Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett

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9780374186876: Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett

A groundbreaking work of reportage on the hidden consequences of America's prison boom

Life On the Outside tells the story of Elaine Bartlett, who spent sixteen years in Bedford Hills prison for selling cocaine-a first offense under New York's harsh Rockefeller drug laws. The book opens on the morning of January 26, 2000, when she is set free, having received clemency from the governor. At forty-two, Elaine has virtually nothing: no money, no job, no real home.

What she does have is a large and troubled family, including four children, who live in a decrepit Lower East Side housing project. "I left one prison to come home to another," Elaine says. Over the next months, she clashes with her daughters, hunts for a job, visits her son and her husband in prison, negotiates the rules of parole, searches for her own home-and campaigns for the repeal of the sentencing guidelines that led to her long prison term.

In recent years, the United States has imprisoned more than two million people while making few preparations for their eventual release. Now these prisoners are coming home in record numbers, as unprepared for "life on the outside" as society is for them. Writing with a passion and an empathy that recall There Are No Children Here and Cold New World, Jennifer Gonnerman calls attention to this mounting national crisis by crafting an intimate family portrait-a story of struggle and survival, guilt and forgiveness, loneliness and love.

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From the Inside Flap:

A National Book Award Finalist

“Heartbreaking...moving and well-reported...Revelatory.”--The New York Times Book Review(Front Page)

Life on the Outsidetells the story of Elaine Bartlett, who spent sixteen years in Bedford Hills prison for selling cocaine--a first offense--under New York’s Rockefeller drug laws. The book opens on the morning of January 26, 2000, when Bartlett is set free and returns to New York City. At 42, she has virtually nothing: no money, no job, no real home.

All she does have is a large and troubled family, including four children, who live in a decrepit housing project on the Lower East Side. “I left one prison to come home to another,“ Elaine says. Over the next months, she clashes with her daughters, hunts for a job, visits her son and husband in prison, negotiates the rules of parole, and campaigns for the repeal of the laws that led to her long prison term.

Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, says: “At a time when the prison-industrial complex is destroying African American families and neighborhoods, Elaine Bartlett is more than a survivor: she is a heroine. The future of our communities depends on women like her.”

“[A] stirring and ultimately heartbreaking book on what it means to leave prison... A remarkably balanced triumph of immersion journalism.”--The Washington Post

“[This] book should take its place among [the] classics of urban sociology.”--
Mother Jones

“Bracingly compassionate, quietly outraged.”--
Village Voice

“[It] will keep you reading through the night....This book is a triumph of storyte
lling.”--Alex Kotlowitz, author of There are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River
dn0 Jennifer Gonnerman is a prizewinning staff writer for The Village Voice. She has also written for The New York Times Magazineand many other publications. Her article on which this book is based won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2001.

About the Author:

Jennifer Gonnerman is a prizewinning staff writer for The Village Voice. She has also written for The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. Her article on which this book is based won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2001.

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