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In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison Paperback – January 2, 1991


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In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison + Inside Out: Fifty Years Behind The Walls Of New Jersey's Trenton State Prison
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

A visionary book in the repertoire of prison literature. This is a 37 year old man's account of 25 years behind bars.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 2, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679732373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679732372
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By I. Gimlet on December 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
"In the Belly of the Beast" is a selection from letters about prison life in America written by Jack Henry Abbott to Norman Mailer while Mailer was writing "The Executioner's Song." I figure there are more or less five reasons someone might decide to read it:
First, you might be curious about what it is like to be stuck in prison -- a voyeuristic, or even macabre interest. Perhaps schadenfreude. You will be disappointed, I think. Less than a third of the book is devoted to Abbott recounting his experiences in prison. Although there are some terrifying or just plain creepy moments, the majority of the book is not devoted to an anecdotal account of prison life.
However, Abbott does expend some effort explaining how prison life is structured to magnify the fear people experience in lock-up. For example, he explains how the authorities will take advantage of prison rivalries to off inmates they particularly dislike or just feel like taking down. The method I found most interesting is the "hands off list". The guards -- "pigs" in Abbott's parlance -- will decide amongst themselves to let one prisoner get away with anything he likes. He will basically be free to do as he pleases in the hopes that the fact that he is a "favorite" will irk the other prisoners so much that they will kill him. Apparently, the fact that a man in prison has this freedom means that he will feel compelled to abuse it -- in part because of the ethos he had to develop in order to survive. Give `em enough rope, basically. But he doesn't offer much prison jargon and there is almost no information on gang life, for example, or on how the drug trade is carried out or on how value is figured in the prison "market." There is nothing on the role of the mafia.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Malipayon Puti on January 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
I spent twelve and a half years in prison, but I have to agree with the correction professionals who have commented previously. The book is interesting in terms of describing what life behind the walls is like, but at some point, you have to take some responsibility for what you have done and where you are at, and Jack never seems to do that.

I read this book during my first year of incarceration and was truly stunned. Heck, I even put him up on a dais. Jack is the MAN! Jack is the MAN! Then, as the years passed (whilst staring at the tops of trees over the prison walls), my perspective moved to something less black and white.

My birth parents abandoned me. I hated the peeps that adopted me. I was smoking coke. I was doing steroids. I hit DYS and schools kicked me out. I was hanging out with the wrong people.

But it wasn't their fault.

I made the decisions that ended me up in prison for the best years of my life (23 to 36 - woot, where did my hairline go??). I decided to smoke base and shoot roids and rebel against that o sooooo terrible system. I made the decision to stick guns in peoples faces and rob them.

Ya dig your grave and, durn it, you have to eventually lie in it.

Prison wasn't nice. I saw men OD, hang themselves, and die right in front of me from multiple knife wounds. I was in riots and brutal fights. I witnessed it all, and it definitely left a whole lot of scars.

But it was me that brought me there. Not the drugs. Not the social inequality. Just my own decisions.

Actions and consequences, Jack, actions and consequences.

And please don't read his second book - it's pathetic.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
While it must be said that "In the Belly of the Beast" has a certain seductive quality, for its reputation as "prison literature," and its colorful cast of supporters, the book is ultimately more important for simply existing rather than being a work of any literary stature.
This obviously gave the career prisoner a voice that had never before been heard in the popular arena. His life experience provides the book's primary thesis: Prison is a culture that breeds career criminals. Abbott is reasonably smart, and his descriptions of prison life are coherent and literate, although they're buried in a morass of ideological recrimination.
When considered purely in the abstract, his analogy between prison culture and the proletariat isn't entirely ridiculous. However, when he claims that convicts are the best and the brightest of human culture, and likens his fate to a class struggle, his arguments become overbearing. By the conclusion of the book, we learn more about his grasp of Marxism than about prison culture, and even less about Abbott himself. At some point, we can see that Abbott has even thought of himself as a political prisoner.
"In the Belly of the Beast" is best experienced by examining what other people say about it, and not by actually reading it. It's more fun to read Norman Mailer's beatification of Abbott than it is to read Abbott himself. In this case, intellectual distance makes the book easier to tolerate.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Jack Henry Abbott 's book is a must read read if the reader is interested in the life behind concrete and steel....Abbott is the consumate con, places all blame on everyone but himself, hoodwinking Norman Mailor in the process....this guy is a con, a person who could not adjust to societys norm....i work in a medium security prison in Massachusetts and i will agree that most of his account of prison life is accurate...a tough,dangerous, and care free enviroment is the truth..however abbott attempts to put the blame on the penal system and society...read for yourself....its not hard to see who the con is.......
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