There is a great deal of literature written about the prison system in the United States, and given that roughly 1 out of every 100 adult Americans will be incarcerated at some point in their lives, it is a subject that deserves attention. However, books written from the perspective of an inmate, about the detailed inner workings of life in prison, are far less common. In Federal Prison Handbook by Christopher Zoukis, no aspect of prison life is overlooked, making this a deeply compelling read for anyone who has ever wanted to learn more about life behind bars.
The book is a fascinating blend of personal anecdotes and dutifully researched facts about the culture of prison in America. From a prison “orientation day” guide by Christopher to the legal outlets prisoners have to seek justice, this book is a methodical and well-crafted framework of incarceration, and could be insightful for life-sentence prisoners as well as average citizens who have never even seen a prison.
The information is unbiased, despite being written by an inmate, and the writing is exceptionally mature and composed. There are so many misconceptions about prison in popular culture, often promoted by television shows, such as “Orange is the New Black” or “Locked Up,” but this book dives into the nitty-gritty facts, from employment opportunities for inmates to the guidelines for commissary purchases and ways to navigate the complex appeals process.
Importantly, the book also doesn’t shy away from the legitimate threats and dangers of existence behind bars. This isn’t a manifesto against the treatment of the prison population, but is rather an unromantic and unemotional account of what someone can expect to experience, and what they can do to make the most of their sentence. The medical and psychological care section was particularly eye-opening, as few people outside of this world would have much reason or interest in knowing about the services and struggles in this area of prison life.
By providing an honest and thorough snapshot of prison from every angle, Zoukis offers a new perspective, seemingly untarnished by politicization or personal motive. Perhaps he wants to increase awareness of what life is truly like behind bars, or provide a comprehensive resource for people who have been, are, or will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. This is an admirable goal, and one that the author certainly achieves.
What the book also accomplishes is the humanization of individuals that are so often seen through a tainted lens, only as “bad guys” with nothing of value to offer. Christopher Zoukis is living proof that people who make mistakes often find the motivation to change for the better, and improve the lives of others during their time inside.
Federal Prison Handbook is incredibly well-written, meticulously detailed and undeniably fascinating. While some areas may get a bit too technical for the average reader, each piece of information will be valuable for someone, which makes this an impressive effort by a uniquely talented author.
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