WHAT IS REAL by Riley Perez


The Life and Crimes of Darnell Riley
Email this review


An ex-con tells the story of life inside the California state prison system.

In 2005, Perez (full name Darnell Riley Perez) was “a year removed from my last criminal act”: breaking into Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis’ Bel Air home, videotaping Francis in compromising positions, and using the resulting footage to extort money. Then, without warning, two armed U.S. Marshalls captured Perez at his home. In this gritty memoir, the author details the decade he spent behind bars. His first experiences at the LA County jail lockup showed him just how difficult incarceration could be. The cramped cells had no windows and no clocks, and the prison moved inmates around often, creating a sense of instability. Corrections officers carried out everything from full body searches to meal service “with the same level of hate for the process as the inmates.” A majority of convicts were involved in notorious gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and the Asian Boyz, divided along racial lines. Perez identified himself as a more-or-less neutral “Other” and managed to stay out of most intergang confrontations. But loneliness and separation from family and friends took its toll. With an almost frightening sangfroid, he writes about collecting a secret stash of sleeping pills to use in case his trial “was a failure.” In early 2006, Perez was formally charged and sentenced to 10 years and moved to the Corcoran State Prison, which housed convicted murderer Charles Manson. A female corrections officer briefly made a sexually frustrated Perez one of her “personal sex performers” and watched him masturbate when he was alone in his cell. Later, he became a “soldier” in a private war between convicts and assaulted an inmate who had not paid a debt to another. Grim, unrelenting, and at times difficult to read, the book takes readers on a journey to the dark side of both prison life and human nature.

A disturbingly honest memoir.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-947856-26-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


IndieSAINT BADASS by Doug  Carnine
by Doug Carnine
NonfictionPRISON JOURNAL by Joseph F. Timilty
by Joseph F. Timilty
NonfictionA LITTLE PIECE OF LIGHT by Donna Hylton
by Donna Hylton