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April 2004
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Life on the Outside

Check out this Mother Jones review by Debra J. Dickerson of Jennifer Gonnerman’s book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett (Thanks to David for the tip).
A picture named bartlett.jpg

Because of New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, Elaine’s childish irresponsibility cost her 20 to life, Nathan’s defeatist chivalry a minimum 25. These two self-destructive fools were treated like drug kingpins, yet they couldn’t even afford lawyers. (Meanwhile, George Deets, the insatiable addict whose drug ring was responsible for a biweekly kilo of cocaine on New York’s streets, remained not only free but well paid by the police and with his inventory restocked.)

Sixteen years later, as a result of ever-increasing calls to overturn mandatory minimums for low-level offenders, Bartlett experiences the only stroke of luck in her benighted life: She receives clemency from Governor George Pataki, leaves Bedford Hills prison, and returns home to New York City as a poster child for sentencing reform.

It’s all downhill from there. Gonnerman wryly subtitled this book about life after long-term incarceration a “prison odyssey” because, as Bartlett soon realizes, she’s simply “left one prison to come home to another.” One in the flood of 600,000 prisoners released each year from our 30-year incarceration boom, Bartlett returns to an overcrowded, filthy project apartment and the four children who have grown up in her absence.

TalkLeft points out another review by Elaine Cassel.
Both reviews are good, and the book itself is going on my must-read list.

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