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Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home

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95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them? There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, no 95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them? There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, now about to reenter an unrecognizable world. Vicki, a five-time loser who had cycled in and out of prison for more than a third of her life. They are simultaneously joyful and overwhelmed at the prospect of freedom. Anxious, confused, sometimes terrified, and often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the free world, all are intent on reclaiming and remaking their lives. What is the road they must travel from caged to free? How do they navigate their way home? A gripping and empathetic work of immersion reportage, Free reveals what awaits them and the hundreds of thousands of others who are released from prison every year: the first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles and logistical roadblocks, grinding bureaucracies, lack of resources, societal stigmas and damning self-perceptions, the sometimes overwhelming psychological challenges. Veteran reporter Lauren Kessler, both clear-eyed and compassionate, follows six people whose diverse stories paint an intimate portrait of struggle, persistence, and resilience. The truth—the many truths—about life after lockup is more interesting, more nuanced, and both more troubling and more deeply triumphant than we know.


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95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them? There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, no 95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them? There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, now about to reenter an unrecognizable world. Vicki, a five-time loser who had cycled in and out of prison for more than a third of her life. They are simultaneously joyful and overwhelmed at the prospect of freedom. Anxious, confused, sometimes terrified, and often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the free world, all are intent on reclaiming and remaking their lives. What is the road they must travel from caged to free? How do they navigate their way home? A gripping and empathetic work of immersion reportage, Free reveals what awaits them and the hundreds of thousands of others who are released from prison every year: the first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles and logistical roadblocks, grinding bureaucracies, lack of resources, societal stigmas and damning self-perceptions, the sometimes overwhelming psychological challenges. Veteran reporter Lauren Kessler, both clear-eyed and compassionate, follows six people whose diverse stories paint an intimate portrait of struggle, persistence, and resilience. The truth—the many truths—about life after lockup is more interesting, more nuanced, and both more troubling and more deeply triumphant than we know.

30 review for Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up because it's so deeply involving I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: I'm the sort of bleeding-heart liberal who wrote to prisoners in for long stretches back when my hands could still write. I had one guy parole to my address. He was one of the luckier ones...his dad's car was his, he had a nest egg from dad's death, and he made it okay through re-entry. (Explaining ATMs was the mind-blowing moment of complete freak-out for Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up because it's so deeply involving I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: I'm the sort of bleeding-heart liberal who wrote to prisoners in for long stretches back when my hands could still write. I had one guy parole to my address. He was one of the luckier ones...his dad's car was his, he had a nest egg from dad's death, and he made it okay through re-entry. (Explaining ATMs was the mind-blowing moment of complete freak-out for him...a few years later it was the cellphone that utterly destroyed his brain.) But he was very, very lucky and knew it. Many more aren't. We, as a society, have made our laws such that anyone who went to prison was effectively unemployable and unusable after that. Now, having read my reviews of How Fascism Works and Racism, Not Race, do some threads come together in your privileged mind? Not one iota of this is accidental. It is designed carefully to have the effects it does. And on whom it does. You who vote for GOP candidates are disproportionately to blame for this tragic, wasteful, and hideously costly disaster that unfolds out of sight. "Law and order" is second only to "horrified and heartbroken" in the right-wing litany of useless at best, and harmful at worst, mealy-mouthing. What Author Kessler has done with her trademark facility is immerse herself into situations hitherto privately endured, suffered through, floundered deeper into. It's her gift. From the ridiculous (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker, 2015) to poignant (Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's, 2007) to flat-out hilarious (My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence, 2010), she's been in the thick of stuff lots of us endure without guidance, and brought back either—or more often both—wisdom or insight. She does it again here, with the afterlife of prisoners as "free" people. I know you're shocked. A big part of what led Author Kessler to this topic was her frequent writing classes taught to incarcerated people. It's a shocking, unfathomable truth that teaching people to reach into themselves and bring out stories...their own or made-up ones...is a giant benefit to them! Imagine such a thing! And now imagine how comparatively few prisons offer such a simple, inexpensive thing.... I digress. So Author Kessler knew firsthand what was going to happen before she decided to do her party trick and get into the nitty-gritty. When she does that, she brings the reader a volume of emotional reality that is hard to endure, but impossible to ignore. There are statistics. There is research and its concomitant eye-smartingly dull prose (that missing half-star making sense now?). But mostly, there's Arnoldo and Vicki and Leah and Sterling...there's a solid undertone in even the least scintillating passages that ties it to a person whose real life this is, and thus made this reader care deeply. It's hard to reach in and grab one's tiny remaining blossom of empathy to pluck and give to troubled, law-breaking people. And that's why I keep trying. I don't want to, but I also don't want to live in that world. The one that has room only for Me and Those Like Me. Because that world's never done a good turn for this particular reader and writer, has conditionally accepted what I offered only to eject me from its benefits when I wasn't able to keep giving. I'm hugely lucky, compared to the folks who're leaving prison. I have a lifeline they lack: The System works for old white men like me because it's meant to work for us. So I do this. I read their stories, I tell you about that reading, and say "you should read this, it's important that you know what's happening in your name." Consider it said.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Val

    My thanks to @Sourcebooks, as well as to @NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home. "The first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles." It's hard to read about what these individuals have gone through. Can you imagine being arrested as a kid, released after 30 years in prison, and then trying to slide into a normal life?? Can you imagine having door after door slammed in your face?? No one will My thanks to @Sourcebooks, as well as to @NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home. "The first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles." It's hard to read about what these individuals have gone through. Can you imagine being arrested as a kid, released after 30 years in prison, and then trying to slide into a normal life?? Can you imagine having door after door slammed in your face?? No one will rent a home to you. No one will hire you. It's all just so WRONG. The author did an amazing job describing how and where we fail the thousands of individuals coming out of prison every year. I hope to see where the adult prosecution of any child under age 14 ends SOON. Children's brains flat out don't operate the same way adults do. I'm grateful to the Obama Administration for enacting the Fair Chance Business Pledge. I'm grateful to the Equal Justice Initiative for their tireless work in making changes come about. I'm grateful to Ms. Kessler for opening my eyes. I had no idea of the injustices happening today. Free has inspired me to learn more. "Children must be provided, with few exceptions, a 'meaningful opportunity’ [for release that] must come early enough in a person’s life to pursue education, employment, and reintegration into society.” Amen.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pia

