New Release Review – The War On Drugs: A Failed Experiment

How did we get here and why are we virtually alone in ramping up the demonization of certain drugs?

war on drugs

In 1971, President Richard Nixon coined the term “War on Drugs.” His campaign to eradicate illegal drug use was picked up by the media and championed by succeeding presidents, including Reagan. Canada was a willing ally in this “war,” and is currently cracking down on drug offences at a time when even the U.S. is beginning to climb down from its reliance on incarceration.

Elsewhere in the world, there has been a sea change. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, including international luminaries like Kofi Annan, declared that the War on Drugs “has not, and cannot, be won.” Former heads of state and drug warriors have come out in favour of this perspective. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton agree with legions of public health officials, scientists, politicians, and police officers that a new approach is essential.

Paula Mallea, in The War on Drugs, approaches this issue from a variety of points of view, offering insight into the history of drug use and abuse in the twentieth century; the pharmacology of illegal drugs; the economy of the illegal drug trade; and the complete lack of success that the war on drugs has had on drug cartels and the drug supply. She also looks ahead and discusses what can and is being done in Canada, the U.S., and the rest of the world to move on from the “war” and find better ways to address the issue of illegal drugs and their distribution, use, and abuse.

Published: July 2014

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble


“We should reserve our prison space for people we are afraid of, instead of people we are mad at.”

My Review:

This book is a broad look at the 40-year war that has not only failed to make lives better, but has in fact made things much worse. The author’s main focus is on her home country of Canada, though she covers a lot of ground on US policies. She also briefly touches on other countries as examples of laws that work and laws that don’t.

I think this is an important read for everyone. Prohibition, particularly in the way we’ve been attempting to force it on society, simply does not work. We’re spending billions – trillions – of dollars fighting a war we cannot possibly win. In the process, we’re filling our prisons to overflowing, ruining lives, and giving gangs multiple ways to get rich and even more reason to fight bloody battles.

It is not going t0o far to suggest that drug prohibition has been employed as a means of social control.

Paula Mallea does an excellent job of laying out the facts. She has obviously done extensive research on this topic. The one drawback for me is the broad scope of material in a fairly short space doesn’t allow room to delve deep into certain areas. I felt some material was glossed over too quickly and would have liked more discussion. But, for the casual reader, this works well in that it provides what you need to make an informed decision about our war on drugs.


“Almost entirely, from the first moment, the orders given to the police as to how to deal with drugs were, “You don’t go into the suburbs and arrest the white stockbroker sniffing coke in the evenings, but you do go into the ghettos, and if a kid has a joint in his pocket, you put him in jail.”

Thanks for reading. :)

Review: The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow


Near the beginning of The Autobiography of an Execution, David Dow lays his cards on the table. “People think that because I am against the death penalty and don’t think people should be executed, that I forgive those people for what they did. Well, it isn’t my place to forgive people, and if it were, I probably wouldn’t. I’m a judgmental and not very forgiving guy. Just ask my wife.”

It this spellbinding true crime narrative, Dow takes us inside of prisons, inside the complicated minds of judges, inside execution-administration chambers, into the lives of death row inmates (some shown to be innocent, others not) and even into his own home–where the toll of working on these gnarled and difficult cases is perhaps inevitably paid. He sheds insight onto unexpected phenomena– how even religious lawyer and justices can evince deep rooted support for putting criminals to death– and makes palpable the suspense that clings to every word and action when human lives hang in the balance.

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble

Almost all my clients should have been taken out of their homes when they were children. They weren’t. Nobody had any interest in them until, as a result of nobody’s having any interest in them, they became menaces, at which point society did become interested, if only to kill them.

My Review:

The Autobiography of an Execution is a compelling look at death penalty cases from the perspective of a death penalty lawyer. One of the things that makes this book unique is that Dow doesn’t focus on cases of the wrongly executed, which would easily gain more sympathy from readers. Instead we’re shown an array of condemned men, from the inexcusably guilty to the mentally incompetent killer to the one who was, in all likelihood, innocent.

People who form firm opinions with so little knowledge only pretend to be open-minded. They select their facts like food from a buffet.

Most people unfamiliar with the inner workings of our justice system would assume the appeals process is in place in order to ensure the guilt of those convicted prior to their execution. This is absolutely not the case. Appeals are about technicalities and administrative errors. They’re about filing exactly the right motion, worded exactly the right way, at exactly the right time. Dow takes us along through his workdays, showing us just how broken and corrupt our justice system has become.

