cover image A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life

A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life

Lauren Kessler. Red Lightning, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-68435-078-0

Kessler, a journalist and University of Oregon professor, chronicles her experience leading a writing group at Oregon State Penitentiary in this poignant work of narrative nonfiction. The book provides insight into life inside a maximum-security prison while illuminating the benefits of the craft of writing. Kessler’s writing, as well as the writing of the men in her group, provides readers with rich descriptions of the lush entrance to the prison, the rigid system of rules that could be disrupted by random acts at any moment, and the inmates’ sterile cells. She also describes in detail the hurdles she faced in starting the writing group and keeping it running, negotiating the bureaucracy around training, bringing books for the men, ensuring they can attend meetings, and so on. She also describes her pedagogical methods, including those she uses to help her writing group open up without feeling too vulnerable, starting each session with open-ended, single-word prompts like “dreams.” Readers get to know the group members through their work and Kessler’s discussions about them; one participant writes movingly about the idea of owning one’s time, another about how hope is the thing that keeps a person at the end of their metaphorical rope from dropping it. This compassionate account reveals a bit of what life is like inside prison, and a bit about how writing can forge connections among vastly different people.[em] (May) [/em]