    Free by Lauren Kessler is one of those books that you immediately wish everyone would read. It is a deftly and compassionately written exploration of the American justice system through the journeys of 6 people's journeys through reentry through one of the most carceral, punishment-focused justice systems in the world, with a per-capita imprisonment rate that is higher than that of Russia, North Korea and China, and unfairly, horrifically biased towards condemning Black and brown people. The nov Free by Lauren Kessler is one of those books that you immediately wish everyone would read. It is a deftly and compassionately written exploration of the American justice system through the journeys of 6 people's journeys through reentry through one of the most carceral, punishment-focused justice systems in the world, with a per-capita imprisonment rate that is higher than that of Russia, North Korea and China, and unfairly, horrifically biased towards condemning Black and brown people. The novel doesn't shy away from the facts, which makes it seem like it might be too grim to stomach at times, but even when the novel is pulling tension together, the statistics are balanced against the hope - even hope against almost insurmountable odds at times - alongside compassion, connection, and the very real efforts of hundreds of charities each trying to do their best, sometimes in extremely difficult or even seemingly impossible circumstances. What I'm trying to say is that I worried the book would be far too heavy for me to read, but instead I found myself devouring it voraciously, intent to know the 'endings' of the paths of the people we're introduced to, though their stories never truly end. I found it fascinating following these narratives through Covid-19, and climate change related emergencies, learning how they impacted both charities beyond the prisons, but also prisoners within as well. The book makes it clear that restorative justice is needed, but very difficult to implement in a carceral system despite the best efforts of all involved. It makes it clear that the system of prison doesn't do anything to rehabilitate prisoners, but instead traumatises them, punishes them, and leaves them facing a life of stigma that not only harms them, but harms the whole of society, who doesn't seem to understand that prisoners do eventually - for the most part - get out and need to live in society again. And it is clear in countries like Norway, where systems are rehabilitation focused from the start, instead of punishment focused, that recidivism rates are low (the lowest in the world). I was most compelled by Sterling Cunio's story, which makes sense given it was easily given the most page time, and Sterling's story also touched Arnoldo's story deeply. The tension built while Kessler describes Sterling's journey towards reentry was masterful. This is written by someone who knows the right time to pull the strings taut, and knows the impact of leaving readers feeling sure, or uncertain, or hopeful, or upset, or angry. Ultimately, this review copy inspired me to actually look up reentry charities and outfits in Australia, since I know our system is similar to the USA's. I was already a fan of restorative justice, but this really cemented how much RJ is needed. In addition, it's now extremely clear that if prisons aren't planning for reentry from day one for a prisoner, even if that prisoner is a lifer, or will spend decades in prison, they have failed. And they are failing. I was inspired by the bonds of humanity described in this book. Supportive families, marriages, children, teachers, pastors, charities, even prison staff. The drive towards self-education and the stamina and resilience shown by many of these people. But I was also painfully aware that for every person who had a hopeful or positive ending, there are many that are not reentry success stories. It's often got nothing to do with how hard they fought, and everything to do with how traumatised they are, how little they are assisted, how many mountains there are to climb, how little support there is - and that support varies drastically state by state. Yet, still, this is a book about people who fight to keep going, who make mistakes but then pick themselves up and again, who relentlessly try and do far more to access far less than most of us take for granted. It is a system that desperately needs systemic change, and hopefully this book is one more brick in the road towards that happening.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Yodamom

    Wow, this is a thinker read. I was left with so many thoughts and feelings. I admit I really never thought about what happens after prison, really happens. Being a victim of a terrible crime, I thought I didn't care. Then I read this book. I found I d care, I want them to be successful citizens. I still don't believe all can be rehabilitated or released but some can and should. The people represented here all very different, all with little chance of not returning to the system. That shocked me. Wow, this is a thinker read. I was left with so many thoughts and feelings. I admit I really never thought about what happens after prison, really happens. Being a victim of a terrible crime, I thought I didn't care. Then I read this book. I found I d care, I want them to be successful citizens. I still don't believe all can be rehabilitated or released but some can and should. The people represented here all very different, all with little chance of not returning to the system. That shocked me. How can our justice system be so messed up ? The cycle is not good for anyone, it costs money and ruins lives. So now, they are out they paid for their crime, they walk out of there and start what ? Gods, what do they do ? This is scary. The author goes over the choices, or lack of them, the support or lack of. So what happens ? Who finances this ? This is a book schools should read it need a group discussion. There are so many levels, so many sides, it's mind boggling. The way it is now isn't working, so what now ? 4.5 stars rounded up

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    4 stars You can read all of my reviews at Nerd Girl Loves Books. This is a very good non-fiction book that takes an in-depth look at the difficulties people released from prison face once they are released. The author focuses on six individuals that were incarcerated as minors and follows their journeys as they are released and attempt to integrate back into a society that most of them barely recognize. The author has clearly done her homework and provides a lot of facts and figures regarding the 4 stars You can read all of my reviews at Nerd Girl Loves Books. This is a very good non-fiction book that takes an in-depth look at the difficulties people released from prison face once they are released. The author focuses on six individuals that were incarcerated as minors and follows their journeys as they are released and attempt to integrate back into a society that most of them barely recognize. The author has clearly done her homework and provides a lot of facts and figures regarding the challenges that people face as they attempt to restart their lives. Kessler takes those facts and figures and applies them to the six people spotlighted in the book, highlighting how their particular circumstance falls into one of the various themes. The author follows the six individuals through the ups and downs of their release, and in some cases, re-incarceration. While the author isn't heavy-handed in her criticism of the judicial system, it's clear she doesn't think much of it. She points out all of the hurdles that face people once they are released, including getting an id, finding a place to live, finding transportation and employment. Regardless of your feelings about the incarcerated, this book will open your eyes to aspects of the judicial system that are broken. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Sourcebooks. All opinions are my own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Lauren Kessler has written a thought-provoking study on the uphill battles of six individuals who are released from prison after serving their sentences. The crimes vary and the personalities of these six people vary even more. Lauren tells it with eyes wide open, no frilly borders or pretty colors here. This is an eye-opening read, it reveals there’s plenty of room for improvement in America’s legal system, but there are no simple solutions. When the prisoner is freed and walks out of the priso Lauren Kessler has written a thought-provoking study on the uphill battles of six individuals who are released from prison after serving their sentences. The crimes vary and the personalities of these six people vary even more. Lauren tells it with eyes wide open, no frilly borders or pretty colors here. This is an eye-opening read, it reveals there’s plenty of room for improvement in America’s legal system, but there are no simple solutions. When the prisoner is freed and walks out of the prison gates, it’s like a crapshoot. You can only hope for the best. This would be a difficult book to read for people who have been victims of crime. The level of compassion would be understandably lower. But it’s an interesting study based on facts, not emotions, and it’s a further testament to avoid ever breaking the law in the first place. Your battle is never truly over. Sincere thanks to Sourcebooks for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Interesting Yet Documentation Is Substandard. This is a work of narrative nonfiction where the author uses case studies of six people she has followed for some period of time as they fight to get released from prison and come back into the non-correctional life. As such, it is quite well done, though readers who struggle to follow multiple characters in a fiction book will likely struggle to follow along here, as the author herself is largely the only commonality among the six (though two of the Interesting Yet Documentation Is Substandard. This is a work of narrative nonfiction where the author uses case studies of six people she has followed for some period of time as they fight to get released from prison and come back into the non-correctional life. As such, it is quite well done, though readers who struggle to follow multiple characters in a fiction book will likely struggle to follow along here, as the author herself is largely the only commonality among the six (though two of them knew each other on the inside, their stories are largely separate and told separately). Indeed, the only real negative is that the author makes a lot of claims... that the scant 10% bibliography (at least in the advance edition I read) fails to really document. And thus the star deduction. Still, a solid work and one worthy of consideration. Very much recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joann Im