Some people think that law is about truth. It isn’t, exactly. It’s about timing.

Another aspect making this a compelling read is Dow’s willingness to make it personal. He invites us into his world, letting us see how emotionally draining it is to race against the clock, only to then watch his clients die at the hands of the state. The transition between the darkness of his work and the bright light of his family is a difficult hurdle to jump over and over again. That bright light, though, is what keeps him grounded and allows him to work within such a bleak environment.

It’s easier to kill somebody if it’s someone else’s decision, and if somebody else does the killing. Our death-penalty regime depends for its functionality on moral cowardice.

When I consider the death penalty, I most often think of the men and women locked away waiting for us to kill them. I think about guilt and innocence, and the fact that executing even one innocent person is unacceptable. David Dow does a superb job of showing me the lawyer’s viewpoint. Maybe looking for the innocent needle in the guilty haystack is the wrong approach to reform. If the system worked the way it was supposed to, we would have no fear of executing an innocent or a mentally retarded person. Better yet, maybe this book can serve as a lesson that a reasonable society shouldn’t have the death penalty at all.

I used to support the death penalty. I changed my mind when I learned how lawless the system is. If you have reservations about supporting a racist, classist, unprincipled regime, a regime where white skin is valued far more highly than dark, where prosecutors hide evidence and policemen routinely lie, where judges decide what justice requires by consulting the most recent Gallop poll, where rich people sometimes get away with murder and never end up on death row, then the death-penalty system we have here in America will embarrass you to no end.

Thanks for reading. :)

#MusicMonday: The Enchantment of MERRY ELLEN KIRK

An entrancing voice, beautiful melodies, poetic lyrics… Today’s feature is a gifted singer-songwriter. Her music is captivating. She is…

Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk is a poet. Perhaps “songwriter” is a more commonly used term, but it’s also too commonplace for Merry Ellen’s glittering narratives, songs that spring up wildly from her subconscious and bloom into vibrant, lilting melodies. Her sparkling piano refrains sweep and spill into fresh, sweet rivulets of notes; her lyrics weave bright, halcyon tales of dream sequences, the light and dark polarities of the human experience, and beauty in its many forms.

“I write about light and dark a lot… good and evil, dreams and reality, the darker and lighter parts of the human soul.”

Merry Ellen currently has three albums out. I couldn’t decide which album to talk about here, so instead I’m going to feature songs from all three. I’ll do my best to offer a diverse sample, though I recommend listening to all three in their entirety.

First, from her first album, Invisible War, one of the most beautiful songs ever written and sung. This is Blinding Me:

And what do I see, please tell me
The dark is overwhelming
But when I close my eyes
I see paradise
And my eyes are blinding me


Also from Invisible War, this is Lay Your Hands On Me. She didn’t write this one. It’s a Peter Gabriel cover. I like Peter Gabriel, but I love the way Merry Ellen interprets this song:

I’m living way beyond my ways and means
Living in the zone of the in-betweens


This next song is called Masquerade, and it’s from Merry Ellen’s second album, Firefly Garden:

And when we dance
Knowing we could stay right here
Lost in this trance
Nothing else could ever really matter


And from Merry Ellen’s third album, a live EP called Feather & A Leaf, this is Used To Think:

So if you wanna stay then stay
And if you wanna go then leave…


You can stream all Merry Ellen Kirk’s music free on her Bandcamp page. While it’s always cool to be able to stream music free, we all know it doesn’t help support the artist. If you like what you hear, please consider making a purchase.

Check out Merry Ellen’s YouTube channel. All her music is available to stream there, and you’ll also find some brilliant covers of popular songs.

Learn more about Merry Ellen and her music on her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can purchase her music on Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon.

Merry Ellen Kirk

Thanks for listening. :)

Help! I’ve Been Branded: Racing A Mustang To McDonald’s While On Prozac

TV AD I don’t like commercials. Every one-hour program has between 15-20 minutes of ads spouting all the benefits of their products. To be cool, I need to buy a Mustang, eat at McDonald’s, shop at Walmart, use Tampax, and wear Levis. I am, of course, incapable of deciding any of this on my own, which is why these companies need to keep reminding me.

