Among Murderers: Life after Prison

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Overview


What is it like for a convicted murderer who has spent decades behind bars to suddenly find himself released into a world he barely recognizes? What is it like to start over from nothing? To answer these questions Sabine Heinlein followed the everyday lives and emotional struggles of Angel Ramos and his friends Bruce and Adam—three men convicted of some of society’s most heinous crimes—as they return to the free world.

Heinlein spent more than two years at the Castle, a ...

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Among Murderers: Life after Prison

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Overview


What is it like for a convicted murderer who has spent decades behind bars to suddenly find himself released into a world he barely recognizes? What is it like to start over from nothing? To answer these questions Sabine Heinlein followed the everyday lives and emotional struggles of Angel Ramos and his friends Bruce and Adam—three men convicted of some of society’s most heinous crimes—as they return to the free world.

Heinlein spent more than two years at the Castle, a prominent halfway house in West Harlem, shadowing her protagonists as they painstakingly learn how to master their freedom. Having lived most of their lives behind bars, the men struggle to cross the street, choose a dish at a restaurant, and withdraw money from an ATM. Her empathetic first-person narrative gives a visceral sense of the men’s inner lives and of the institutions they encounter on their odyssey to redemption. Heinlein follows the men as they navigate the subway, visit the barber shop, venture on stage, celebrate Halloween, and loop through the maze of New York’s reentry programs. She asks what constitutes successful rehabilitation and how one faces the guilt and shame of having taken someone’s life.

With more than 700,000 people being released from prisons each year to a society largely unprepared—and unwilling—to receive them, this book provides an incomparable perspective on a pressing public policy issue. It offers a poignant view into a rarely seen social setting and into the hearts and minds of three unforgettable individuals who struggle with some of life’s harshest challenges.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Heinlein’s goals exceed her grasp in this well-intentioned but less-than-insightful look at the lives of three murderers after their release from prison in New York. The questions she poses at the outset are certainly worthy ones (“What is life like for those who have spent several decades in prison and are released into a world in which people and places they once knew have ceased to exist? What is it like to start over from nothing?”), but the answers she uncovers over the course of her roughly two years with the ex-cons are superficial. One of the three men she shadows, Angel Ramos—who, at the age of 18, strangled a 16-year-old girl and served 29 years for the crime—explains that he understood the rules of life behind bars, but doesn’t know how to behave in the outside world. The author’s attempts to get readers to sympathize with her protagonists fall short. Ramos feels it was necessary to kill in order “to be who I am,” and his assessment of his life offers a chilling and sobering answer to questions about the efficacy of incarceration: “If somebody would have... given me a job, I think it would have changed my life. But then again I wouldn’t be living the fantastic life I’m living now.” (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"A deeply compassionate book that poses urgent questions about the end product of imprisonment and the social thirst for vengeance."--Kirkus Reviews

"Notably free of policy jargon, Sabine's work is about real people and the stories they have to tell."--Brooklyn Rail

"It will set readers thinking and possibly wanting to do more research on the subject."--Library Journal

Brooklyn Rail - Theodore Hamm

“Notably free of policy jargon, Sabine’s work is about real people and the stories they have to tell.”
Times Higher Education - Laura Piacentini

"This book is more than a tribute to the men interviewed: it asks us to test ourselves on our capacity for forgiveness and then to consider penal power’s capacity to destroy the self."
San Francisco Book Review

"If you are looking for a soul touching, look no further and pick up this book. You won’t be let down."
Page 99 Test - Marshal Zeringue

"Offers glimpses of a world unfamiliar to most of us and offers the opportunity to begin an honest dialogue about crime, rehabilitation, and reentry."
Finger Lakes Times - Joel Freedman

"Clear, engaging prose throughout the book provides many thought-provoking insights into the nature of rehabilitation, forgiveness, and redemption by looking at real people who have faced the challenges of re-entry from prison to free society . . . aims a fresh spotlight on the problems and challenges faced by the millions of people who have been released from America's prisons."
Rumpus - Amanda Green

