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140 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Will be Totally Caught Up in these Incredible Stories
As a reader interested in women's issues I expected to like this book, but I did not expect to be completely captivated and overcome by it, which is what actually happened. It is presented in such a compelling way you become absorbed by each inmate's story and exeriences. It is at the same time heart wrenching and informative. Some common threads run through the...
Published on January 26, 2003 by ell-jae

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK writing by female inmates
This book is the result of writing classes given to female prisoners at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut.. Many sad stories mostly from women who never had a chance at life. Wally Lamb is a great writing teacher. Not a pleasant read.
Published 18 months ago by Mimi


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140 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Will be Totally Caught Up in these Incredible Stories, January 26, 2003
By 
ell-jae (Pinellas Park, FL USA) - See all my reviews
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As a reader interested in women's issues I expected to like this book, but I did not expect to be completely captivated and overcome by it, which is what actually happened. It is presented in such a compelling way you become absorbed by each inmate's story and exeriences. It is at the same time heart wrenching and informative. Some common threads run through the individual stories yet each is so unique you feel the pain of each individual story. Photographs of each writer, both past and present, help to make you feel a connection. I gained insight into cultures and lifestyles I knew nothing about and saw a part of life so realistically described that I felt I had been there myself. Wally Lamb did an extraordinary job putting this project together and the result is a book that I feel will benefit everyone and should be read by all.
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124 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inmates are people first, prisoners second, February 23, 2003
By A Customer
This book has already caused a stir for all the wrong reasons. Various victims' rights groups have taken issue with this book for the following reasons: (a) that Wally Lamb would devote his time to, of all things, a group of criminals; and (b) that the stories in this book humanize their writers rather than focuses on the victims of their crimes. It is undisputed that the women who wrote these memoirs did a variety of illegal, immoral and awful things. However, if you read these stories, you will begin to wonder who the victims really are.
The women's stories are uniformly heartbreaking; nearly all the authors were victims of sexual abuse. Nearly all grew up poor. Nearly all had minimal or questionable parental support. And about half wrote about abusive romantic relationships. Several of the authors are in prison for killing their abusive spouse and/or significant other. While it was wrong for them to take their husband's lives, it is also understandable once you read their harrowing tales.
I was especially moved by Bonnie Foreshaw's "Faith, Power and Pants" and Diane Bartholomew's "Snapshots of my former life." Both went from unbearable childhoods to atrocious marriages. Both are clearly angry with a system that has failed them. Yet both write of finding hope despite all the indignities life has thrown at them. As a final indignity, Bartholomew developed cancer while writing her memoir. Only then was she paroled for the murder of her abusive husband. It is clear that she was only paroled because the State of Connecticutt did not want to pay her chemotherapy bills.
This book can be harrowing to read but it left me with a sense of hope. Beautiful women exist underneath the prison fatigues, who have survived despite the brutal conditions of the penitentiary system. Each story in this collection moved me in a different way. I can say that about very few books.
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81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wally Lamb is brilliant as an editor too, January 28, 2003
By 
Marge B. (Louisville, KY) - See all my reviews
I bought this book so I could read what a woman from my own community wrote. I expected to get through only her story the night I brought the book home with me. I'd already read other writings of hers, so I figured this woman's story would be a good read, which it was. After reading that one story, however, I read Mr. Lamb's intro - then I just couldn't stop reading. I read the entire book in one sitting!
In the past, especially being a social worker, I've read many stories about every possible life situation, but I have never read anything like this book. By the end of each story I felt a real sense of kinship and sisterhood with that story's author. I find it impossible to choose which is the most thought-provoking or well-written.
If this book is typical of Wally Lamb's ability to teach and to give of his heart, then I believe he is not only brilliant but the kind of mentor other incarcerated people need working with them. Thank goodness they couldn't keep it to themselves!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lessons for the reader, March 2, 2003
By 
Maggie Riley (English, Indiana) - See all my reviews
Consider me a reader who was curious about the "public outcry" against publication of this book. I'm not sure what book was read prior to various comments and judgements being made public, through the press, but I don't think I read the same book.
What I read was a collection of powerful stories written about life experiences prior to criminal behavior forming, of lessons learned, responsibility taken, sadness, remorse, and plans for living differently in the future. I read stories of hope, despite tragic past errors.
