A collection of letters that aims to provide encouragement and advice to the incarcerated.
Debut author Valdes draws on his 10 years of experience as a psychiatrist in the California state correctional system to provide prisoners with insights into what led to their crimes; how to deal with prison life; and what skills, attitudes, and habits they can develop in order to achieve a stronger sense of self and greater success going forward. Using a direct, and sometimes quite blunt, second-person voice, he offers his thoughts on multiple topics in a series of 28 letters, covering childhood troubles; advocating for oneself; prison politics; the judicial system; the victims of crimes; drugs; mental health; and the transition to everyday life after prison, among others. Some scenarios may not apply to all prisoners—for example, a letter subtitled “Speak!” starts with the judgment, “You wouldn’t be in prison if you had learned to speak your mind.” In another letter about mental health, Valdes asserts that the prisoner didn’t get love and understanding from a parent or other adult earlier in life. Although these generalizations are almost certainly true in many circumstances, and undoubtedly reflect the author’s experience working in the prison system, they won’t resonate with all readers. Also, because all the examples allude to a male prison population, this book won’t be as relevant for female inmates. However, the book’s overall tone is one of encouragement and compassion, and the wisdom that Valdes offers reflects close observation and caring. Much of the advice is usefully pragmatic; for example, one letter discusses the need for positive interactions with guards whenever feasible, and another talks about “friends” who exert a negative influence after the prisoner is released. The book also provides suggestions for non-prisoners, such as forming a “Prison Corps” of college students to help inmates socialize by telling their stories.
A direct, caring, and insightful read that covers a wealth of prison-related issues.