Boone County resident and retired Boone County teacher Susan Daniel believes she is “probably typical of many people with no real connection to the prison system.” She had never given much thought to it other than to be aware the prison population is growing.
Kentucky has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States and has the largest percentage of children with incarcerated parents in the country. Gaye Holman, a retired professor of sociology who taught within correctional facilities in Louisville, KY for several decades, hopes to foster conversation about how we deal with offenders and how their treatment eventually affects all of us. Holman has followed fifty Kentucky inmates for a twenty-year period and also interviewed correctional officers, administrators, chaplains, and parole board members. Her sociological and psychological analysis of her research was published in the book Decades Behind Bars: A 20-Year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.
When Daniel picked up Decades Behind Bars at the Library, she had no concept of what prison life was actually like. The book opened an entirely new reality of life Daniel had never even considered. Reading the book, Daniel found it to be thought-provoking, eye-opening, and engaging because it presented a different perspective on our prisons and the men who have been incarcerated for decades. Holman provides a realistic portrayal of men in prison. The book covers all aspects of the prisoners’ lives from entry into prison and daily life inside, to family, parole, religion, and more. While the magnitude of their crimes are not minimized, Holman’s account provides the reader with the opportunity to better understand and consider the humanity of the inmates, their background, and the prison system. According to Daniel, “The public usually hears details of the crime and sentence, never to think of the individual again as a person. Holman knows the humanity of the individuals (or sometimes lack of humanity) on a personal level.”
The book’s straightforward and highly readable style engages the reader with Holman’s insights. Holman does not rely solely on her own perspective, but integrates the inmates’ own words into every chapter. The inclusion of the men’s comments and stories create a personal and insider perspective of prison life few of us have seen. Thought-provoking discussion questions, great for book groups or community discussions, are included at the end of each chapter to guide and challenge the readers’ perceptions about these men who may one day reenter society. Underlying themes include: What are the conditions that have destroyed some of the inmates, but saved others? What does it mean to spend most of your life in prison?
Gaye Holman will be at the Main Library, 1786 Burlington Pike in Burlington, on Wednesday, November 8 at 7 pm for a conversation about Corrections and the U.S. Criminal Justice system. She will share her findings on the effects of long-term incarceration on these men and our community. Through the examination of individual cases, the discussion will explore the issues that make this a complex problem for our state and nation. Daniel believes “It will be fascinating to hear Holman in person, and be able to ask questions of someone who has been there, not as an inmate or worker in the justice system, but as a public individual and educator.”
Please come to the program even if you haven’t read the book. As Daniel says, “I can’t wait to listen to more stories and hear some thought-provoking discussion.”