Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: Inside This Place, Not Of It

A new title from Voice of Witness, Inside This Place, Not Of It, provides a series of narratives based on interviews with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. The book personalizes the background stories of women in prison, their experiences within walls, and their difficulties upon release.

The editing is graceful, light-handed, and almost invisible, making the stories ring true and fresh, as if the reader is sitting in the room with the speaker. Most of the time, the editors' hand is only seen in a helpful introductory paragraph, and the quality and sensitivity of the interviews themselves shines through the stories. There is something very genuine about some women's willingness to discuss the offense that brought them to prison, and others' reluctance to elaborate on the more difficult parts.

A few common themes emerge. So many of these stories begin with familial neglect and abuse, set in a general environment of deprivation and discrimination. The balance between being a product of one's environment and having personal responsibility for one's actions is delicate, but many of the interviewed women are very thoughtful and reflective, and provide a nuanced understanding of their actions in the context in which they were committed.

The two most alarming aspects of the narratives, for me, involved seldom-highlighted aspects of women's imprisonment. The first is the truly shoddy health care system. Shocking stories of giving birth while shackled and being separated from one's baby, receiving a mistaken HIV diagnosis that remained uncorrected for years (and treatment for it), having one's diabetes untreated and undiagnosed, callous carelessness about the possibility that an inmate might lose all her teeth, repeat themselves throughout the book.

The other aspect is the frequency with which sexual abuse by guards occurs in the prison environment. Many women report sex with guards under physical coercion or lack of choices, and for many of them, speaking up and complaining entails harsh retaliation and isolation from the prison staff as well as the inmates. Popular culture tends to focus on rape and sexual assault among inmates. It would appear that assault and exploitation on the part of staff requires much more serious and urgent attention.

The book also includes a series of great appendices, providing solid, readable information about topics such as the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), health care issues, and the incidence of prison rape. I can't recommend this enough as a great, honest window into lives seldom discussed publicly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I (Heather Heaton) am recommending my new ebook ("Her Letters from Prison") as a motivational resource for reading pleasure, review, contemplation, and comment. My ebook will validate your inquisitive doubts about what goes on in women’s prisons; it can justify the efforts spent toward ministries to women’s prisons; and it can be an inspirational (tell-it-like-it-is) resource for drug rehab/prevention programs. The book is non-fiction inspirational Christian romance (It is what it is!); and the original letters (with prison art) are included as images for authenticity. You can go to http://www.heather-heaton.com and purchase “Her Letters from Prison”, Parts 1 and 2.

If you don’t happen to own a Kindle, Nook, or some other eReader device, then download the FREE Adobe Digital Editions software to your computer to read the “epub” version of my ebook as purchased from Smashwords. Multiple versions of my ebook are available on Smashwords.

I am a 34 year old college student trying to better my life, in spite of the baggage I carry from my previous life. To date, I have been quite successful in accomplishing this goal; and I will use the proceeds from the book to help support myself. My picture is posted, with my book descriptions, at Smashwords.

My recently published ebook is entitled ("Her Letters from Prison: Part 1 & Part 2", by Heather Heaton). The ebook was published at Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). A brief description of the ebook follows:
1. Breanna tells the true story of her experiences in prison through her letters to her friend Heath. This is a story of survival and a quest to make a better life. The letters describe the daily shocking events of prison life involving drugs, sex, utter devastation and humiliation, anger, hopelessness, despair, and finally happiness and hope.

2. Breanna's "truth" stands still even as the world around her trembles and burns! Bad things do happen to good people; and Breanna is the perfect example of this truth.

3. Breanna's inner strengths and principles eventually win out over the corruption and evil that surrounds her. With God's help, Breanna survives the horrible experiences of prison life and regains her self-confidence and hope for a better life.

4. "Breanna" was an inmate at Tutwiler Women's Prison from 2007 to 2009.

5. "Breanna" benefitted from women's prison ministries and the LIFE Tech-Wetumpka state-funded self-help program.

Heather Heaton

Customer/Reader Review of “Her Letters from Prison”
Heather, ever since you first contacted me about your ebooks (and when I received them) I have been giving them traction. At least two women on my case load checked them out, (like a library card so I would get them back) and were very moved by the content. I haven’t had another problem with their behavior since they read them. So…I know they are working. They should be required reading, ordered by a Judge before women are sentenced to probation, so that they would fully understand the consequences of their behavior.
Gary Parsons
Parole Officer
State of Alabama – Board of Pardons & Parole