I really don’t know where to start with this book. In summary, it’s about a movement for prisoner reform in Massachusetts that started from inside the prison, one started by militants on the inside who rose up against foul conditions, abuse, and torture. Eventually, they ended up unionizing and running the prison itself, with much less violence and tension. Before the movement was crushed—for that brief time—there was real change inside the prison. Yet, the uprising had lasting effects on prisons and prisoners’ rights.
Unfortunately, that’s all I’m compelled to tell you, because I was able to retain very little from this book. I’m a bit saddened to say that this book was completely unreadable and I can’t recommend it to anyone. It takes a subject that’s vital, interesting, progressive, and full of life, and makes it dry, academic, and boring. I would love to read this story from, maybe, a memoir standpoint of somebody who was there on the inside. But as it is, it’s really a chore to read, and, honestly, I don’t know how it could be changed. I mean, if it’s completely essential to list full and abridged proposals made by the prisoners to the wardens—and endless detail of that sort—then there’s no way anybody could make a book out of this story that I would want to read. But somehow I fail to think that’s necessary. It made me think of why everyone seems to like oral histories these days. It may be kind of a copout from having to actually write a book, but at least it delivers the goods, which this one really fails to do. I feel bad saying bad things about a book of this subject matter. But what can I do? When the oral history comes out, I’m all in. –Craven Rock (South End Press, 7 Brookline St. #1, Cambridge, MA 02139, www.southendpress.org)