    An immersive and powerful account on individuals who are released from prison and the struggles of re-entry into society. Lauren Kessler provides voice to the six former prisoners in sharing their stories and their experience they face once released from prison and re-entering society. Impressive feat was the diverse voices of the six former prisoners that provided for humanizing these individuals instead of being written off as another statistic. Through Kessler's nuance, she masterfully delive An immersive and powerful account on individuals who are released from prison and the struggles of re-entry into society. Lauren Kessler provides voice to the six former prisoners in sharing their stories and their experience they face once released from prison and re-entering society. Impressive feat was the diverse voices of the six former prisoners that provided for humanizing these individuals instead of being written off as another statistic. Through Kessler's nuance, she masterfully delivers the human connection, empathetic perspective and the emotionally moving testament that was sobering yet inspirational. The stamina, drive and the crave for self-education from these individuals permeated so much beauty and their tenacious spirit. Kessler's thorough research is evidenced in her writing not shying away from the bleak factual information in the outlook of our prison system's lack of resources and the most-needed improvement in our justice system. The statistics and reliable sources are referenced and support the provided data. Kessler's sharp and compassionate writing captured the essence of humanity and their resilience. The six former prisoners' stories pierced my heart yet brought hope in mankind as well. Such captivating immersion reporting that was both moving and educational. This is so far one of my best reads of this year (and yes, we are still early in the year). Highly recommended for an eye-opening experience that shines a troubling light to the truth but the triumphant spirit that never wavers. Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kait Griffin

    My family member is an addict. Knowing how much their history of addiction and incarceration impacts them daily, I found this to be compassionately written. The struggles of reentry are myriad and it is apparent that being released does not equal freedom. I enjoyed hearing the back story of each person and following along as they try to make it in a generally unwelcoming world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    The American criminal justice system is a subject that fascinates and horrifies me endlessly; it has ever since I learned about the existence of for-profit prisons in my very early twenties. Since then, I’ve read quite a few books on prison and the court system, and when I saw Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home by Lauren Kessler (Sourcebooks, 2022) on NetGalley, I knew that was a book I needed to read. Huge thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks (of whom I’ve long been a fan!) fo The American criminal justice system is a subject that fascinates and horrifies me endlessly; it has ever since I learned about the existence of for-profit prisons in my very early twenties. Since then, I’ve read quite a few books on prison and the court system, and when I saw Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home by Lauren Kessler (Sourcebooks, 2022) on NetGalley, I knew that was a book I needed to read. Huge thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks (of whom I’ve long been a fan!) for approving my request in exchange for an honest review. Lauren Kessler has been teaching writing to prisoners for years. So much has been written about prisoners while they’re in prison; she wondered what happened after they left. How easy was it for them to rebuild lives? What made the difference between those who succeeded and those who ended up behind bars again? Ms. Kessler set out to follow six prisoners: five who had reached the end of their sentences and were returning to the free world, and one who was attempting to use the court system in order to shorten his sentence. All would face significant challenges. There’s Arnoldo, who spent 19 years in prison but who used that time to grow into the man he knew he could be; Leah, with two children in the foster care system and an addiction to meth; Vicki, addicted to heroin and meth and with a long history of paper crimes (credit card fraud, identity theft, etc); Sterling, a juvenile offender who grew into a thoughtful leader while in prison and who is trying to have his sentence overturned; Trevor, whose sentence is overturned and who finds himself forming a life with his prison penpal; Catherine, imprisoned since 30 and released at 30, entering a world she’s never known as an adult; and Dave, who spent 34 years behind bars and who doesn’t understand anything about today’s fast-paced, tech-dominated society. Lauren Kessler combines deeply emotional narrative with hard-hitting facts and statistics about the desultory state of the American criminal justice system. Free is replete with examples, from both academic studies and the devastating real-life effects, of what prison does to the people who spend time there, and how all of society is affected when punishment triumphs over rehabilitation. When 95% of prisoners will one day leave prison and return back to our society, shouldn’t we care more about how people are treated inside? Shouldn’t we be pushing more for rehabilitation over dehumanizing punishment, avoiding the learned helplessness that happens to so many prisoners and which serves absolutely no one? Lauren Kessler will have you reconsidering everything you’ve ever thought about what happens after the judge’s sentence takes place. Free is a heartfelt plea for a more just society, a more just court system, and a world that seeks to understand and help rather than punish and discard. It’s a remarkable book that I cannot recommend highly enough, and that left me wanting to read everything Lauren Kessler has ever written. What a wonderful, thought-provoking book this is.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Arthur Bradford Morrill III