Side effects An absurd amount of TV commercial time is devoted to pharmaceutical companies. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it my doctor’s job to decide which medications I need? It’s gotten so bad that even the FDA is fed up. (And that is no small feat!) But, wait. The FDA isn’t irritated with the sheer volume of pharmaceutical companies pandering their drugs to the masses. They are upset because the ads must include a list of side effects, and the lists are so long that they’re stressful for consumers to listen to. They are now seeking ways around this by shortening the mandated information. Yup, that’s our FDA at work. Information on a need-to-know basis. After all, they don’t want us stressing about the fact that an allergy pill could kill us.

Fortunately, I don’t watch a lot of TV and most of what I do watch is recorded on my DVR. That way I can fast forward through the commercials. When I’m watching in real-time, I use those breaks to read a magazine article, play with my dogs, pin silly photos to Pinterest, or (gasp) talk to my husband. (People do still talk to one another, right? Though there are days when I text him from the next room.)

Hitler I know some people still enjoy watching commercials, and I apologize if I’ve offended you. But I do think TV commercials have lost much of their effectiveness. And you don’t even want to get me started on political ads.


I have to admit, though, that while I dislike commercials, I am a fan of product placement. This technique works on a subconscious level. Because it’s part of what we’re watching, we aren’t processing it as an advertisement. Product placement also has the added bonus of being part of the show, so we aren’t fast forwarding through it all.

Mustang The star of our show jumps into his Mustang and races through the city. The camera briefly zooms in on the Mustang’s insignia, then we watch the sleek car pick up speed and spin around corners. That actually makes me want to drive the car. The 60-second dry commercial telling me why I should love the car does not make me want to drive it. As I’m watching the show, I’m not thinking of that bit as an advertisement. The car a character chooses is part of his/her personality. We’re caught up in the chase, the character is cool, and, therefore, so is the car.

Recently I’ve realized that product placement is nothing new in novels. Yet, while Ford is paying the TV show for using their Mustang in that 20-second chase scene, they are not paying authors for that same type of scene. But isn’t product placement just as effective in a book?

Starbucks The other day I was reading a novel in which the main character went to Starbucks and ordered a London fog latte. Because the drink is on Starbuck’s ‘secret menu’, the narrative followed with a brief description of the drink. (Earl grey tea, 2 pumps vanilla syrup, 2 pumps caramel syrup, and steamed milk.) I was immediately intrigued. I’m a tea-drinker with an addiction to Starbuck’s chai soy lattes. So guess what I did? Not a hard guess, right? I went to Starbucks and ordered a London fog latte. For the record, I didn’t like it as much as my usual chai. But the point is I tried it. Product placement in novels works.

Drinks That got me thinking about how much product placement I use in my own writing without even thinking about it as any sort of advertisement. My character Michael Sykora drinks a lot of Perrier. It’s a bit of a running joke with his friends. His associate Sean Riley, from the same series, loves Starbucks coffee. One of his favorites is the Komodo Dragon Blend. I wonder if any reader has come across that blend of coffee and decided to try it. If so, please let me know. I don’t like coffee and I’m curious if that blend is actually any good.

IHOP Sean and Michael often have breakfast meetings and middle of the night rendezvous at IHOP. The restaurant probably doesn’t want to be associated with contract killers, but I would think at least a few readers would crave blueberry pancakes after reading those scenes.

Chilis In my novel Into The Light, Max thinks he was killed over a set of Calloway golf clubs. (Max, the main character, is a ghost.) Sadly, Calloway didn’t pay me a cent for touting their brand. Max and Joe tend to hang out in Chili’s, where Max went for his last meal as a living person. Joe drinks a Calypso Cooler there, which might tempt a few readers to taste the drink on their next trip to Chili’s.

Maybe we writers need to band together and demand the same product placement deals that TV shows and movies are now getting. Okay, obviously most of us aren’t reaching as many people as a popular TV show, but our characters’ endorsements should be worth something, right? After all, Sean Riley could easily give up Starbucks and become a fan of Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Have you ever tried something based on product placement? If your favorite character only wore a specific brand of jeans or only used a specific kind of soap, would you be curious enough to give it a try yourself?

