(This book will be released in early July, 2017)
I was looking at net galley one day and came across this book. It sounded interesting. I applied to Scribner Publications and they kindly sent it to me.
I don’t normally read non fiction about prisoners. In fact, I think this was the first time. I found the description of the book appealing and as I looked into it more I see it takes place in the state of Michigan. I grew up in Michigan so am familiar with the various places it mentions. Sitting in Tasmania it seemed quite far away.
The author, Curtis Dawkins grew up in rural Illinois and earned an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University. He struggled with alcohol and substance abuse through most of his life and, during a botched robbery, killed a man on Halloween 2004. Since late 2005, he’s been serving a life sentence, with no possibility of parole, in various prisons throughout Michigan. He has three children with his partner, Kim. She is a writing professor living in Portland, Oregon.
For someone who had everything going for him I can’t really get my head around it. I just can’t imagine continuing to live when facing such a tragic outcome.
The book is written in a series of short stories all connected with Mr. Dawkins. (Think Olive Kitteridge.) He doesn’t talk about his crime. Instead he talks about the friends he makes, some of the procedures he endures from day to day and how he passes the time. How does one pass the time when facing a lifetime of incarceration.
In one of the early chapters and my favourite, he describes using the telephone to dial up random numbers. First the recipient must accept the charges after hearing the person calling is doing so from prison. Several people take him up on his offer and a very few let him know he can call back. He does so and has on going conversations about their lives and almost becomes a friend. “Just don’t do it too often,” one man states.
This book is a different story. It is not about the violence that one normally hears about prisons. There is nothing in his situation that is sensationalised. Each story is of a different person he shares a cell with, the things they talk about or the experiences he has. There were a couple of relationships that had me chuckling a bit. There is no doubt that each man may have friends but they are always watching out for number one.
I was fascinated by the tales. I liked Curtis. I did not see him as a murderer who completely ruined another’s life and that of the family. He was a man who did a stupid thing and it ended up in tragedy and a life of no hope. The story shows the feelings of the man, how he tries to cope day to day. What makes him laugh and how he tries to make his life mean something so he doesn’t completely go off the rails.
The men he shares his life with are first of all people, secondly people that really screwed up. I thought at times, this could happen to any of us in a fit of desperation, rage or just really bad judgment, especially as a young person.
The only criticism I had of the book was perhaps the ending was tidied up a little too quick. I felt it rather ended quite suddenly. I wanted a summary of sorts. I
am not sure I know what I mean by that but I was left wanting a bit more. More revelations of how he is going to survive.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys studying relationships between people who find themselves in unusual positions. How would we cope? This is an interesting slice of life written by an educated writer.