3 out of 4 stars
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The Slammer, written by Robert Allyn Goldman, is a non-fiction title about the American prison system. The author draws from many years of experience working inside prisons “as a professional playing amateur psychiatrist.” Working in the infirmary, he saw the system from the inside and talked with many prisoners over the years. Goldman worked for a couple of months in a Level II prison and then transferred to a job at maximum-security prison, which he characterized as a hell-hole. He says he would have quit if he wasn’t determined to understand the inner workings of it all. Judging from this informative and eye-opening treatise, he surely seems to have achieved his goal.
Goldman posits that prisons must undergo a substantial change to reform instead of merely punish individuals. It is not an easy task, though, and there are many obstacles to overcome: prison occupancy, mixing violent and non-violent prisoners, prison gangs, bureaucratic corruption, prosecutorial overreach, disproportional sentences for non-violent offenders, Islamic radicalization, and non-armed/underpaid guards, among others. Goldman dives deep into each of these issues throughout the book.
What I liked the most about this markedly meticulous work was the author’s thorough and research-based analysis of the subject. Drawing from his extensive research and practical personal experiences, the author enumerates and describes several ways to contribute and change the current scenario. I particularly like how Goldman discusses brain chemistry and brings up the “nature versus nurture” discussion, skillfully addressing how poverty, lack of education, unemployment, and drugs influence criminal behavior.
What I disliked the most was that the book was a bit long and repetitive, making for a somewhat laborious read. I believe the author could have summarized some parts. For instance, I would have preferred to have only one examination of prison occupancy numbers, which the author reviews and repeats a few times. Goldman also explains more than once the differences between prison categories.
Lastly, I should say that the author doesn’t shy away from speaking out passionately about his political preferences. He abhors Obama, who he believes harmed America and “never represented the true Black experience.” Trump, on the other hand, “saved this country from irreversible harm Obama thrusted upon the citizenry.” He writes extensively and eloquently about his rather polarized political opinions, and therefore, the book might alienate readers with a different political viewpoint. I thought this was a pity in such a research-based title, for it may restrict its impact and audience.
In closing, I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars. I found a fair share of editing mistakes, so it didn’t seem professionally edited. For this and the long and repetitive aspects, I’m taking a star from the rating. Still, it is a book worth reading, and I recommend it to readers who are interested in prison reform.
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