Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In

( 4 )


"A gritty, raw, and engrossing voice."—Publishers Weekly

I was a bad mother,

a bad daughter,

a bad wife, a bad friend.

Boozed out and tired,

with no dreams

and no future.

But I was a good officer.

Sara Lunsford helped cage the worst of ...

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Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In

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"A gritty, raw, and engrossing voice."—Publishers Weekly

I was a bad mother,

a bad daughter,

a bad wife, a bad friend.

Boozed out and tired,

with no dreams

and no future.

But I was a good officer.

Sara Lunsford helped cage the worst of the worst, from serial killers to sex criminals. At the end of every day, when she walked out the prison gate, she had to try to shed the horrors she witnessed. But the darkness invaded every part of her life, no matter how much she tried to immerse herself in a liquor bottle. She couldn't hide from the things that hurt her, the things that made her bleed, the things that still rise up in the dark and choke her.

With a magnetic, raw voice that you won't soon forget, Sweet Hell on Fire grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. It's a hardscrabble climb from rock bottom to the new ground of a woman who understands the meaning of sacrifice, the joy of redemption, and the quiet haven to be found in hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a gritty, raw, and engrossing voice, debut author Lunsford splays out the facts of her dramatic life as a corrections officer at an all-male maximum security state prison. She’s separated from her husband and living in her parents’ house with her two girls when she accepts a job at a corrections facility that makes the TV show Lockup look tame. A self-proclaimed bad mother, daughter, and wife, Lunsford lives for a brutal job where she teaches the inmates not to mess with her. Disappointed in herself, she drinks herself into oblivion at night and then doggedly heads back to the prison. Full of expletives, slang, humor, and horror, she recounts her daily mishaps and near misses with sex offenders, serial killers and cold-blooded killers. This collection of transfixing essays turns into a tragic story when the author hits a violent breaking point that forces her to change the course of her life. Not for the easily offended or fainthearted, Lunsford’s daring book will thrill and titillate willing readers. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"A fascinating, frightening lens into a simmering underworld most of us would rather not think about." - Shelf Awareness

"Sara Lunsford romances readers with softness sometimes, making us chuckle, making us double-take. Then she grabs us and shakes hard, until we can't do anything but gasp. ... 'Sweet Hell on Fire' is a book to get your hands on." - Bookworm Sez, Best Book of 2012

"A blunt, angry, and very important book." - Christian Science Monitor

"If you read one memoir this winter, make it 'Sweet Hell on Fire." - Stevens Point Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402270765
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks
  • Publication date: 11/1/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 591,296
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Day 1

There is no stain remover in the world that will get human brain matter out of a poly-cotton blend.

It looks just like they portray it in slasher flicks and gore fests, like some weird lumpy gray sausage straining to get out of its dull casing. There's blood too. A contrast so stark it seems like someone took a red Sharpie to an old noir movie. Everything fades to the background and all you can see is the red. It sears into your line of sight brighter than the sun so when you close your eyes, it's still there-burning hot.

I didn't think about the red and the gray-the blood and the brains-until hours after the first time I saw them spread out before me. Not until I was at home and my uniform pants were splayed out across the washer and I looked at my pretreaters and stain removers, then back at the strange slashes of rusted red.

When it happened, there was no time for reflection, for horror or shock. Only action. Only what my training had prepared me for.

A man on his back in the yard.

Even without the crimson spray on the concrete, I knew he was dead. Prison is the lowest common denominator of civilization, where primal instincts and base needs rule. It's a place where showing soft underbelly to the other predators is a sign of weakness. For a man to be on his back out on the yard where everyone could see him, his belly exposed, he had to be dead.

Especially with a bloody sock on the ground next to him. Nothing says "pay me" to the rest of your customers like a lock in a sock to the back of the head of someone who didn't pay. I broke into a run before the alarm came over the radio. First responders erupted from the cell houses and other posts they were working, filling the yard like so many soldier ants ready for duty.

I wasn't the first one on the scene, but it was me on my knees in the gore assisting the officer who began CPR. Pieces of the inmate's skull were scattered on the ground like broken bits of china, and his head looked like a rotten watermelon. Rescue breaths, CPR, and all the emergency care in the world couldn't help him.