New Dark Psychological Thriller: THE POINT by G. Nykanen

Point Blast Banner

Title: The Point
Author: G. Nykanen
Publication Date: May 30, 2014
Genre: Psychological Thriller

The Point Cover Befuddled by her current relationship woes, Nora Reynolds leaves college at semester’s end to drive north of nowhere to her hometown of Iron Bay. Vulnerable and on the rebound, she is the perfect prey for fledgling felon Dane Buchman. Dane takes advantage of the unaware young woman, feeding his appetite for mischief until a rather violent shift in their relationship reveals to him what he’s really been craving. Driven by his new found hunger, Dane feels unstoppable, until former high school rival and town deputy, Doug Sanders, navigates the trail of Dane’s destruction.

The Point is a dark thriller that will allow you to witness a truly dangerous sociopath wander through madness guided by a treasured family heirloom, and a pensive young woman find her way after discovering, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. With echoes of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, the folksy town of Iron Bay and the nearby north-woods community of Deer Lake are the destinations for Mr. Buchman’s many misdeeds.

Amazon / Goodreads



Jake and Nora had already crossed the street, taking a moment to stop at a small park nestled between two of the old storefronts. The term “park” was a bit generous. There was a wooden bench beneath a large apple tree. A few apples still clung to the tree’s nearly bare branches. A statue of the town’s founder looked out onto Main Street from a planting bed filled with once-colorful perennials, now cut back in anticipation of the harsh winter that would soon arrive.

They sat kissing as Dane watched Jake hold Nora tenderly. He was looking longingly at her, while stroking the back of her short hair. Dane realized that even his best acting never achieved the depth of character that Jake’s did.

His insides began to twist. He reeled as a deep pang of jealousy grew in the pit of his stomach. He watched Jake with his hands and mouth all over her, and something deep down in the recesses of his gut squirmed. The parasite beckoned.

He placed his hand to the compass, which was still at rest beneath his sweater. *What should I do?* he wondered as he rubbed it. *I know. I know what you want,* he silently acknowledged. He simply wanted to use her to once again experience the surge he’d felt that wonderful day at the Point.

Jake stood and held his hand out to Nora. The lovebirds walked to the car, their fingers entwined.

He didn’t want to let her go; he needed to see her some more.

Trotting back to his car, he proceeded to follow the black BMW as it wound its way up the mountain pass. He knew this road all too well, and soon realized that they were staying at his cousin’s snotty cabin.

“I should’ve known that these two were staying at Cooper’s with his redheaded cunt of a girlfriend,” Dane sneered, his hateful words bouncing around his car as he tailed Nora and Jake up the mountain.

The Beamer turned off the main road as it entered the drive to the Buchman’s cabin. Dane continued past the driveway, parking a bit further up the road to avoid detection.

He hiked, cutting through the woods, his sights set on the lights of the stately vacation home.

“A cabin,” he scoffed sarcastically. “Only Uncle Hank would call that pretentious monstrosity a *cabin*.”

Creeping through the brush and towering pines, the leaves crunched and twigs snapped as he slogged along the mountain’s varied hillside.

The distant glow of the house grew closer as he hiked, his view only
possible because of the drop of the autumn leaves.

He crept up to the house’s base, his back flat against the siding, as he hid amongst the shadows cast by the towering residence.

Dane could hear the couples chatting and laughing as they prepared to sit down for dinner. He observed an extra vehicle parked in the drive: it seemed to be a catering truck of some sort. He rolled his eyes. “Cooper is showing off, what a dick.”



Gnykanenpub G. Nykanen was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This small, rural land mass seems to cultivate a wide variety of colorful characters who provide a plethora of inspiration. The Point, Nykanen’s first novel, is filled with nuances of these local characters and the landscapes one might find in the north woods.

Well traveled thanks to her husband’s government career, she has lived in Europe and many of our United States over the last twenty years. She has recently returned home, moving back to her beloved Upper Peninsula where she resides with her husband and three children.

With The Point now completed, she will continue working on her next novel, Accumulation, along with continuing to develop other stories in the works.

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Review: The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponsor

Hanging Judge

Based on the experience of the author, a federal judge who in 2000 presided over the first capital case in Massachusetts in more than fifty years, this extraordinary debut thriller offers an unprecedented inside view of a federal death penalty trial

When a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, claims the lives of a Puerto Rican drug dealer and a hockey mom volunteering at an inner-city clinic, the police arrest a rival gang member. With no death penalty in Massachusetts, the US attorney shifts the double homicide out of state jurisdiction into federal court so he can seek a death sentence.

