From secret prison journal pages to 2013 Book of the Year finalist.
This is for you, Lotus Weinstock – thank you.
With the national dialogue on prison and sentencing reform as loud as it’s ever been in America, I couldn’t be happier that ForeWord Reviews, a quarterly trade review journal, has chosen Where Excuses Go to Die as a finalist for its annual Book of the Year awards.
The winner will be announced in June, in Vegas, at the American Library Association’s yearly pow-wow.
Among 13 other candidates in the autobiography & memoir (adult nonfiction) category, Where Excuses Go to Die is a testament to the insight, character, and generosity of education professionals and workshop instructors to whom I surrendered while incarcerated for, coincidentally enough, the armed robbery of multiple bookstores.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the book wins. What matters is that the rehabilitative methodology and milestone approach used to get my attention back then remains the primary takeaway in any discussion of the book’s merits.
I won’t have it any other way. When it comes to the lessons Where Excuses Go to Die has to offer, I am as single-minded as a hornet. My story would not be a story were it not for those who saw potential in me that I could not see in myself.
When I began writing, I set out to be as excruciatingly truthful to the pages of my prison journal — and to those who inspired it — as I could stand. My task was to write a book about prison for people who could never see themselves turning the pages of such a thing. Being in a Book of the Year finalist tells me I’ve exceeded the promise I made to my mentors – from cell #203 those years ago.
The end result is something I believe hasn’t yet been brought to market: a coming-of-age story set behind bars that highlights the character of one mentor after another. Mine is the story of people who gave of themselves in order to show me what an idiot I’d been, followed quickly by the contributions I might make. So I set out to deliver the gut-honest account these people all implored me to write (not realizing how varied the resulting contributions might be).
Where Excuses Go to Die doesn’t rely on cell block payback, gang warfare, seething predators, rape, or just about anything the public has been trained to recognize as “prison.” Some of that stuff is there: it’s just not used as a jackhammer to prove to readers that they’re immersed in a prison narrative.
If readers find the humor and humanity I experienced during my 4-year sentence, my biggest goal for the book will have been achieved. At that point, discussions of turning offenders around will become less polluted with images of feces-throwing, howling monsters force-fed to the public by television shows like “Lock-up,” “On the Inside,” “American Jail,” and so forth.
But if that doesn’t do anything for you, think about this: when a criminal emerges from prison an even worse offender, you, the taxpayer, aren’t getting what you paid for. Yet when milestone-based education is made a principal factor in helping inmates create and maintain a relationship with delayed gratification, the whole game changes.
When inmates are shown potential that they’re either unaware of or from which they’ve been led astray — and especially when they’re shown how to apply this potential – better choices get made, recidivism rates lower, and there’s less grist for the mill of blame, buck-passing, and excuses.
Oh, and calling around L.A. today asking independently-owned and chain bookstore managers if I could stop by to affix the “official foil stickers” to any copies of my book they have on their shelves is a joy I earned. It tells me I learned to defy my fate, rather than follow it.
If I can do it, anyone can.
Tags: American Jail, American Library Association, autobiography, Book of the Year, education professionals, excuses, Foreword Reviews, Lock Up, Lotus Weinstock, memoir, On the Inside, prison, Where Excuses Go to Die