A young man is incarcerated for child molestation in Valdes’ enlightening novel about the flawed prison system.
Joey Wilson, 23, is serving an eight-year sentence at LA County State Prison. He’s in for molesting a 13-year-old girl, and, rather than being sheltered in the Sensitive Needs Yard, where child molesters typically go, he has chosen to tough it out amid the general population. After introducing Joey, Valdes seamlessly examines a cast of characters that includes LB Legrand, Joey’s repentant cellmate; Buck Wilson, Joey’s father, a prison guard and ex-boxer whose dreams were crushed by a knee injury; Eddie Grisholt, an older guard who has no “tolerance for the cuddly style” that’s being ushered in; Dr. Byron Gardner, a prison psychiatrist who genuinely cares for his patients and suffers bitter disappointment when they regress; Leroy Cadenas, an inmate who had a difficult childhood and who’s recruited by Grisholt to jump Joey and Legrand. These characters’ hopes and dreams swirl together—Will Legrand find his daughter? Will Leroy reconnect with sex worker Tiara, whom he loved? Will Buck forgive Joey?—and the author asks readers to care for them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Valdes writes knowledgeably of the prison system, including references to “marriage chrono,” the visitation process, and strip searches with the command, “cough! cough! cough!” By wheeling through the large cast of characters, Valdes shows us the range of people involved in and affected by the incarceration system. Each character—whether a guard, a psychiatrist, or a prisoner—is flawed, and Valdes examines the thin line that separates prisoner from free man. Occasionally, the characters feel rote—the wise, African-American prisoner; the guard with something to prove; the good doctor—and the story veers toward manifesto at times. However, the subject matter is sufficiently engaging that readers may forgive some flaws.
A nuanced examination of the prison system and those affected by it.