The Honorable David S. Norcross, a federal judge with only two years on the bench, now presides over the first death penalty case in the state in decades. He must referee the clash of an ambitious female prosecutor and a brilliant veteran defense attorney in a high-stress environment of community outrage, media pressure, vengeful gang members, and a romantic entanglement that threatens to capsize his trial—not to mention the most dangerous force of all: the unexpected.

Published: December 2013

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble


“Go talk to Congress,” Norcross said over his shoulder. “Two priors plus fifty-grams of crack equals life. No discretion. I’m not a judge, I’m an adding machine for crying out loud.”


My Review:

I read quite a bit of nonfiction on death penalty cases, and I was looking forward to a fictional take from an author who is also a judge. Unfortunately, this book was a major disappointment for me.

First, I want to say Michael Ponsor does an exceptional job of showing the problems within our court system. If you’re unfamiliar with the intricate web we call justice, which is often more about procedure and politics than innocence and guilt, then this will be an eye-opening read.

“So, yeah,” Redpath said. “The first reason you’re in federal court is our government wants to kill you. God only knows why they picked this case. People say we’ve got a U.S. attorney, this Hogan character, who wants first prize in the ‘Tough Guy’ category, which is a laugh since I hear he picked a Puerto Rican assistant to try the case, a woman, to be sure he’ll have cover if you get off.”

One problem I had came with characterization. We have at least a half-dozen viewpoint characters, but none of them stand out as original or interesting people. Judge David Norcross, who is supposed to be the main character, is just one in an ever-revolving line. He doesn’t feel like a lead character, especially through the first third or so of the book. Most of the characters feel forced and predictable, though I did love the defense attorney.

Bill Redpath stood in the plaza and gazed up at the glass atrium of the Springfield federal courthouse. Another damned smoke-free building. He sighed and stepped through the revolving door.

Where the book really falls apart for me is in the storytelling. Ponsor meanders through, giving us loads of extraneous information. Very little of relevance happens in the first half of the book. If you’re looking for a courtroom drama, that aspect doesn’t even begin until the second half. The first half can’t really be called a crime story, as the interactions are more about personal drama than the crime itself. Large sections are dedicated to characters who are secondary at best. While I appreciate that Ponsor is trying to show us the lives of all the people involved, this winds up pulling us away from the important characters and our emotional connection suffers. In many ways, we are told rather than shown and I couldn’t fall into the story.

After they took Moon Hudson away, Holyoke Police Captain Sean Daley spent a few minutes checking out the mess inside the apartment. Then he gave Jack O’Connor a call and asked if he could come over and talk to him and the boys. It was late, he said, so he’d only take a minute.

Daley had never married; instead, he’d poured his life into his job. He’d been hospitalized twice for stab wounds and nearly killed when a .38 round struck his “bulletproof” vest. Two civilians and a fellow officer were still alive because of his quick action, and he had four commendations for bravery. On duty, Daley’s views on discipline made him as unbendable as a tire iron, but in the supermarket he might easily have been mistaken for a bookkeeper or an introverted shop foreman.

This book is divided into four parts. At the end of each section, we find a short chapter about a real death penalty case that took place in the early 1800s. Ponsor attempts to tie that real case into his fictional characters’ current world and it just doesn’t work. The historical sections don’t blend into the story, but stand isolated. I do think there is a compelling story in that old case, though perhaps it should be written on its own either as historical fiction or true crime.

The murder of Lyon threw the community into turmoil. On November 17, 1805, the Sunday after the discovery of the young man’s body, Pastor Ezra Witter delivered a sermon in Wilbraham, in which he asked: “And hath it come to this! Have things gotten to such a pass, in this infant country, that it is dangerous for a man of decent appearance and equipage, to travel on the highway in midday, through fear of being murdered and robbed for his money?”

In the end, I struggled to get through this weighty book. Michael Ponsor’s attempt is admirable but, for me, is in need of a major edit.


Thanks for reading. :)

#MusicMonday: Holding On For Dear Life with THE FALLEN DRAKES

Today’s featured band has that indefinable something that captured me from the first notes the first time I heard them. I listen to and own a lot of music. My collection is… obsessive. I’m never sure exactly what I’m looking for until I hear it, and even then I can’t always explain what “it” is. A sound, a vibe, the right lyrics. Whatever “it” is, I found it here. I’m talking about The Fallen Drakes.

The Fallen Drakes

They released an EP late last year called Anymore Cinema. You should buy it. Really.