    Lauren Kessler’s “Free” (ISBN: 9781728236513), publication date 19 Apr 2022, elicits many reactions, from being informed to feeling revulsion. The author understands what prisoners face when seeking an early release, and their challenges once they achieve it. However, the author only rarely provides commensurate information on the effects that the prisoners’ violent crimes have on victims, and their families and friends. This is more than a significant weakness; it is a major failing that preven Lauren Kessler’s “Free” (ISBN: 9781728236513), publication date 19 Apr 2022, elicits many reactions, from being informed to feeling revulsion. The author understands what prisoners face when seeking an early release, and their challenges once they achieve it. However, the author only rarely provides commensurate information on the effects that the prisoners’ violent crimes have on victims, and their families and friends. This is more than a significant weakness; it is a major failing that prevents a balanced view and reduces the author’s credibility. The author does catalog examples of how prisoners are not prepared for success when they return to the free world. While a worthy point, it is not one that can fully supplant the need to incarcerate people for unlawful activity, particularly violent crimes. However, in discussing this, the author claims this occurs in part because prisoners are not able to read body language, navigate space, and develop composure in crowds, yet later in the book the author asserts these are the very capabilities that permit existence if not progress during confinement. In another area, the author spoke of the need to change to the essential purpose of incarceration, i.e., to punish and remove a violent offender from society at large. To do so, the author used Nicole, the wife of the prisoner Arnaldo, who spoke of the need to "support healing and accountability over punishment." Laudable, but it would be an injustice to relegate punishment for murder to a subordinate or tertiary interest. In the end, this reviewer gained some new insights, but it was difficult to not feel that somehow the author was suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, making her at least somewhat blind to the need to respond punitively to violent criminals. On balance, this book earns two stars. Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks, for granting this reviewer the opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley for helping to make that possible.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alli

    What an immersive, powerful read. Lauren Kessler humanizes six former prisoners she has known through her volunteerism holding writing workshops for prisoners, detailing their stories, their time in the prison system, and the highs and lows they face upon reentry. Kessler explores what it means to be free for ex-convicts, from the lack of accessible and stable housing; to being released with a paltry sum ($200 is on the high end—an amount set several decades ago in California); to ongoing ostrac What an immersive, powerful read. Lauren Kessler humanizes six former prisoners she has known through her volunteerism holding writing workshops for prisoners, detailing their stories, their time in the prison system, and the highs and lows they face upon reentry. Kessler explores what it means to be free for ex-convicts, from the lack of accessible and stable housing; to being released with a paltry sum ($200 is on the high end—an amount set several decades ago in California); to ongoing ostracism from community (unending punishment after time served); to employment hurdles because of past record (despite education); to the challenges of living with friends and family who may have been part of the problem (e.g. drug addiction); to social connection and romantic relationship struggles; to recidivism (how and why ex-prisoners offend again); and to mounting, murky bureaucratic obstacles. Kessler also spends time discussing the emotional toll prison takes on self-esteem and agency, which makes the high levels of assertion and determination needed to succeed in an unwelcoming world even less plausible. Too, Kessler touches on race and reentry, and how people of color who are former prisoners often have the worst opportunities and outcomes. One of the things that sticks with me most is the simulation Kessler describes, where people in a community showed up to a church and for several hours acted out what reentry is like for a prisoner over the course of a week or so, including unforeseen obstacles ex-convicts may face, going from station to station (e.g. DMV, housing authority, bank). Even those who felt confident at first ended up dejected and despondent. They actually had mental health support for the people acting out the simulation. Wow. Where some other readers seem to feel Kessler has a blind spot to the need for incarceration, I had a different takeaway. Kessler doesn’t argue for or against imprisonment necessarily, but rather points out blatant hypocrisies of the prison system and argues for the need for prisoners who have served their time to be supported during reentry and allowed to live full lives, at least and at most because they are our family and our neighbors, making their lives in our communities. The sentence is handed down, the time is served, and now what? How do newly released prisoners reintegrate with barely enough money for a bus fare, no or fraught living arrangements, and little time, know-how, and/or access to navigate bureaucratic obstacles? There are examples of organizations doing the challenging work of helping those facing reentry to navigate and succeed. Even so, Kessler examines how current solutions to reentry are largely piecemeal and, in many places, entirely missing. The writing is compassionate and thoughtful, marrying the personal with broader issues. I’d recommend this to any reader, especially those who rarely consider this population of people who live and work among us every day and face wildly uneven and undefined paths to life after prison.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Lauren Kessler has written a truly remarkable book that shares the world of incarcerated folks from an unbiased perspective. She shows their humanity by detailing the stories of six specific individuals that she got to know and work with during her prison work. She shares not only their stories but lots of well researched and documented statistics and facts on the prison industrial complex in the US, mental health issues of those incarcerated, flaws within the criminal justice system, the import Lauren Kessler has written a truly remarkable book that shares the world of incarcerated folks from an unbiased perspective. She shows their humanity by detailing the stories of six specific individuals that she got to know and work with during her prison work. She shares not only their stories but lots of well researched and documented statistics and facts on the prison industrial complex in the US, mental health issues of those incarcerated, flaws within the criminal justice system, the importance & benefits of restorative justice, and the causes & contributing factors of recidivism. If you go into reading this with a negative view of the incarcerated, this book will show you a much different aspect that might just change your mind about those that have criminal records. The author does this by exploring the real world struggles and behind the scenes good, bad, and absolutely heartbreaking stories of these people who are human beings just like everyone else but who are caught in a system that is not built for their success once they are released. Many are traumatized at such an early age right before they even enter the system which often times sets off violent, impulsive behavior that can lead to getting in trouble and being arrested. Incarceration doesn’t make thing much better for these individuals but many as the author shows, beat the odds by getting their diplomas and degrees while inside and working with groups to improve themselves that try to heal the harm they’ve done through restorative justice work. But we have to give them a chance while inside and after release. Continuing to treat them subhuman and like criminals only perpetuates the problem. This book is an eye opener for sure of which I highly recommend! RATING: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Thanks to Netgalley, publisher and author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced review copy of this book. Lauren Kessler has significant experience immersing herself in other worlds and writing about it, and certainly has experience in the prison system, having conducted a writing group within a prison and published a book on a maximum security prison. And so I expected a much more in-depth exploration of the lives of the six individuals she followed, from their long-term imprisonments through their first two years out (with the notable Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced review copy of this book. Lauren Kessler has significant experience immersing herself in other worlds and writing about it, and certainly has experience in the prison system, having conducted a writing group within a prison and published a book on a maximum security prison. And so I expected a much more in-depth exploration of the lives of the six individuals she followed, from their long-term imprisonments through their first two years out (with the notable exception of one man who remained incarcerated but was included in the book because--I assume--of his unique personality and connected to another inmate and possibly the author). Kessler introduces us to each of these individuals one at a time through brief chapters about their lives and their crimes, and then goes back and, theme by theme, narrates how they coped with their release, their quest to find a home and a job, maintain or develop relationships and manage all of the things that most of us take for granted. She also tracked the effort of the one man who remained incarcerated to shorten his time. Interwoven into the narratives are statistics about the relevant aspects of criminal justice in the U.S. The book is written in the present tense, which works. But as much as Kessler must have spent time with these individuals and chronicled their journeys, I felt a lack of depth, a lack of real exploration from their own perspectives with perhaps a few exceptions here and there. I also would have liked to have heard perspectives on these individuals from their attorneys, families, prison guards, etc, to fully flesh out the picture of these lives in and out of custody. The book reflects a lot of work on Kessler's part, but it is not a book that I walk away from thinking that I can't wait to tell someone about it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Luanne Ollivier

