A thoughtful consideration of the massive challenges and moral burdens faced by individuals paroled after long sentences for the most severe of infractions.
German-born Heinlein possessed understandable trepidation regarding the pursuit of this project through the labyrinth of “re-entry” from the American prison system: “It is hard to look a murderer in the face….Yet considering the rising number of murderers being released from prison, it becomes harder and harder to turn away.” In 2007, while receiving a master’s degree in journalism from NYU, she began attending events at the Fortune Society (“the crème de la crème of American halfway houses”) in upper Manhattan, following three men as they acclimated themselves to urban society after a quarter-century or longer behind bars. Heinlein develops authentic, nuanced portrayals of her central characters, noting that while all showed remorse and dealt admirably with the challenges of re-entry, questions regarding their redemption remain tricky. Arguing that, since murder sentences represent the extremes of incarceration, their re-entry process would be the most difficult, she observed the three as they dealt with everything from relationships with women to dining in neighborhood restaurants, as well as more profound issues such as their own determination to rebuild their lives and make up for lost years. As she got to know them and weighed their own responses to the moral quandaries of their crimes and punishments, the author makes sharp observations about the tattered world inhabited by released convicts. Heinlein notes that almost “no one employs ex-cons except the agencies that promise to help them,” particularly in hard economic times.
A deeply compassionate book that poses urgent questions about the end product of imprisonment and the social thirst for vengeance.