"Heinlein puts a face to a population that evokes strong feelings while remaining largely unfamiliar. Among Murderers is an eye-opening look at life after prison and our society’s thirst for vengeance."
Library Journal
In her first long work of narrative nonfiction, Heinlein follows three men who, after spending decades behind bars, reenter the world like modern-day Rip Van Winkles. In this first-person narrative, she follows Angel, Adam, and Bruce as they fumble to relearn mundane tasks as well as to face emotional issues that they did not have to confront while incarcerated. Heinlein is quite successful in this portion of the book. She shows the bizarre and frightening aspects of the men's new lives, but when she deals with the men themselves, she tends to falter. All three are convicted murderers. Although by the end of the book all three have jobs and are living a more or less normal lives, the question remains unanswered: will they kill again? Heinlein poses more questions than she answers, but perhaps that is the virtue of the book; it will set readers thinking and possibly wanting to do more research on the subject. VERDICT Heinlein's work will appeal to students of criminal justice and attendant social issues. General readers may enjoy dipping into the book, if not reading it cover to cover.—Frances O. Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A thoughtful consideration of the massive challenges and moral burdens faced by individuals paroled after long sentences for the most severe of infractions. German-born Heinlein possessed understandable trepidation regarding the pursuit of this project through the labyrinth of "re-entry" from the American prison system: "It is hard to look a murderer in the face….Yet considering the rising number of murderers being released from prison, it becomes harder and harder to turn away." In 2007, while receiving a master's degree in journalism from NYU, she began attending events at the Fortune Society ("the crème de la crème of American halfway houses") in upper Manhattan, following three men as they acclimated themselves to urban society after a quarter-century or longer behind bars. Heinlein develops authentic, nuanced portrayals of her central characters, noting that while all showed remorse and dealt admirably with the challenges of re-entry, questions regarding their redemption remain tricky. Arguing that, since murder sentences represent the extremes of incarceration, their re-entry process would be the most difficult, she observed the three as they dealt with everything from relationships with women to dining in neighborhood restaurants, as well as more profound issues such as their own determination to rebuild their lives and make up for lost years. As she got to know them and weighed their own responses to the moral quandaries of their crimes and punishments, the author makes sharp observations about the tattered world inhabited by released convicts. Heinlein notes that almost "no one employs ex-cons except the agencies that promise to help them," particularly in hard economic times. A deeply compassionate book that poses urgent questions about the end product of imprisonment and the social thirst for vengeance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520272859
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/18/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Sabine Heinlein’s writing has appeared in the Iowa Review, The Brooklyn Rail, City Limits, Tablet Magazine, Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and other publications.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Freedom Day
2. At the Garden
3. Street Code
4. Talking Murder
5. Poster Boys
6. Dinner with Bruce
7. Job Readiness
8. Prisoners Still
9. The Penis Dialogues
10. At the Barber
11. Causalities
12. The New Coat
13. A Haunted House
14. Waiting for Nothing
15. Growing Old
16. Silent Forgiveness
17. Lies and Good Luck
18. Sex, Love, and Race
19. From Attica to Broadway
20. The New Home
21. On Guard

Epilogue
Notes
Bibliography

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This heartfelt book addresses the needs of released inmates in t

    This heartfelt book addresses the needs of released inmates in their struggle to survive among a populous that so easily discards them into the system. With the lack of empathy and humanity in America, the label of “felon” will loom over these people’s heads for a lifetime, oftentimes pushing them further into the system if released back into society. This book sheds an eye-opening light onto a broken system that desperately needs more public awareness and support.
    “When you’ve killed someone, you’ve done the ultimate; you’ve crossed that line. The only person that I was truly afraid of was me…”
    Programs like CEO and WeCare are just failing the needy workforce while sucking billions of federal and state dollars per year and are more geared on pushing people through the program and not for what they truly are meant for; finding meaningful employment. Despite how educated these offenders are, or skilled, the buck usually stops with any potential employer learning they are ex-convicts, especially for murder. People already have their opinions and usually don’t want to discuss any further. This only puts society in a worse position to deal with people who have a rap sheet.

    The author’s dedication to writing and to this subject is shown through her harrowing shadowing of these three ex-convicts, all convicted of murder, no less. While many writers might have spent several weeks or months immersed in their prime environment, Heinlein gave two years to these men so they could tell their stories, which shows her true empathetic nature as a writer and the lack thereof within society.

    If you are looking for a soul touching, look no further and pick up this book. You won’t be let down.
    *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review*    
    *You can view the original review at Musing with Crayolakym and San Francisco & Sacramento City Book Review

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I haven't read the book yet, and I know Angel Ramos slightly.  T

    I haven't read the book yet, and I know Angel Ramos slightly.  The book may be superficial, as the edityorial suggests, but accommodating to the real world after prison is indeed difficult.What is a just punishment for strangling a girl?  If we agree that murderers will one day be released to the community after having served a sentence imposed by a court, then we need to figure out how we will help them jadjust to life outside, when they are discriminated against for jobs and housing  and have had no experience for years in making decisions about how to  use their time, and the little money they have. Of course we are afraid of murderers, but we have chosen to give them prison terms that come to an  end  for the most part, we then need to figure out how to reintegrate them to become useful members of society  This book probably deserves to be read by anyone interested in prison reform. Also worth reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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