Reviewer Chris Phillips: Chris is a veteran editor for friends
and family as well as most of his employment positions. He often
finds himself reading a book and correcting problems he discovers,
even after their works have been published by well-known
publishers. Chris enjoys writing to authors, when
possible, and discussing problems he has seen in the reading of their
work. And as he states, “there is always the chance for great
intelligent conversation whenever creative minds get together.”
Oulton & Ed Griffin
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Griffin details his life and what lead him to write this book. He passes the book to Oulton to fill in his life story. Oulton contributes most of the content, dealing realistically and artistically with his time in prison, what he learned and what he didn’t learn from that experience. Giffon relates the story of his creative teaching classes in various prison settings. Throughout the book there are thoughts expressed that made this reader re-think ideas about prison as an institution and as a way of life for too many prisoners.
Both authors came to the book and the prison system in general with strong opinions and substantial facts to support them. However Griffin finishes the book with the simple statement “You are somebody.” That states the whole of the philosophy of the book and the current ideas of prison reform. Oulton states it more clearly though. “There’s nothing in the world that will make prison change the way they handle criminals… the real fight comes at an individual level. The convict will change if he wants to…” (pg 431)
Prison reform is not often in the limelight because prisons are doing what is expected of them, and those most hurt are the criminals and the people who have to deal directly with them. It is easy to sit in a chair at home, declaring needs for more laws, for tougher punishments, and for better rehabilitation of the criminals, but it is something else to be in the prisons and seeing that really there is little anyone can do until the individuals involved want to change what is happening. Dystopia according to the dictionary means, “state in which the conditions of life are extremely bad as from deprivation or oppression or terror.” Griffin defines is “…It is the opposite of Utopia.” From this book and these authors, the only conclusion can be that the prison system in North America is a dystopia for all involved in it on a daily basis.
By the end of the book there is a definite call to action. But that action is clearly defined as an individual determination to make a difference. Short of a society consciousness change, there will always be prisons and criminals incarcerated to the detriment of both society and themselves. But the book gives a sign of hope for some, if not all, of those convicts.
Structurally, the book is easily followed since the chapters all contain notes as to who is writing that chapter and a short theme. It is autobiographical in nature, but is deals with the reality of prison and criminal behavior without resorting to details that are not relevant. There is no gratuitous violence here, even though the book deals with violent people in a violent environment.
I highly recommend this book for anyone. It would particularly be good for those interested in changing the prison system, either because they have someone incarcerated there, because they are incarcerated there, or because they see the hopelessness of the current situation. However, this is also a great book for the beginning writer. It is also good for the person who has written a book and wants to understand what others have done and felt when they’ve written a book.