Anymore Cinema
1. Anymore Cinema
2. The Ones That Got Out
3. Final Hour
4. Anymore Cinema (Acoustic)

Let’s start with the title song, Anymore Cinema:

You live in a world
That gives you nothing
You live in a world
Where you’re forgotten
But you live in your own… world


Here’s the powerful video for Final Hour:

We’re down, we’re all the same
We’re holding on for dear life…


This song isn’t on the EP, but you can buy the single on Amazon or iTunes. Girl From New York is achingly beautiful:

I don’t believer her
When she says she’s fine…


The Fallen Drakes are four guys from Ireland:

The Fallen Drakes 2

Brian McGovern
Nabz Ali
Hyder Ali
Michal Bartolen


The band is working on a new album, which I’m eagerly awaiting! Because they’re busy recording, they’ve been a little quiet in the social media world these days. But you can connect with them on FacebookTwitter and YouTube to keep up with their progress.

If you like what you hear, please consider making a purchase to help support them. You can find their music on Amazon and iTunes.

Thanks for listening. :)

New Release Review – Wayward Pines: The Last Town by Black Crouch

The Last Town

Welcome to Wayward Pines, the last town.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrived in Wayward Pines, Idaho, three weeks ago. In this town, people are told who to marry, where to live, where to work. Their children are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; even asking questions can get you killed.

But Ethan has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

Blake Crouch’s electrifying conclusion to the Wayward Pines Series—now a Major Television Event Series debuting Winter 2015 on FOX—will have you glued to the page right down to the very last word.

Published: July 15, 2014

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble



My Review:

The Last Town is the final book in The Wayward Pines trilogy. While the first two have more of a suspense/thriller feel, this one leans heavily into post-apocalyptic horror. In place of the unexpected twists, we have a lot of terror and bloodshed. The action is nonstop, leaving no room to take a breath.

He said under his breath, like a prayer, “What the hell are you?”

Underlying all the madness is the issue of true democracy. Do we have the right to choose our individual fate or should a select few decide what information we’re given based on what is best for humanity? Crouch handles this well, showing us how easily power corrupts even the most well-intentioned among us.

David Pilcher’s final words to them were set on repeat. Hell is coming to you.

This is a quick read, though not a light read. I felt the heavy weight of misery throughout, searching for, along with the characters, a glimpse of hope within the chaos. Crouch has the ability to place us right in the story, which is what I love about his writing. But his skill also left me feeling bleak. After reading the last words, I craved something light and happy to lift me out of Wayward Pines. Crouch did his job superbly in that respect, though I’d caution readers not to pick this up if you’re feeling depressed.

Beyond his weather-protected nook, snow pours down into the meadow.
Night creeps in.
He is warm.
And for the moment…
Not Dead.
All things considered, in this shitty new world, that’s about as much as a man can hope for at the end of a long, cold day.

I’m ambivalent about the ending. I don’t want to say why, because I don’t want to give even the hint of a spoiler. While I understand what Crouch went for, I’m just not sure I buy into it. Still, this is a thought-provoking, thriller ride of a series. I’m looking forward to seeing if the TV miniseries lives up to Crouch’s writing.

This series should be read in order, from start to finish, in order to enjoy the full impact. Crouch does a good job of filling in some of the back story, but I’m not sure this would work well as or is intended to be a stand-alone read.

* I was given a free, advanced copy for my unbiased review. *



Thanks for reading.

Letters From Prison: Dodging Bullets On The Prison Yard


America’s correctional system houses 2.2 million people,which would make it the fourth largest city in the nation.

Today we’re back with Tyler, who, as many of you know, is a young man serving life without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent crime he committed as a teenager. At the whim of our so-called justice system, Tyler will spend his entire adult life in prison for a botched robbery, while adult rapists and murderers are out on parole in a decade or less.

Tyler is a gifted writer. His essays give us a glimpse into prison life. After reading his words, I am astonished that he manages to hold on to hope and his own humanity.

Behind and Beyond the Wall
June 1, 2014

I live on a prison yard that was created for one major purpose – to safely house convicts who have denounced their affiliation with or membership in gangs. It is known as a gang “drop out” yard. In theory, this yard is dedicated to promoting a healthy way of incarceration. I say “in theory” because it is not always the case.