    Free is the new book from award winning author Lauren Kessler. The cover provides a good guess as to what's inside - which is a fascinating, eye-opening look at what happens after an incarcerated person is released from prison. The statistics alone tell a story. "With just five percent of the world's population, the United States accounts for close to 25 percent of the world's prison population." "...on any given day one-third of adult Americans are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parol Free is the new book from award winning author Lauren Kessler. The cover provides a good guess as to what's inside - which is a fascinating, eye-opening look at what happens after an incarcerated person is released from prison. The statistics alone tell a story. "With just five percent of the world's population, the United States accounts for close to 25 percent of the world's prison population." "...on any given day one-third of adult Americans are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole." And building on that - "Nearly half of all who are released are rearrested within the first year, and two-thirds are rearrested within the first three years." So what happens when an incarnated person is released? How are they prepared? What help is available pre and post release? After reading Free, I can see where there are cracks in the system and a set of stumbling blocks just waiting. What can we as a society or as an individual do? Kessler has opted to combine the investigative bit with a window into the personal lives of six released prisoners and their 're-entry' journey over the course of a few years. How do you measure success? Being released is not equal to free. I found the stories of the six people to be compelling, especially that of Sterling Cunio. Those personal stories illustrated the hurdles or re-entry well. Kessler's writing is forthright, knowledgeable and compassionate. Free is a thought provoking book that will have you thinking.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracie Gutknecht

    Non-fiction Enlightening, Engrossing and Exhaustively Researched! Free follows the lives of 6 prisoners as they re-enter society. Kessler chronicles their crimes, their time served, the programs they've participated in and the obstacles they face leaving prison. Is there such a thing as rehabilitation? Do second chances exist? And if so are we really giving people the opportunity to try? It was a fascinating look at a segment of society that we don't really talk or think about. America is one of th Non-fiction Enlightening, Engrossing and Exhaustively Researched! Free follows the lives of 6 prisoners as they re-enter society. Kessler chronicles their crimes, their time served, the programs they've participated in and the obstacles they face leaving prison. Is there such a thing as rehabilitation? Do second chances exist? And if so are we really giving people the opportunity to try? It was a fascinating look at a segment of society that we don't really talk or think about. America is one of the most penalistic countries in the world and we have a high recidivism rate (being sent back to prison for a crime). In many cases, these new crimes committed can be as simple as not informing the parole officer of a new address. Given that securing steady living arrangements is often supremely difficult reoffending can be extremely easy. Kessler makes a strong case that the deck is stacked against the prisoner regardless of circumstances. She details the kinds of opportunities that are possibly available, the opportunities that don't exist and the difficulty of attaining even one of the primary needs for success. These 6 individuals come from a variety of different backgrounds, so reading their stories is eye opening. The author proves that reform and programs are needed. What is available is underfunded and the attitude of the general public towards offenders contributes to the strain. Alas, I think a lot more attention to the topic and more books like this one are needed before change can be affected. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC of this novel.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I haven't read too much about recidivism or what re-entry is like for the incarcerated, so the topic of this book was fascinating. Kessler follows six individuals as they emerge from prison and what their struggles are like. I had no idea how truly difficult and nearly impossible these challenges are, so I've finished this book with a newfound respect for this population. However, I felt like it was hard for me to truly connect with these people because the structure of the book was a little all I haven't read too much about recidivism or what re-entry is like for the incarcerated, so the topic of this book was fascinating. Kessler follows six individuals as they emerge from prison and what their struggles are like. I had no idea how truly difficult and nearly impossible these challenges are, so I've finished this book with a newfound respect for this population. However, I felt like it was hard for me to truly connect with these people because the structure of the book was a little all over the place. I would have loved separate sections that were dedicated to each person's struggle so that I could focus on one at a time (and better keep their stories straight). Kessler has clearly done a ton of research and spent countless hours working with the incarcerated, so she definitely knows her subject intimately. I was just thrown off by the flow of the book. It has inspired me to do more reading on the topic of the incarcerated and re-entry though, so perhaps the goal of the book was still achieved. *Free ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Thanks NetGalley for the ARC of this book! I am a big supporter of dismantling our justice system, especially corrections, so I was very excited to read this book. I thought it did a good job of combining justice statistics with stories of real people released from prison. I did find it hard to follow pretty often because I couldn’t remember who was who. I also wish the author would have incorporated more information about challenges specific to queer people in corrections but there was attention Thanks NetGalley for the ARC of this book! I am a big supporter of dismantling our justice system, especially corrections, so I was very excited to read this book. I thought it did a good job of combining justice statistics with stories of real people released from prison. I did find it hard to follow pretty often because I couldn’t remember who was who. I also wish the author would have incorporated more information about challenges specific to queer people in corrections but there was attention on disparities based on race. The framing of these stories also seemed at times like you should sympathize with these people because they’re doing everything right, but anyone who fails to turn their life around doesn’t deserve release. Overall a good introduction to corrections/probation and a great way to humanize the people that we will someday see reenter society

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for an advanced electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This work of nonfiction opens your eyes not only to the prison system in the United States, but how the system is not set up for the success of those who leave it. Through various stories and acted-out scenarios, you as a reader get a picture of the real system challenges and feel for the obstacles prisoners face upon release in an effort to be free. Though it was a bit dense to fo Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for an advanced electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This work of nonfiction opens your eyes not only to the prison system in the United States, but how the system is not set up for the success of those who leave it. Through various stories and acted-out scenarios, you as a reader get a picture of the real system challenges and feel for the obstacles prisoners face upon release in an effort to be free. Though it was a bit dense to follow 6 different stories overlapping without a clear pattern, it was still interesting.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amara

