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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Doing Life Sentences (True Crime) (Biography)

by Howard Zehr 
Publisher: Good Books; Original ed. edition (December 31, 1996)
Softcover, 124 pages

“The men and women in this book are serving life sentences in Pennsylvania prisons. All have been convicted of homicide. Many have already served long sentences in prison. Most will die there. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that mandates life imprisonment without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of first or second degree murder. For a lifer, the only possibility of release is commutation by the governor, an exceedingly rare event. Life sentences in Pennsylvania are real life sentences.”

In this book, fifty eight lifers from the Pennsylvania correctional system give their perspective on living at the government’s pleasure for the rest of their natural existences. A page sized photo of the inmate is provided, along with a quote from them, or a short essay. Their words deal little with the day-to-day reality of living in a prison system, but more on their philosophy of life now.

A lot of it is repetitious. Many have “found God”. All talk about the struggle to keep going and not fall into a black hole of despair. The sincerity of each is nearly impossible to ascertain. Where they putting on a front in hopes of bettering their chances for commutation? Maybe. Some seemed very self-involved, which may be a by-product of the prison environment. The stories I found most believable are the ones which discussed why they were in prison in the first place. Others were just sob stories.
The photographs are somewhat candid. Prisoners are not in prison fatigues nor are they shown in prison facilities. They are deliberately placed in street clothes in order to humanize them as, the author states, many people cannot see beyond the prison fatigues. And it works. If you randomly flip through the book, you would not automatically think you were gazing at a collection of killers.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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