Not everyone comes to this yard with the intention to become a better person. You still have to navigate through inmates who may have denounced their gangs, but not their predatory natures. You still have to deal with them and some corrections officers who have become abusive because of what they deal with in the system or because that is their nature, too. So, to fully benefit from a “drop out yard” you must be smart, intuitive and have a strong sense of identity and character.

Actually, in most prison yards, the opportunity to rehabilitate yourself does not exist. At least here, you have a chance. For that, I am grateful.

But the old life is never far away.

A few weeks back, I was walking the yard when the alarm sounded. Immediately after that, the tower guard yelled through the loudspeaker for all inmates to “GET DOWN!” When that happens, you better sit down all the way down on the ground wherever you are, or suffer the consequences.

As I was sitting down, the instincts I have developed over nearly twelve years of prison had me scanning the surroundings to see where the danger was. Pepper spray rode the breeze, irritating the back of my throat. I heard somewhat distant shouts from guards, “GET THE FUCK DOWN!” That’s when I realized the problem was on another yard, close to mine.

Shotgun blasts told me that the “block guns” were out and I knew someone was getting hit with the rubber blocks those guns coughed up. The pop of the guns almost felt like the blows of the rubber blocks in my gut as I remembered my time on other yards.

A heavier wave of pepper spray barreled over, covering about a quarter of our yard with a yellow-orange cloud. Suddenly, officers of our yard streamed out of the housing building, outfitted in riot gear. They were on their way to the trouble.

Shouting and chaos continued. Then I heard the rifle shots cracking from the tower – live rounds. Serious stuff was “jumping off.”

My heart was pounding against the inside of my chest as the adrenaline rushed through me. I closed my eyes tight and flew back in time to the days of survival and battle on the main line. Even though it had been eight years since I had any real altercation, the feelings that rose up to the surface made it seem like it was only yesterday. Maybe it’s just muscle memory, but I was swept back to those years between 17 and 21 when I was fighting for my life almost daily. My body and brain were ready to fight for my life again, if that’s what it came to. Just the sounds and the smells brought it all rushing back. On the main line, I had a target on my back. Survival was all I had on my mind. When you are in life and death situations, survival better be all you think about, or you will end up dead.

But I am not there anymore. I am here. Here in the “drop out yard,” the people who advocate for rehabilitation – some employees of the system, some volunteers and some inmates – have a chance to help themselves and people like me who made stupid decisions but finally saw through the chaos to something meaningful. I am so grateful for this yard. It’s far from perfect, but it is a place where Hope still has a fighting chance. And I am grateful to the people who believe that rehabilitation is real and worth pursuing. To them I say thank you for helping me recover my true self before it was too late.

There are others on the main line who would like the chance I have been given. I hope they get it. I hope the system changes to make this kind of yard the mainline and leave the battle for survival to those who do not care to rehabilitate themselves.

Thanks for reading.



In 2000, inmates across the US were given 52,307 violations for assaulting fellow prisoners or guards, for a rate of 4,260 violations per 100,000 prisoners. That same year outside prison walls, the FBI tallied 911,706 aggravated assaults, for a rate of 324 for every 100,000 people. Violence is 13 times more likely to occur within prison walls. What does this say about our nation? Isn’t it time we fixed the broken pieces?


Tyler’s father – Nick Frank – has written a memoir of his family’s experiences, which I highly recommend. Nick’s publisher recommended he change all names to protect everyone’s privacy. In the book, Tyler is called Nathan. Here he would like to be known by his own name.

Destructive Justice A LOST BOY, A BROKEN SYSTEM

By all accounts, Nathan Frank started out as a terrific kid with the brightest of futures ahead of him. With the advent of adolescence, however, Nathan’s world and his relationships begin to unravel. No matter which way he turns, he seems to find conflict. Eventually, with his powerful personality, he becomes his own generator of conflict as he steadily enters a world of drugs, defiance and ultimately a criminal street gang. Finally, he runs off the rails at full throttle, coming to a hard stop at seventeen years old when he is arrested for his participation in a botched robbery. With his arrest, Nathan is swept into a justice system of condemnation and ruination for those who enter its control. There, the fact that he is a troubled teen means nothing – maybe less than nothing. Nathan is tried as an adult and sentenced to multiple life terms for his crimes. So at seventeen, he enters a world where exploitation, violence and abject hopelessness reign. Forgiveness, rehabilitation, redemption are hardly even notions within our justice and corrections systems. Logically, Nathan should be crushed by his fate. He very nearly is. But, the man Nathan becomes, a man who finds his strength in fundamentally good qualities that he suppressed for so many years, will not be crushed. Somehow, in one of the worst places on earth, he rediscovers the best parts of himself. Destructive Justice follows Nathan from the great promise of his earliest years, to the great tragedy of his adolescence, to the small light of hope for an even greater redemption.