    This was an excellent book. Sometimes a little hard to follow because it jumps around a bit between each individuals story but I would still highly recommend reading it. It makes you consider how you might feel if you were in the shoes of prisoners, prison officials and/or the family of someone that was killed. It essentially makes you think and as in my case may make you want to get involved with trying to bring about change.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Whew! This book makes me ache for what our country could be if we approached the criminal justice system in a different way. Kessler has gathered a collection of stories from six incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in their quest to rejoin society. She begins each of them with an explanation of their crimes, but also the complexities and abuse that most likely led to them. Each person is narrated in such a compassionate, human way, it is impossible not to feel for each of them. Ke Whew! This book makes me ache for what our country could be if we approached the criminal justice system in a different way. Kessler has gathered a collection of stories from six incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in their quest to rejoin society. She begins each of them with an explanation of their crimes, but also the complexities and abuse that most likely led to them. Each person is narrated in such a compassionate, human way, it is impossible not to feel for each of them. Kessler has treated them with care and makes a strong argument for better practices. While race was a strong part of this work, I would have appreciated a bit more on how the criminal justice system is a hold over from slavery as well as a money=making machine. Either way, however, it is clear from her narrative that something must be done to ease the formerly incarcerated back into society because it literally benefits EVERYONE. I recommend to anyone who enjoys narrative nonfiction, but is particularly interested in the criminal justice system in America. Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Romero

    As I was reading this book, I was thinking we all need to read this! The author educates us on just how many people are being locked up for longer and longer periods of time for minor crimes. I think my favorite part was dealing with charging children as adults. I can’t even imagine being locked up at 14 with grown men. Thirty years later and the same child is released. But to do what? He has missed everything. No one will hire him or rent to him and the obstacles these people face are sometimes As I was reading this book, I was thinking we all need to read this! The author educates us on just how many people are being locked up for longer and longer periods of time for minor crimes. I think my favorite part was dealing with charging children as adults. I can’t even imagine being locked up at 14 with grown men. Thirty years later and the same child is released. But to do what? He has missed everything. No one will hire him or rent to him and the obstacles these people face are sometimes insurmountable. Let’s not fool ourselves that prison is for rehabilitation. It is not. Although there are programs that help them to re-enter society, they are few and far between. There is no standard way to make sure they all get a fair shot. Through intensive research and relationships within the prison environment, the author has told the stories of some of the hundreds of thousands of people being released into a world that is now foreign to them. Some are incarcerated as kids and now released into a place where they have no skills, no transportation, no way to fulfill the requirements of being let out with little to no resources. Some of them can’t take the pressure of the outside and all of its temptations and continually cycle in and out of jail/prison. They may be free, but they really aren’t. We judge them we don’t give them second chances, we send kids to private prisons who make a lot of money from them and give them little in the way of skills they can use on the outside. We want justice but we should also be teaching people an alternative to their former lifestyle. We should be getting them mental health treatment, but we aren’t. Out of sight is out of mind. And while they may have done the crime and the time, what do they do now? This was heartbreaking but a much-needed look at the facts. NetGalley/: April 19th, 2022 by Sourcebooks

  23. 4 out of 5

    Neal Lemery

    Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home, by Lauren Kessler Reviewed by Neal Lemery, author of Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains “We want those to have done harm to us to suffer, to pay for what they did. But in making them suffer, we create the kind of human beings we do not want back in our communities.” This engaging book takes makes us uncomfortable and asks us deep and provocative questions about America’s criminal justice system, and how we look at justice a Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home, by Lauren Kessler Reviewed by Neal Lemery, author of Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains “We want those to have done harm to us to suffer, to pay for what they did. But in making them suffer, we create the kind of human beings we do not want back in our communities.” This engaging book takes makes us uncomfortable and asks us deep and provocative questions about America’s criminal justice system, and how we look at justice and rehabilitation, revenge and compassion. Kessler takes a deep dive into the lives of prison inmates and their efforts to emerge from prison life with a sense of purpose and hope, and be able to move on with their lives, and become productive members of society. As a teacher in prison writing groups, she engages in deep conversations of the lives of some of America’s prison population, pointing out that 95% of all prisoners regain their freedom and attempt to reintegrate into mainstream American society. America has one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration, with 2.3 million Americans in prison or on parole. With 5% of the world’s population, we house 25% of the world’s prisoners. Our incarceration rate has increased 225% since the 1970s, far exceeding any changes in the crime rate. The failure rate of parole is complex, with many parole violations being technical in nature, rather than the commission of new crimes. “Many failed not because they continued to live a life of crime, but rather because the road to reentry was – is – steep and rocky, full of potholes, a winding path with unmarked detours.” This engaging, and well-written and often disturbing book tells the stories of some of her writers’ lives, their own devastating and traumatic childhoods, upbringings, adolescence and young adult lives. Each chapter takes us deeper into their lives, their struggles, and the institutional barriers and disrespect for their own needs and efforts to grow, recover, and move on into productive lives. The reader is challenged with uncomfortable and tragic stories, yet inspired by the bravery of those who share their stories with Kessler. The stories are told with a mixture of hope and the bitter truth of the failure of our criminal justice system to offer meaningful rehabilitation and reformation of lives shattered by abuse, addiction, neglect, and violence. As a volunteer mentor for prisoners, I have heard these stories, and gotten to know and appreciate the tragic histories and the struggle to change lives and move on, as well as the indifference and ineffectiveness of the system. For those of us who work for change in the System, this is a work that has long been needed, as it gives voice to those who have not been heard. This book not only compiles the grim realities of a broken system, it offers insight into what works and what needs to change, giving the reader a comprehensive perspective. The stories are also full of hope, personal achievements, and the efforts of effective programs and dedicated volunteers who are making a difference and offer effective progressive ideas that are making a positive difference. Free is a groundbreaking, well-crafted work, offering solid information and analysis and also personal stories of courage, determination, and personal insight into some of America’s most challenging social and political issues. It is a call to action, and a beacon of hope for true understanding and action for much of what needs to change in American society. It is both an uncomfortable yet affirming read, written by a skilled author whose talented storytelling both informs and motivates the reader to deeply understand the system and the lives of the often forgotten. Kessler not only tells important stories, she shows us the way to truly make the changes that are needed, work that will truly make all of us free of the fear and brokenness of the criminal justice system.