The memory is stark and faded at the same time, parts of it as if they happened yesterday and other parts like they never happened at all. I know EMS was called, I know I filled out stacks of paperwork, but I don't remember it. I don't remember talking to anyone, or doing anything that day. All I remember is the hard concrete under my knees and the blood on my hands, beneath my fingernails. The gray bits on my pants of what used to be a person.

Everything about him that made his place in the world was in that fleshy mess. The bad. His crime, the pain he inflicted on others, his motivations to do violence. The good. The people he loved. His hopes, his dreams. His memories. Everything that made him what he was right there under the afternoon sun spread out for any who cared to look.

I remember wiping my hands on my pants, the red and gray smearing up my thighs when I stood. Then I was at home, doing my laundry and wondering how the hell I was supposed to get a stain like that out of my uniform and if he'd been positive for HIV or HEP-C. There was a good chance of both-he'd been a punk. The tattoo on his neck marked him as Blood property, a commodity to be bought and sold, or rented out as the gang deemed fit. Add to that the infected injection site on his arm where he'd been shooting up, and he was two for two. Unprotected sex and needle sharing.

Even that realization was distant and unreal at the time. The only thing that was real was that I had been wrist deep in meat that used to be a man.

Shout got the blood out, but the gray remained.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2013

    This is only the second book I have ever read in the setting of

    This is only the second book I have ever read in the setting of prison (the other one being Dreams from the Monster Factory by Sunny Schwartz). I was hesitant to enter into this world, because I knew that as much as I love this authors writing (she is fantastic romance novelist under a pen name)there would be tough moments in this. Once I started, I felt stupid for having waited so many months to dive in, because this was the best memoir I have read in a long time.  Beautiful writing about a sometimes ugly period in author Sara Lunsford's life. I'm in awe. If you read one memoir this year, make this one it. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Sometimes it's frightening when life imitates art and the monste

    Sometimes it's frightening when life imitates art and the monsters from the pages or screens appear in real life. Sweet Hell on Fire is a raw, eye-opening looking into a year in the life of correctional office turned writer, Sara Lunsford. I have to applaud Ms. Lunsford's bravery at laying out her world for all to see. It can't be easy to expose one's open wounds to be scrutinized by readers, to allow strangers into your intimate thoughts and fears, and to reveal all the dark secrets we desperately want to hide.

    As I read each day in Sara's life, the book made me laugh, want to cry, and think about the journey we all have to walk to find ourselves and love ourselves. Sometimes we forget that we don't all come from the same place. We look at situations and rationale from a jaded perspective. Sweet Hell on Fire gives us a mirror into a world filled with darkness, but a path lit with spark of kindness, respect, and love. It might not be formed in the molds of our own lives, but clearly present. You notice it in the inmates Ms. Lunsford interacted with in the correctional facility, the strained relationship with her family, the relationship with her husband and children, but most of all in her descriptions of herself.

    Sweet Hell on Fire is a uncensored view into Ms. Lunsford's life. It's not pretty. The language is brutal. But it is an honest, intriguing, and well written read. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely an excellent read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    If you work in the Corrections field, you will enjoy this book.

    If you work in the Corrections field, you will enjoy this book. It is more about her job and the daily struggles. It was a fast, easy read but I enjoyed it having worked in the field as a women for thirteen years

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  • Posted October 18, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A must read

    This is one of the first non-fiction books I've read. It wasn't what I expected though., which in a way was good and bad. It wasn't as disturbing as I thought it was going to be (which was good) When I first picked up the book not only was excited to read it but I was nervous. I was expecting some nasty stuff to be in this book, and don't get me wrong there was definitely some but it wasn't so bad. This story tells about Sara Lunsford and her job as a Corrections Officer in an all male facility. I wasn't completely disappointed in the book and I would recommend it to others but for me I think I made my expectations too high on what the book would entail and it was just shy for me. My own fault. I have to give Sara a lot of credit because while reading this, I kept thinking there was no way I could ever do that job. I give this book 3 1/2 hearts and if she were to ever write another book, I would for sure pick it up to read. Doing the job she did and struggle with her personal life outside of work Sara sounds like an amazing woman.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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