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Not a tremendously hopeful work, but Gordon's audaciousness in regarding the condemned as creative citizens is memorable and...

A surprising—and frequently searing—examination of the prison experience, seen from both inside and out.

Novelist Gordon (When Bobby Kennedy Was a Moving Man, 1993) ran intensive writing workshops in Washington State prisons for nine years, until funding was ignominiously truncated. He initially explores the contemporary explosion in incarceration, noting that imprisonment rates have doubled in the last decade, even while the American people are "in no hurry to lay claim to the prisoners in our midst." As implied by his title, he views this reluctance to consider the realities of the imprisonment surge as akin to willful blindness in the face of a ghastly, distorted civic reflection. In contrast, his enthusiasm for his prison teaching experience is palpable: he offers strong tales of prisoners who found release and grace in writing, and discovered the joys of its inherent craftsmanship. Gordon maintains a wry, informed stance that strengthens his arguments regarding prisoner humanity and the pure (and vicious) moral relativism that prisons breed—particularly in the "get-tough" era, when even education and the simplest privileges are stripped away. Additionally, he culls a variety of memorable pieces in distinctive voices from the current and former prisoners he's taught. Yet their writing surges with edgy awareness and hard-won insights: memorable essays range from an attempted murderer's chillingly humorous tips on prison survival ("Commit an Honorable Crime . . . Keep a Good Porn Collection") to a twice-convicted rapist—now held indefinitely according to new Orwellian notions of civil commitment—recounting the violence and contempt accorded sex offenders (who stand lowest on the convict pecking order, along with snitches). Gordon's finely honed stance is most haunting: he draws difficult conclusions regarding the humanity of his charges, he portrays their absurdist moments of honesty or altruism, and he testifies convincingly about the power of writing to foster discipline and engagement with the world—perhaps to stifle criminal nihilism.

Not a tremendously hopeful work, but Gordon's audaciousness in regarding the condemned as creative citizens is memorable and gripping.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-87422-198-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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