  24. 5 out of 5

    KKEC Reads

    Published: April 19, 2022 Sourcebooks Pages: 293 Genre: Nonfiction KKECReads Rating: 3/5 I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily. Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and narrative nonfiction writer who combines lively storytelling with deep research to explore everything from the hidden world of a maximum-security prison (A Grip of Time: When prison is your life) to the seemingly romantic but oh-go-gritty world of ballet ( Published: April 19, 2022 Sourcebooks Pages: 293 Genre: Nonfiction KKECReads Rating: 3/5 I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily. Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and narrative nonfiction writer who combines lively storytelling with deep research to explore everything from the hidden world of a maximum-security prison (A Grip of Time: When prison is your life) to the seemingly romantic but oh-go-gritty world of ballet (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker) to the surprisingly vibrant world of those with Alzheimer’s (Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s). She has dived into the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement (Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Antiaging) and weathered the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship (My Teenage Werewolf). Her books have been Washington Post and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, Wall Street Journal “best” selections, Pacific Northwest Book Award winners, and Oregon Book Award winners. She is a national speaker and workshop leader who has twice been a guest on the late/great David Letterman Show. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, Woman’s Day, Utne Reader, The Nation, newsweek.com, and salon.com. She is a Pacific Northwesterner (by choice, not birth), a blogger, a back-country hiker, a long-distance bike rider, and -- as her long-suffering family knows well -- a quadruple Aries. “It was not always like this.” This book was exceptionally well researched and had a lot of vital statistics. Lauren is passionate about helping prisoners reenter the world and helping them in whatever way she can as a mentor and friend. My feelings about this topic are complicated. I want to believe that people can change. And that if you commit a crime at 14, you can grow and better yourself by 40. But I also really can’t fathom expecting the victims' families to be supportive of early release. I’ve lost two loved ones to violence. And if the offender ever asked me to forgive them or tried telling me about the things accomplished in prison, it would not change the facts. Murder, regardless of age, background, etc., is never alright. And just because the crime happened while the offender was a minor does not mean they should be given a second chance. My aunt will never get a second chance. My childhood friend, who was days away from turning 18, will never get a second chance. She will never get to graduate college, fall in love, or have babies. She will never get to find a passion and explore her possibilities. Because someone took that from her. Took her from us. So, while the writing was good and the research well done, I cannot say I agree with this very biased book. It is apparent that Lauren has developed feelings for these people. Not romantic at all. But she is willing to defend what they have done and has argued for their release. It took me a pretty long time to finish this book. I had to take several breaks because I would get so upset by the content. I needed space. I don’t think I will be reading anything by Ms. Kessler in the future. I can respect her views, and I tried to see her side. But I cannot imagine looking the parents of a murder victim in the face and advocating for the person responsible for being released from prison early. Perhaps it is because I know what sitting on the victim's family side of the table feels like, but I am not quite as ready to see what positive things have been accomplished behind bars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lexxi

    Thank you to the author and Sourcebooks for my review copy of this book. The author focuses on 6 individuals who are or were incarcerated and how they adjusted to their re-entry into society. She focuses on their struggles and how it's not as simple as just returning to regular life as soon as you're out. The book is very well researched. Throughout the book, she provides statistics and facts; at the end, she provides a huge amount of resources and citations. She also paints a very empathetic an Thank you to the author and Sourcebooks for my review copy of this book. The author focuses on 6 individuals who are or were incarcerated and how they adjusted to their re-entry into society. She focuses on their struggles and how it's not as simple as just returning to regular life as soon as you're out. The book is very well researched. Throughout the book, she provides statistics and facts; at the end, she provides a huge amount of resources and citations. She also paints a very empathetic and compelling picture of these people as humans who are in need of support and are trying to do better. There was some history of the modern prison at the beginning, including the focus on long incarceration terms. She also provided a brief comparison of non-US prison structures that focus more on rehabilitation vs ours that focuses on punishment. It was a really interesting history and comparison. One area where the book didn't feel as successful as it could have been was in how it was organized. I struggled to keep track of the 6 characters since the book would jump around. One paragraph would be talking about Vicki and then with no warning, the next paragraph is about Trevor. It felt very abrupt and kept taking me out of their stories. I also struggled to keep track of them - which one was Trevor again?? For some chapters, she would talk about what each of them felt as they first left prison - by the 4th person, it felt monotonous and I'd start skimming through the rest of the chapter. I would have preferred to have clearer transitions or to spend numerous chapters on one person before switching. I'm sure the style of the book will work great for others. I also struggled with all the spelling errors. I can't tell if it was because of my review copy or if this is what everyone experienced, but my book was missing the second L of any double L words every single time and would just have a space. For example, the work "illuminated" would be "il uminated". This was throughout the book. Sometimes, it presented a challenge to decipher what the book was supposed to say versus what were faux spaces in my book. There also were true spelling/grammar errors, such as using "an" instead of "a". They were only a handful but because of how carefully I had to read each word, they stood out more than they otherwise would have.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I feel like this is a book the majority of Americans should read. Kessler really immerses herself into the lives of the six prisoners she chronicles, both before their release, and as they navigate reentry into society. The book is engrossing to read (ie NOT a dry boring non-fiction). I'm a former prosecutor, and this book really made me think about what kinds of programs we SHOULD be offering in prisons. 5 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. Wha I feel like this is a book the majority of Americans should read. Kessler really immerses herself into the lives of the six prisoners she chronicles, both before their release, and as they navigate reentry into society. The book is engrossing to read (ie NOT a dry boring non-fiction). I'm a former prosecutor, and this book really made me think about what kinds of programs we SHOULD be offering in prisons. 5 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them? There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, now about to reenter an unrecognizable world. Vicki, a five-time loser who had cycled in and out of prison for more than a third of her life. They are simultaneously joyful and overwhelmed at the prospect of freedom. Anxious, confused, sometimes terrified, and often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the free world, all are intent on reclaiming and remaking their lives. What is the road they must travel from caged to free? How do they navigate their way home? A gripping and empathetic work of immersion reportage, FREE reveals what awaits them and the hundreds of thousands of others who are released from prison every year: the first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles and logistical roadblocks, grinding bureaucracies, lack of resources, societal stigmas and damning self-perceptions, the sometimes overwhelming psychological challenges. Veteran reporter Lauren Kessler, both clear-eyed and compassionate, follows six people whose diverse stories paint an intimate portrait of struggle, persistence, and resilience. The truth—the many truths—about life after lockup is more interesting, more nuanced, and both more troubling and more deeply triumphant than we know. Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Larissa