Reading this book caused me to think about things I don't often think about. I now realize that anyone who has ever driven under the influence of alcohol, used a drug to numb emotional pain, or been involved in an abusive relationship should not judge because they might easily end up with some of the same problems, actions, and consequences; this would include many of my friends and myself as well.
It took a great deal of willingness, courage and hard work to delve so deeply into painful issues, then to expose the most intimate details of their explorations to each other and also to the reading public. Perhaps some non-incarcerated individuals will read this book and think about working up the same courage and willingness to take action concerning their own situations before it becomes to late for them too.
One writer states: "Hope is a miracle that can become contageous." This woman has been out of prison for over a decade now and has fully turned her life around; she has walked away from an abusive marriage, graduated from college, and now works in the field of human services. She also is a tutor of college English for disadvantaged individuals. Kudos to Mr. Lamb for caring enough to help her, and apparantly he did so PRIOR to beginning his current workshop at YORK.
Shouldn't that be one of the relative points of a prisoner's experience, to learn lessons and to change so when a sentence is over, neither they or those around them will continue being wronged or hurt in the future?
Perhaps instead of criticizing Wally Lamb, we in society need to take a closer look at his theory concerning therapeutic writing and his teaching style. Other prisons and ultimately the world outside of prisons might greatly benifit by following his lead.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars close to home-literally, May 8, 2004
By 
amylibby (Small town in Souteastern CT United States) - See all my reviews
I live about fifteen minutes from York and work at a halfway house for drug addicted women trying to get their lives back on track and many of our clients come from this prison...point being I obviously could not wait to read this book. I was not disappointed-it is uplifting and heartwrenching- it teaches compassion and shows these are women are HUMAN BEINGS not just criminals. I am glad Mr. Lamb started this writing program at the prison and that despite the efforts of some to shut it down it continues to thrive. For those who didn't like the book I can only say that you must have a very closed heart to not find any connection with any of these women...should we feel sorry for them, forgive their crimes? No-but should we be able to show some some compassion for those that may have had less than "wonderful" lives? Yes! Not everyone can have as horrible a life as some of these women and then simply pull themselves up by there bootstraps and live a "normal", happy, problem free life! Another reviewer said that it was like reading essays written by kids in grade school or some such nonesense...one must remember when reading this book most-although certainly not all-of the women who were contributers did not complete school and have not had much in the way of formal education-compassion for others is a beautiful quality-may this book help us all to cultivate that trait a bit more in our daily existence.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read in awhile, December 8, 2005
By 
Amy (Nashville, TN) - See all my reviews
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I must confess, I did not open this book without some bias. I volunteer at a prison and have a deep interest in women's issues, and after reading the other Amazon.com reviews, I was pretty sure I would love this book. (I was right.) What I didn't expect was a strong desire to share it with just about everyone I know. Don't get me wrong, this is no "Chicken Soup for the Soul" -- there are some hard stories in this book. But the writing is outstanding, and in reading each story I was captivated by the author's personality, struggles, hopes, and essential humanity. This book was, for me, a powerful aid to compassion and understanding. I recommend it highly.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an amazing book, February 18, 2003
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This wonderful book has changed the way I have viewed women in prison. Most of the women in this book suffered from one or several of factors like drug and sexual abuse, domestic violence, low self esteem, and even the loss of a loved one. The amazing thing is that every woman in this book has achieved their individual aspirations and goals while in prison or upon her release. I loved the story of Nancy Birkla who was convicted of drug dealing and served 7 years in York Correctional Institition. What is remarkable is what she acheived after her release. She earned a college degree with a perfect 4.0 grade point average in human services. She later worked as a coordinator for an agency that provides life skills counseling, housing and job opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities. I enjoyed reading the story of Barbara Parson Lane who was convicted of killing her husband after he sexually molested his step grand daughter. She became involved in a variety of interesting pursuits while incarcerated like working in a program in which inmates train Labrador retrievers to assist adults and children with special needs. This incredibly ambitious woman also studies computers, journalism, and yoga.
I loved the story of Brenda Medina who was convicted for her participation in a gang related killing as a teenager. She has become a bilingual tutor and has taught Hispanic inmates to read, speak, and write English. Brenda also serves a reporter, photographer and editor for the inmate newsletter. Bonnie Foreshaw was the first person convicted for the murder of a pregnant woman in Connecticut which was an accident. She actively supports and is involved in anti violence and literacy groups.
