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Baker, author of Cops (1985), here turns his attention to those on the other side of the bars. None of the interviewees is a famous con; these are run-of-the-mill junkies, thieves, and dealers who can't seem to stay out of jail. Longtime hood Murray claims "in prison, I read a book a night," though others grow increasingly violent: one brags, "I stabbed a guy the first two weeks I was in prison."The overriding theme, Baker observes, is that nearly all of them can pinpoint the single act that pushed them irrevocably into criminal life; no one whines about his fate or blames anyone but himself. Their voices can be plaintive, as when one woman describes her efforts to get her children to write to her, or when a young tough is horrified to learn the kids he beat up because they ignored him were deaf, or when one man simply pines for a "center cut pork chop." Baker doesn't pretend to have any insight into why wealthy Charlotte wrote so many bad checks or why Howard turned his back on a loving family; the author focuses on balancing the hijinks of one speaker with the absolute pathos of the next. In the end, it seems, most of these career criminals resign themselves to life in prison, where the thievery doesn't stop (one resident of "Club Fed" describes the trafficking of tennis strings) and walls don't get any bigger. "My release date is July 14, 2005," muses one inmate. "That's a Buck Rogers date."
Well-observed and at times depraved, this is a unique account of the current prison population.