A radio journalist immerses herself in the lives of five murderers incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison in California.
NPR reporter and producer Mullane received remarkable cooperation from the prison staff as well as her subjects as they sought parole for good behavior and changed character. Though the parole process is long and complex, the decisions can be overturned by the governor without detailed explanation. However, for obvious reasons, most governors tend to reject parole requests from murderers even when prison officials and parole board members favor release. Mullane was surprised to learn that of the approximately 1,000 convicted murderers paroled in California in the last 21 years, not one has murdered again. The accounts of the five prisoners—Don Cronk, Ed Ramirez, Rich Rael, Phillip Seiler and Jesse Reed—interweave throughout the book, making the narrative difficult to track at times. The author examines their young lives before the murders, the circumstances of their crimes, their prison terms and their attempts to readjust to the world outside prison. She recounts interviews with family members, lovers and friends, but does not approach those close to the murder victims, a conscious editorial decision that certainly spared suffering for those loved ones but detracts from the book's emotional impact. Nonetheless, Mullane demonstrates clearly that each of the five men was to some extent a caring person who made a terrible decision on an especially bad day and has spent years trying to sincerely atone for the murder. The author believes in rehabilitation and second chances, and her accounts are unusual in their optimism about inmates living productively behind bars and after their release.
Occasionally uneven, but overall an impressive investigative work with interesting findings that tend to contradict conventional wisdom.