The story of Diane Bartholomew is very moving too. She was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused through her twenty four year marriage. She later experienced a breakdown which led her to shoot and kill her husband. However her life did not end there. She later earned a bachelors degree in social work with hopes of becoming a mental health counselor Diane even fought a courageous battle with breast cancer while in prison.
This book is filled with hard luck stories about women who have endured great adversity in their lives. It is written so truthfully as each story tugs at your emotions. I enjoyed it very much.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Job Mr. Lamb, July 30, 2005
First off, I was fascinated to hear a little recap of Wally Lamb's life. Just a flash, and not full of flash - but still interesting (especially to find how he came involved with female prisoners for this novel).

Lamb did an incredible job of telling the lives of these women who were not always prisoners. They were once little girls, awkward teenagers, young and old women. What I appreciate is that Lamb let these women tell their stories, which were quite interesting, without glorifying their crimes. In fact, their crimes are just a foot-note on the side.

You are left with no decisions on if they're victims or monsters, just their stories.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wally Lamb brings us the gift of powerful voices., October 29, 2003
By 
L. Quido "quidrock" (Tampa, FL United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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The writer's job is "to turn the unspeakable into words--not just into any words, but if we can, nto rhythm and blues"- Anne Lamott.
In this somewhat controversial collection of stories, the authors have fulfilled the mission that Lamott sets for writers, above. Wally Lamb, prize-winning "Oprah" author of "I Know This Much Is True" and "She's Come Undone" has acted as teacher, mentor and inspirational leader at a writing workshop in a women's prison in Connecticut. He's compiled an anthology of stories from 10 incarcerated in prison, and a woman who teaches in the prison. To say that the collection is stunning is an understatement.
Wanting to keep in tune with Connecticut's "Son of Sam" law, that does not allow writers to profit from writing about their crimes, Lamb successfully keep their focus on the tales of their early lives, and each woman's coming face to face with what she did and what her life will be like in prison. There are no sad-sack, pity me stories here. What you will learn is that there are painful incidents in these women's childhoods, that they are finally able to face on paper. They hold themselves accountable for what they've done, and they use their craft to provide not only their own inspiration, but inspirational thoughts for women everywhere.
"Orbiting Izzy" - one of two stories from former inmate Nancy Whitely is the piece that sold the idea to Lamb's publisher. Whitely may have the freshest voice of all the authors represented, but you will find evocative moments in each woman's tale. Following the story, there is an information piece about each author, and it is astounding that these women have all found not only their voices, but their hopes for the future in all of the accomplishments they've made while incarcerated.
This collection is not to be missed by anyone who has struggled to find themselves as an adult-- it is a gift of faith and humility for us all.
From author Brenda Medina:
"Beyond the steel door, there's a mourning
Grief for misplaced innocence....
Past the bright light, there's a longing
One that will not go away ..."
The collage cover of the book was also made by inmates as replicas of the Mona Lisa. It is a testament to women who's lives were shattered, coming together to make a perfect illustration of the wondrous words inside this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but often hopeful, May 22, 2006
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I am glad that I read this book as it gave me a bit of an insight to what life is like in prison for woman incarcerated at a maximum prison. This book certainly helped me to appreciate the freedoms that most of us take for granted on a much larger scale of understanding. I usually keep my reviews pretty short, but I have to add that these short stories these courageous women wrote in this book are very worth while reading and I learned quite a lot from these woman who were willing to share their lives with us. Being someone who worked at a maximum facility for men, I always wondered what the female experience in jail would be like, and I believe that this book gives you a pretty good idea. None of the incarcerated women make any excuses for their crimes, they accept full responsibility, and then give us a bio of their lives, as far as what may have led up to their crimes. Yes it was disturbing for me to read at times, but yet a book I just could not put down. What disturbed me was clearly hearing about how much violence these woman as children sadly grew up with, and how no one was there to help them, or assist them out of the nightmare of child abuse, and domestic violence. The beginning of the book is interesting as well as Wally Lamb talks about his life just a little bit and what led up to his other book, "She's Come Undone", which is another book if his I couldn't put down.
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