I’m closing in on 50 books for the year (#44 and #45 are being read right now) and it kind of occurred to me that I haven’t really blogged about any books in quite some time. I always have a hard time deciding if the book posts are worth the time I take on them. Really, who gives a shit about what I’m reading? But when you really think about it, who gives a shit about anything that I post? Blogs are so much masturbation most of the time. But I guess I say that like it’s a bad thing.
Anyway, I’ve read two books recently that had similar themes, yet they couldn’t have been any more different. Both had to do with high crimes and misdemeanors (although more of an emphasis on the high crimes in one of them) and the punishment (or lack thereof) meted out for these crimes. These books are Piper Kerman’s Orange Is The New Black and Bringing Adam Home, written by Les Standiford and Joe Matthews.
When I first heard about Orange Is The New Black, I figured that it was yet another one of those books that had the author infiltrating some segment of society as some form of sociological experiemnt. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Piper Kerman actually WENT to prison on a decade old drug charge. Confined to the minimum security prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, she served 13 months under the governement’s “minimum sentencing” laws for drug-related offenses, despite the fact that she had no prior record and her crime was not violent in nature. The memoir is compulsively readable as Kerman finds that what she was expecting both was and wasn’t what she found.
She tells the stories of many long term inmates who have been separated from their families for years, most similarly incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Although she is separated from her fiance and family for the duration of her sentence, the women in the prison camp become a surrogate family, helping her learn the ropes and keeping the at-first naive Kerman out of trouble. Before long, it’s as if she becomes part of the furniture, as roles reverse and she becomes the mentor to new inmates. It’s a love-hate world that is surprisingly recognizable – a world of support and love but also one of gossip and back-biting. To me, it proved that people will be people, no matter what their environment.
Kerman uses the book as a bit of a soap box to show the misguided nature of the nation’s “war on drugs” which, in her view, focuses on punishment while doing nothing to curb the demand for drugs. It would be easy to interpret this as sour grapes from someone who got caught and had to do time, but her argument is persuasive, especially when it talks about the number of people locked up in federal prison for non-violent crimes. If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense, but hey, I’m no criminal justice major.
It also doesn’t take a criminal justice major to recognize that the crime in the next book I read, Bringing Adam Home, was one of a particularly heinous nature. Adam Walsh’s abduction from a suburban Hollywood, Florida mall and subsequent murder is a story that nearly everyone of my generation knows – mostly because it scared the living daylights out of us. It forced the issue of missing children onto the national stage and onto milk cartons everywhere. Amazingly, the case remained unsolved for 27 years, and Bringing Adam Home is the story of the abduction, investigation and multitude of missteps made by the local police department and how the man that had confessed to the kidnapping multiple times during the ensuing years (and recanted about as many times) was finally brought to justice, allowing closure for the Walsh family.
I was particularly interested in this because I remember the Adam Walsh kidnapping pretty vividly, although perhaps it was in hindsight because I would have been only nine years old when it happened. The thought of being kidnapped and decapitated? Horrifying for me at that age and, well, let’s be honest at ANY age. Proving that my issues with anxiety started way before I even knew the word, I recall being petrified of being kidnapped as a kid, probably as a direct result of the Adam Walsh case, but here in Iowa, we also had the Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin cases to add fuel to the fire. We all know that stranger abduction is very VERY rare, but tell that to any parent that suddenly can’t find their kid in a store or any other public place. Those fears are primal and are hard to talk yourself out of.
Bringing Adam Home is very detailed and, at times, I got a bit bogged down in the cast of characters. That said, I would still recommend it because, as the tag line says, Walsh’s abduction really did change the way that we, as a nation, viewed missing children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a direct result of the Walsh kidnapping, as are Code ADAMs that stores and other public places use in the case of missing children. It’s a story of how, despite all the families that were ultimately helped by this crime, the Walshes really did need closure and justice served in their own case. As the pieces all fell into place, there can be no doubt that the man ultimately charged with the crime was the one who did it.
I will also add, as a side note, that the 8 or so pages of photos in the book are pretty amazing, especially one very horrific photo that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling.
Both books are highly recommended. Here are the book trailers for each. And I made it all the way through the post without mentioning the penal system once. (Doh!)