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Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America's Prison Crisis Hardcover – September 1, 2015

4.7 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

This eye-opening book reveals the sometimes-gray shades of politics, and more importantly, reminds all that prison can be steps away for anyone, no matter what the profession. This book is needed to jump-start a national conversation about over-incarceration and rational criminal justice reform.--Claire McCaskill

Well written and insightful, "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" asks us to question the way opportunity and punishment are apportioned in our society. Prepare for a bevy of emotions: humor and frustration; elation and grievance. This book and this story are great platforms to better understand the way our justice system works, and what can be done to address its fissures.--Wes Moore

This is a terrific and timely book with a compelling narrative that challenges us to think more critically about what mass incarceration is doing to all of us.--Bryan Stevenson

"Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" joins Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" as essential reading on America's greatest failure: our prison system. I was transfixed by this book: a middle class white politician goes to prison for some hard time and turns out to be a great writer and a keen observer and interpreter of all he sees. Anyone who wants to work on fixing the prison system ought to start by reading this riveting book.--Howard Dean

Jeff Smith takes us inside the prison experience like never before. You feel like you're inside the walls with him, living the gritty, scary, and tragic reality of prison life.--Toure

"Partly funny, partly urgent and wholly unnerving - a mashup of 'House of Cards' and 'Orange Is the New Black'" "The New York Post"

"With empathy and insight, Smith s book takes on one of the country s most complicated and fraught policy issues while also providing a gripping memoir of an experience all of us would prefer to miss." "Salon.com"""
""
"""hilarious, insightful, and disturbing all at once." "DailyKos.com"
""
"""The prison memoir is a classic mode of American literature, and Smith updates the form for the 21st century, in...brilliantly observed passages telling us everything we secretly wanted to know. Then he pivots and makes all of this about much more than himself and his personal arc. He makes his mistakes and punishment pay off in an intimately detailed yet data-driven argument for making sweeping reform to criminal sentencing guidelines and prison policy." - "St. Louis American"

This eye-opening book reveals the sometimes-gray shades of politics, and more importantly, reminds all that prison can be steps away for anyone, no matter what the profession. This book is needed to jump-start a national conversation about over-incarceration and rational criminal justice reform. Claire McCaskill

Well written and insightful, "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" asks us to question the way opportunity and punishment are apportioned in our society. Prepare for a bevy of emotions: humor and frustration; elation and grievance. This book and this story are great platforms to better understand the way our justice system works, and what can be done to address its fissures. Wes Moore

This is a terrific and timely book with a compelling narrative that challenges us to think more critically about what mass incarceration is doing to all of us. Bryan Stevenson

"Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" joins Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" as essential reading on America's greatest failure: our prison system. I was transfixed by this book: a middle class white politician goes to prison for some hard time and turns out to be a great writer and a keen observer and interpreter of all he sees. Anyone who wants to work on fixing the prison system ought to start by reading this riveting book. Howard Dean

Jeff Smith takes us inside the prison experience like never before. You feel like you're inside the walls with him, living the gritty, scary, and tragic reality of prison life. Toure"

"Part personal memoir, part academic treatise, part political polemic, "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison "is required reading for anyone interested in learning more about life on the inside, the history of crime and punishment, and the issue of criminal justice reform." "GQ"

"Partly funny, partly urgent and wholly unnerving - a mashup of 'House of Cards' and 'Orange Is the New Black'" "The New York Post"

"With empathy and insight, Smith s book takes on one of the country s most complicated and fraught policy issues while also providing a gripping memoir of an experience all of us would prefer to miss." "Salon.com"""
""
"""hilarious, insightful, and disturbing all at once." "DailyKos.com"
""
"""The prison memoir is a classic mode of American literature, and Smith updates the form for the 21st century, in...brilliantly observed passages telling us everything we secretly wanted to know. Then he pivots and makes all of this about much more than himself and his personal arc. He makes his mistakes and punishment pay off in an intimately detailed yet data-driven argument for making sweeping reform to criminal sentencing guidelines and prison policy." - "St. Louis American"

This eye-opening book reveals the sometimes-gray shades of politics, and more importantly, reminds all that prison can be steps away for anyone, no matter what the profession. This book is needed to jump-start a national conversation about over-incarceration and rational criminal justice reform. Claire McCaskill

Well written and insightful, "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" asks us to question the way opportunity and punishment are apportioned in our society. Prepare for a bevy of emotions: humor and frustration; elation and grievance. This book and this story are great platforms to better understand the way our justice system works, and what can be done to address its fissures. Wes Moore

This is a terrific and timely book with a compelling narrative that challenges us to think more critically about what mass incarceration is doing to all of us. Bryan Stevenson

"Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" joins Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" as essential reading on America's greatest failure: our prison system. I was transfixed by this book: a middle class white politician goes to prison for some hard time and turns out to be a great writer and a keen observer and interpreter of all he sees. Anyone who wants to work on fixing the prison system ought to start by reading this riveting book. Howard Dean

Jeff Smith takes us inside the prison experience like never before. You feel like you're inside the walls with him, living the gritty, scary, and tragic reality of prison life. Toure"

About the Author

Jeff Smith was a Missouri State Senator from 2007 to 2009, representing the city of St. Louis. After serving a year-long sentence in FCI Manchester for obstruction of justice, he is now an assistant professor at the New School's Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Planning. He is the author of Ferguson in Black and White, an ebook exploring the roots of the racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri. He lives in New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250058406
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250058409
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Breathless, impatient, brilliant, and illuminating. A must read for politicos and social justice advocates, this book is simultaneously so full of life that you won't want to put it down. A memoir with real perspective, this book provides essential, relatable context to the problem of mass incarceration.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Smith first walked the walk. Having done so, he has earned the right as well as the knowledge to talk the talk, and he does it extremely well. By entwining his personal story with a wider critique of our American prison system, he enables those of us who have never walked in his shoes or those of fellow convicts a look "inside." It is not a pretty place. As other reviewers have said, this a great read for those interested in our criminal justice system, however, I also strongly recommend "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison" as an absolute "should read" for all of us.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book gave me a lot to think about, and anyone interested in what the prison system is like, why it is broken and how it might begin to be fixed would likely enjoy Smith's engaging style and mix of (former state senator) politician bravado and the humility that comes from a humiliating and life altering experience in loss of personal freedom and control. It is written from the perspective of a privileged white male, in a minimum security prison, which Smith acknowledges freely and frequently. Still, as he also acknowledges, he cannot describe the further humiliation and desperation of those who don't share his privileges, which is a gap in the book from the majority perspective of the prison population. Given these limitations, there is much to be learned from Smith's narrative and his former prominence and current influence might contribute to attracting readers who might otherwise pass by this book. (My own perspective: I am a grad student in peace and reconciliation studies, innovation studies, with an interest in restorative justice practices.)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The indication of a good memoir is when the message and personal story stays with the reader days and weeks after finishing the book. I know Jeff casually and know parts of his story. As a fan of memoirs, I bought and read this book the day it was available with some skepticism of whether it would meet the hype. First, it's a very easy read and I couldn't put it down for 2 nights. I found it particularly relevant because I recently read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander which helped advance my understanding of the realities and racial injustice throughout our social justice system. Did Jeff make mistakes and did his innocence and arrogance make the sentencing worse - probably. Could he have paid his debt to society in many of other ways that could have provided good to others - absolutely. The book is at its best when Jeff shows his vulnerability. There are also many highlights that I had to read twice to appreciate the pain of reading about those imprisoned who really didn't deserve the sentences they received (because of racism of lack of money to get better legal representation). Jeff clearly describes the lack of rehabilitation from the cruelty how prisoners are treated (recognizing that many probably have mental health issues or terrible childhoods) and the non-existence of schooling, job training and other ways to prepare to enter society. Examples like the importance of mother's day cards and the lack of interest in father's day (either because many did not have fathers in their lives or the pain of knowing they aren't part of their own children's lives. I am glad to hear that Jeff is on the circuit. Maybe some good can come from his year in prison.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an amazingly insightful look at prison from the inside by a very articulate person. I cannot express my gratitude that Mr. Smith wrote this book.
I learned a lot, even though I have participated in the trials where hundreds of persons have been convicted, I could only imagine the conditions in prisons. Well I have been in prison as a visitor, but that is hardly the same.
I have suggested reading this book to many of my friends, most of which are attorneys. Whether they do criminal or civil, to read this book is quite insightful.
Hopefully, with more knowledge will come real prison reform
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Format: Hardcover
From the powerful, funny, and revealing anecdotes on Jeff's meteoric rise and catastrophic fall in Missouri politics, to his compelling and timely call for much-needed prison reform, this book is tough to put down.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In order for people to care about prison reform, they must first see prisoners as people. Through, detailed insights of everyday prison life, personal introspection and humor, Smith does a fantastic job of making the case for reform.
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Format: Hardcover
Well written, thoughtful and authentic. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison offers something for activists, politicos, and pleasure readers alike. Shows like Lock Down hypersensationalize the prison experience. Alternatively, Mr. Smith uses a reporter's lense to honestly share his experiences and observations. That he is then able to use his education and professional backgrounds to suggest tangible steps for much needed prison reform is an added bonus.
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