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble



Links to Tyler’s previous essays:


Tyler will be joining us again soon. His essays will always appear on Fridays.

What are your thoughts on prison reform?

Thanks for reading. :)

Is Society Served When Children are Tried and Punished as Adults?

Courtroom detail

Most people pay little attention to the workings of our justice system. It’s easy to sit back in complacency, assuming lawyers and judges know what’s best, courts and juries work out the details, and prisons keep the bad guys away from us. Easy, that is, when we view it all from a distance. But all of us might feel differently if we’re the ones swept into this system, either as victims of crime or of the system itself. One of the issues I feel strongly about is our trend of prosecuting children as adults. My guest author, Daphne Holmes, has written a thoughtful piece putting this issue into perspective.


Is Society Served When Children are Tried and Punished as Adults?

In some states, children as young as seven are treated as adults by the criminal justice system. While it is easy to understand the motivation to impose adult punishment on a child who commits an especially heinous crime, we’ve gone well beyond violent crimes in our efforts to lock juveniles away. And unfortunately, such sentencing might well be based more in our own angers and frustration than in any desire to serve “justice,” much less, to rehabilitate children.  To understand the scope of the problem, one need only look at the costs and effectiveness of trying, convicting, and incarcerating children as adults.



According to what was billed as the First Comprehensive Policy Study on the subject, published in 2009 by the University of Texas in Austin:

  • Many of these young children are being treated as adults for relatively minor offenses. There are almost as many youth treated as adults for property crimes as for crimes against persons. Determinations about when and whether a young child will be treated as an adult are marked by unpredictability and racial disparities.
  • On a single day in 2008, 7,703 children under age 18 were held in adult local jails and 3,650 in adult state prisons. In these adult facilities, the youth face vastly higher risks of physical and sexual assault and suicide than they would face in juvenile facilities. The youngest children are at particular risk.



It is more expensive to process child offenders through the juvenile system than the adult criminal justice system. Where the adult system is structured primarily for containment and punishment, the juvenile system is more directly geared toward actual rehabilitation. Greater emphasis on changing behavior involves additional personnel and programs, which run the tab much higher than what is spent to keep adult criminals housed.



While the costs incurred by processing juveniles in the adult system are initially significantly lower than the equivalent costs for processing their cases in the juvenile system, it would be foolish to ignore the longer-term costs involved. According to a 2011 article on the Reclaiming Futures website, the additional cost of increasing the minimum age for adult processing to 16 would be $70.9 million per year, but that the state would accrue “$123.1 million in reoccurring benefits to youth, victims, and taxpayers over the long term.”

This should please even the most stringent budget hawks. The more important element, however, is how we serve the next generation from a moral perspective.  It is our responsibility to raise young people to be productive adults, rather than take the more convenient approach of placing them in cages when their behavior doesn’t meet our standards. While society must take appropriate measures to protect itself from those who would cause harm, those measures must not be one-size-fits-all. By placing children into the adult criminal justice system, we effectively teach them how to be better criminals, which serves neither the children nor the society we purport to protect.


Legal Precedent

We need look no further than the principles upon which our justice system is founded to realize that treating our child offenders as adults is unacceptable. Even in the most horrific of adult crimes, a perpetrator can be found not competent to stand trial for his or her crimes. By definition, we acknowledge that minors are not competent to make important decisions such as entering into business contracts, purchasing firearms, or exercising sufficiently proper judgment in deciding whether to drink alcoholic beverages. It should be obvious that if children are deemed, by nature of their chronological age and emotional development, not sufficiently competent to engage in behaviors that adults take for granted, neither should they be considered competent to stand trial as adults.

Quoting again from the University of Texas Policy Study referenced above:

“The United States is severely out of step with international law and practice. Most countries—including those Western nations most similar to the United States, countries in the developing world, Islamic nations and even countries often considered to be human rights violators—repudiate the practice of trying young children as adults and giving them long sentences.”




Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from and you can reach her at



What are your thoughts on pushing children through our adult courts and locking them up in adult prisons?

Thanks for reading. :)