I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Mikita Brottman lives in Baltimore too and the book club she starts is right in Jessup south of the city. I always like a local connection. Each chapter focuses on a different novel or play she has the prisoners read and their reactions to it. There is also a lot of information about general prison life and most chapters include a summary of why one of the men was in prison and their general personalities. Two of the men were training see and eye dogs in prison. There was also a chapter in the beginning that outlined her rather unusual upbringing in England and her parents who were the definition of benign neglect.
Her relationship with the men is interesting, she sees them as sort of her friends but of course, they really aren’t. This is highlighted in a final chapter when she talks about two of the men who had been released. She met up with them socially a few times and was really surprised at how different their “outside” personalities were than that of their prison personalities. I didn’t find it too surprising–one had been in a very long time and basically had to adjust to modern society and the other was younger and clearly had some impulse control issues. She came across as naive a few times. These were, for the most part, career criminals after all.
The book also goes into a lot of detail about the novels she chose, her reactions to the books (which is sometimes at odds with what the prisoners think, for example, she saw Lolita as a love story, while the men were uniformly were appalled) and reasons why she chose the books. I will say that the book isn’t focused on the rehabilitation of the prisoners at all but rather her attempts to share literature with them, which I thought was fine but I know is something other people might take issue with. It really is basically a memoir of a literature teacher who chooses to hold a book club in a men’s prison, not a book about prison reform.
I recommend to anyone who is interested in books, literature or men’s prisons.