A mother describes her son’s descent into drugs, crime, and prison.
In this debut book, the author tells readers that the story is true, but the names of people and some places have been changed to protect the privacy of the involved parties. Grodzinsky employs a narrator, named Julie Jamison, who recounts her soul-deadening experiences with her son. Adopted at 6 weeks old, Michael acts up in school after Julie and her husband divorce. She remarries, but Michael fights with his stepbrothers, drinks, indulges in drugs, and steals. As a teen, he’s shot and hospitalized. He later pulls a knife on his stepfather, ends up in juvenile hall, and receives a diagnosis of “conduct disorder.” Skinheads become his new family, although he also impregnates and marries a couple of women, who hastily leave with their babies. Busted for dealing drugs in California, Michael’s sentenced to rehab and arrested again, this time in Las Vegas, for check forging. He lands in prison, enduring hardships and joining the Aryan Warriors for protection, while his mother deals with the petty rules the guards impose on visitors, who feel like inmates. After he’s paroled, Michael lands a job and buys a house. But he’s busted again for criminal activities with the Warriors, sentenced to 12-plus years in prison, and moved around the country, making family visits difficult. As her son turns 40, Julie learns of a great-granddaughter she never knew about. Although many of the ugly facts of prison life should be familiar to readers, this book provides a stirring personal account of the frustrations of dealing with a disturbed son and a system where recidivism rates run 70 to 80 percent. It’s impossible to say whether nature or nurture lies at the root of Michael’s troubles, but the author points out that privatization of prisons is a major cause of the facilities’ failures. Grodzinsky doesn’t delve into these issues too deeply. What comes through clearly is her narrator’s love, guilt, frustration, and hopelessness in the face of her son’s intractable problems and a corrupt, sick network unable to assist him. As the author notes, it makes no sense to house a man in prison for $15,000 to $60,000 a year and then spend “almost nothing” to help him adapt and survive upon release.
A tragic and moving story of a dysfunctional son and society’s inability to offer aid.