison systems in the modern age. However, the author is careful to note there are people in prison who truly deserve to be there, as well as ethical prison officials. The stories of injustice may indeed be outliers, but they also serve as a call to action for prison and justice system reforms. As a result of Manghan’s service as a chaplain, many of his subjects are religious, but the work doesn’t take a particularly religious perspective. Instead, his accounts are largely secular, and his appeals are on a political and personal level. Many readers, particularly those with an interest in issues surrounding the American justice system and human rights, will find the work compelling.
A sometimes-difficult but necessary book about the failures of the American prison system.