    I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did while reading this book. Kessler follows the lives of 6 people who were incarcerated for various crimes. After their incarceration, they face a serious of obstacles while re-entering society. Most of us don’t consider these things unless it affects us directly. As somebody who knows somebody who was released within the last 6 months (after being in prison for 8+ years), I have to admit that I was still ignorant to a lot of the rules, expectations, and tr I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did while reading this book. Kessler follows the lives of 6 people who were incarcerated for various crimes. After their incarceration, they face a serious of obstacles while re-entering society. Most of us don’t consider these things unless it affects us directly. As somebody who knows somebody who was released within the last 6 months (after being in prison for 8+ years), I have to admit that I was still ignorant to a lot of the rules, expectations, and trials. Kessler’s account, supplemented by research, provides a close-look into the prison system, how incarcerated persons live, and how formerly incarcerated persons try to re-enter society. Kessler’s work achieves giving humanity to the people who end up on the wrong side of the justice system—especially those who cycle through the prison system. The general public sees “repeat” offenders as deserving to end back up in prison without realizing why and how some people do. One of the conclusions I came to while reading this is how our society supports the prison system for many reasons but doesn’t support rehabilitation and re-entry. We expect people to go from one extreme to the next within a 24-hour period. Our systems set people up for failure. This book forces the reader to confront their biases about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons. I know that I found myself having opinions about things and then asking myself why I think/believe that. I asked myself if I would hire an ex-con if I had a business. Would I rent to them? Would I trust them? I’m ashamed to say that I’d be very hesitant. Why? Because our systems and our society doesn’t necessarily believe in “second chances.” I’m hoping that this book, and others like it, will have us work towards prison reform, better implemented practices of restorative justice, and better safety nets for people who are re-entering society. Overall, a must-read for everybody. I hope that individuals, book clubs, and classes pick this book up to learn and discuss. I received this book from the publisher before the publication date. My opinions are my own.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    The author; Lauren Kessler, has another book on prison life titled “A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life”. In that book she works with prisoners who are lifers, they have very little or really no chance of parole. There she works with them by teaching a writing class. In “Free” she is again working with them in this setting but the individuals that she is working with are men and women who have committed murder at a very young age and were tried as adults. (One woman is different in that she The author; Lauren Kessler, has another book on prison life titled “A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life”. In that book she works with prisoners who are lifers, they have very little or really no chance of parole. There she works with them by teaching a writing class. In “Free” she is again working with them in this setting but the individuals that she is working with are men and women who have committed murder at a very young age and were tried as adults. (One woman is different in that she has been in and out of jail for drug abuse). How could 13, 14 and 15 year old children get tried as adults and end up in prison for 20 or more years of their lives? The competing factors are numerous and the author does a good job of presenting many of the sides of this issue. But she does not provide any solutions and maybe there aren’t any. So, what is the author’s goal? Just to open a door and let us peak in for a few hours? To educate people about the issues and problems in the prison system? Change laws? Get more government entities and non-profits to work together to help individuals getting out of prison? The problem is, there are already so many issues that confront people on the outside that getting them to look at spending dollars to help released prisoners navigate their lives once they get out is not high on the list. Other issues that have a higher priority for most people (in no particular order) are health care, homelessness, child hunger, poverty, mental health, living wage jobs, student debt, care of the elderly and the list goes on. It is a very interesting book and I think it would be helpful if more people would read it, if for no other reason than to have a greater sense of what these people go through, what they think about the process, their goals and some seeing those goals drift away.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Book Club of One

    I received a free digital version of this book via NetGalley. Drawn from personal interactions and supporting research Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home uses the experiences of six individuals to illuminate the challenges an individual, and sometimes their families undergo, transitioning from prison to freedom. Author and immersive reporter Lauren Kessler writes from both a personal perspective, having served as a sponsor, teacher or friend to the individuals discussed, as we I received a free digital version of this book via NetGalley. Drawn from personal interactions and supporting research Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home uses the experiences of six individuals to illuminate the challenges an individual, and sometimes their families undergo, transitioning from prison to freedom. Author and immersive reporter Lauren Kessler writes from both a personal perspective, having served as a sponsor, teacher or friend to the individuals discussed, as well as referencing from the literature of incarceration, statistics, and psychology. Kessler balances these points offering plenty of evidence that incarceration, particularly for young people, is overwhelming harmful and that in America its focus is on punishment. What this means, and Kessler shows through direct experience, is that there is little in the way for resources or assistance for those whose time has been served to re-enter society. How quickly can one learn to use the internet, a cell-phone, or have personal agency when every decision was made for you? Through the individuals Kessler has a diverse case study group that helps showcase the racial dimensions that unfairly differentiate treatment and opportunity. Free having been just released, offers a very contemporary view of prisons. Particularly how COVID was even more impactful on people forced to live communally. For those who have watched "Orange Is the New Black" this book helps to explain why some of the characters in that show returned so soon either through their own choice or an inability to relearn how to live.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Diana Sue

    This was an eye opening, interesting read regarding life during, but more importantly after incarceration. It is a very disheartening reality into the revolving doors of our (U.S.) prison system. There are real life bios of people who’ve been incarcerated & released after decades, their hardships, successes & failures. There are statistics & studies showing that not only is re-entry into society, more often than not a failure, but our entire United States Justice System is a complete, useless & This was an eye opening, interesting read regarding life during, but more importantly after incarceration. It is a very disheartening reality into the revolving doors of our (U.S.) prison system. There are real life bios of people who’ve been incarcerated & released after decades, their hardships, successes & failures. There are statistics & studies showing that not only is re-entry into society, more often than not a failure, but our entire United States Justice System is a complete, useless & utter mess. Any chance of a successful re-entry into society hinges on non-profit organizations of which there is little money, few volunteers & fewer people who never have the opportunity to take advantage of these programs in order get on the right track. I knew a person’s upbringing and/or mental health could lead them to crime, but I learned that punishment by way of incarceration where gangs, hierarchy & a generally negative & violent environment could be so detrimental that it leads to hopelessness. After seeing crime shows (ie: The First 48, etc) & cheering when the criminal is caught, tried & sentenced, I am now saddened because if these people get out, they will likely continue to be a danger to society and they’ll be back in the prison system. I still don’t believe that all people can be rehabilitated, but I now believe a large number of them can be. We spend so much money to incarcerate people, but nothing to try to rehabilitate them back into society. It’s no surprise that in our country if big bucks can’t be made fast, changes to the system won’t be made. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher & Netgalley.

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