Concrete Carnival

Danner Darcleight. Permanent Press, $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-57962-437-8
This is a powerful memoir by first-time author Darcleight, who is currently serving 25 years to life for murder, a crime that he barely remembers committing while deeply addicted to heroin, “a dope-sick animal in a confined space.” Locked away, he finds a new kind of “liberty” through reading and writing, “a freedom understood by losing everything and beginning the slow process of finding yourself anew in your early twenties.” This process is grippingly told in this eloquent memoir of life with the freaks and fiends in various maximum-security institutions: “It’s all a goddamned circus, you’ll think to yourself sometimes, a concrete carnival.” He learns to live with the violence, drug abuse, isolation, and suicide around him, eventually beginning a correspondence with a woman who helps him realize that “we survive to find our purpose for others.” Darcleight, whose prison writings have appeared in the Kenyon Review and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was, by his own admission, a below-average student who was expelled from college. But after immersing himself in the work of prison writers such as Piper Kerman and Jean Genet—as well as consuming “a happy cocktail of stoicism, existentialism, and optimism” from Seneca, Victor Frankl, and Voltaire—Darcleight has written a searing look at life inside the criminal justice system. (Sept.)

This review has been corrected to fix a misspelling in Piper Kerman's name.

Reviewed on: 08/01/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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