cover image Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home

Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home

Lauren Kessler. Sourcebooks, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-72823-651-3

In this empathetic and visceral account, journalist Kessler (A Grip of Time) documents the achievements and setbacks of six formerly incarcerated people as they attempt to reenter society. Vicki, a recovering heroin and methamphetamine addict, hopes rehab will help her turn her life around. Arnoldo, a former gang member, deescalated prison fights and hopes to utilize these skills in the outside world. Catherine was just 13 and a victim of sexual abuse when she and her brother killed their father’s girlfriend. Released at age 30, she struggled to start a new life before becoming a sentencing reform advocate. Dave, a gay man who killed his brother and father in 1985 after they mercilessly bullied him about his sexuality, spends his first days of freedom trying to obtain an ID, insurance, and food stamps. Kessler interweaves profiles of these and other ex-inmates with discussions of new models of thinking about crime and punishment, such as restorative justice, and explains the systemic issues that plague reentry and the psychological toll they take. Her immersion into her subjects’ lives allows Kessler to convey to readers the immense challenges of life after prison. This powerful argument in favor of a better support system for those who have served their time rings true. Agent: Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary. (Apr.)