A Judge's Own Prison Memoir
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 By turns absorbing, self-pitying, and intentionally (and unintentionally) amusing, former New York State chief judge Wachtler's memoir recounts a journey through hell--a prison term for charges stemming from attempted extortion, harassment, and kidnapping threats made against his former lover, socialite Joy Silverman, and her daughter. Wachtler is certainly entitled to criticize inequities he first discussed as a judge and then experienced as an inmate while serving 12 months in two federal prisons in North Carolina and Minnesota. These include mandatory jail sentences, draconian treatment for first-time drug offenders, dehumanizing strip searches, and overcrowded, violent prisons. One quality for which Wachtler won praise as a judge--his writing skill--is shown to best advantage in stories about fellow inmates, a group consisting of spies, Mafia kingpins, drug addicts, counterfeiters, and robbers. In his shock at his vertiginous fall from power, Wachtler echoes Sherman McCoy in his friend Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. But it is his version of what brought him so low, not of what transpired in prison, that contains more spin than conviction. He writes that prescription-drug-induced manic-depression sparked his campaign against Silverman after their relationship ended, but doesn't explain why this didn't seem to affect his judicial performance. He attacks Michael Chertoff, the US attorney who prosecuted him, for seeking jail when an ``order of protection'' and mandated psychological treatment would have supposedly sufficed. Moreover, he cannot understand why Silverman went straight to the FBI about this case instead of simply asking him to stop. This is literally a case of ``blaming the victim,'' since one finds in Linda Wolfe's 1994 Double Life (an account otherwise hostile to Silverman) that Silverman did have her lawyer urge Wachtler to cease the harassment, only to have the judge deny everything, then escalate the threats. While compulsively readable, this confession conceals as much as it reveals, reeking more of resentment at the criminal justice system Wachtler once served than of repentance toward his victim. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45653-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


IndieGORILLA TANGO by Warren  Stelman
by Warren Stelman