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You Got Nothing Coming: Notes From a Prison Fish Hardcover – February 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

You Got Nothing Coming, Jimmy A. Lerner's memoir of his first year (of a possible 12) as an inmate in a Nevada state prison, is a shocking, hilarious, and heartbreaking narrative of a world both parallel to and absolutely alien from the one most readers inhabit. With deft, economical prose, Lerner, a middle-aged former marketing director for a major corporation, introduces us to his fellow inmates--swastika-tattooed skinheads, Wiccans, methamphetamine addicts, and fashion-conscious prostitutes, among others--as well as a multitude of prisoner scams, nonexistent but on-the-books rehab programs, and the life-or-death intricacies of the convict code of etiquette. Lerner's ear for prison language is pitch-perfect, and much of what we learn comes directly from the mouths of the incarcerated. Lerner has, in effect, written a nonfiction novel, one artfully laced with mordant humor and by turns tender, caustic, insightful, and relentlessly candid. --H. O'Billovitch

From Publishers Weekly

In the mid-1990s, Lerner killed a man in Las Vegas. Convicted of voluntary manslaughter, he's now doing time in the Nevada state prison system (he's due to be paroled in January 2002). Even so, he quickly earns, and keeps, readers' sympathies in this wholly engrossing memoir of his time behind bars in part because of the charisma of his voice, in part because of his book's clever structure, which has Lerner come clean about exactly why he's in prison only near the book's end. For 18 years an executive for Pacific Bell, Lerner employs a voice that's charming, canny, sassy, self-deprecating; a voice perhaps not to be entirely trusted, but one that's deeply magnetic. Certainly as a middle-aged, middle-class, highly educated white, Lerner brings an unusual perspective to his prison experiences, which he plays on throughout. "Curiouser and curiouser I felt like Alice fallen into the rabbit hole," he writes. Readers will share that sentiment as, along with Lerner, they negotiate prison life and culture, where you don't enter a man's house (cell) without his permission and where a usable chess set can be fashioned from wet toilet paper and stale toothpaste two examples of the hundreds of details with which Lerner grounds his tale. Curiouser still are the prison denizens he describes, misfits and malfeasants all, most notably his longtime cellmate, Kansas, a white supremacist who takes a shine to the author fortunately, as Kansas is the top "dawg" of the cons. Eventually, Lerner loses his "fish" (newcomer) status, growing adept at prison ways and slang ("And every Righteous Con in the joint knows a catcher ain't nothin' but a punk-ass bitch!"), carrying readers along with him up to the book's final chapters, that is, where he flashes back to the crime that sent him behind bars in passages that reek of self-justification. Overall, this is the most gripping, and most inviting, prison memoir in years. (Feb. 12)Forecast: Any book by a convicted killer, especially post-Jack Abbott, may face some media and public resistance, but the national radio campaign and other publicity planned by Broadway should bring this title serious attention and healthy sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767909186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767909181
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By James M. Cameron on May 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm a prosecuting attorney, and I teach an undergraduate class about the Corrections System. I have read many books purporting to describe the "prison experience." Lerner's book is one of the best I have ever read. It doesn't sensationalize the experience, nor does it try to idealize it. Lerner shows prison life to be what it is: boring, tedious and one surrounded with pathetic losers. The book itself becomes tedious in the last 1/4 when Lerner explains how he ended up killing the man that led to his sentence of incarceration. His justification for the killing is a bit too self-serving. I have no sympathy for an alcoholic who decides to go on a road trip to Las Vegas with a guy he met at an AA meeting who he knows to be a lying, violent methamphetamine addict, and who he ends up having to kill in (admittedly) self-defense. Compared to the lame "The Hothouse" this book is a winner. Interesting factoid: Lerner's cubicle at Pacific Bell Telephone was once adjacent to that of Scott Adams, the creator of "Dilbert." This explains a lot.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a sad, funny and diabolically authentic memoir about his life in prison (and how he got there) by a natural born, sideways-talkin' wordsmith writing with skill, verve and a kind of disarming warmth replete with a lot of "out of the side of his neck" irony. Lerner, a one-time nice Jewish boy from New York finds himself the cell mate of Kansas, a six-foot-six, three-hundred pound "Nazi Low Rider" with a swastika tattooed on his neck, a prison con who can bench press something like four-hundred pounds, a guy who controls the inner prison culture and enterprises with an iron fist. What's a fish to do? Lerner uses corporate skills, honed during 19 years at Ma Bell, to make friends and influence people. A nice irony throughout is the way Lerner compares the culture of the corporate structure with that of the prison, finding them similar except for the terminology. Lerner manages to weave corporate gobbledygook about "market repositioning" and the "pursuance of outside opportunities" into the prison narrative. He sees that the rake the "Yard Rats" and the "skinhead Phone Posse" charge the fish for using the public phone as "the same economic principle we employed at the phone company by charging customers for both access...and usage." (p. 152)

As far as the structure of this book goes I believe it was originally written in a straight-forward manner beginning with the earliest events and ending with the latest. But somewhere during development it was decided to begin in the middle as Lerner enters prison. This was an effective and tantalizing change for two significant reasons.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I devoured this book in a day. Thankfully, that was before I read the article in the NY Times Book Review. Lerner can write and weaves a narrative that alternates between funny and horrific. It's fast and entertaining.
Nevertheless, even before ascertaining the facts from the Times article, I was struck by the unlikely description of the incident that landed Lerner in jail. The "Monster," an "eyelash" away from carving up the author - who claims to be backed into a wall - ceases his knife attack to whip Mr. Lerner with his belt? Lanky Mr. Lerner then kicks the 6'3" "Monster," a mass of rippling muscle, in his stomach with such force that the blade goes flying out of the "Monster's" hand? And to top it off, Mr. Lerner then manages to grab the belt, cinch it around the "Monster's" massive neck and break that neck with one pull? I don't think so.
Problem is, if I can't buy into the veracity of the description of Lerner's crime, I can't buy into the truthfulness of his account of prison life.
And after all that, when the FACTS come to light (i.e., the "Monster was considerably smaller and weighed considerably less than Lerner; the combat-style knife was a Swiss Army knife that may have been planted near the corpse and not weilded by the victim; Lerner not only pummeled his victim until the bones protruded from his face but secured a plastic bag around his head and choked him with a belt while he sat on his chest), I feel a bit sick knowing that I initially empathized with Lerner.
I may have liked Mr. Lerner a heck of a lot less had he stuck to the truth, but I might believe his description of prison life which forms the core of the book.
Next time you land in the can, Mr. Lerner, and decide to make some capital out of your experience, dispense with the fictionalized account of your crime entirely OR - here's a novel thought - tell the truth.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gary on March 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jimmy Lerner takes us on journey to a dark place beyond the imaginations of most of us. This true account of prison is nothing like what we see in the movies, read in books, or even watch the HBO show, OZ. It is infinitely worse. Gangs, Nazis, teenaged crank addicts that kill their families, relentlessly sadistic guards, and, for comic relief, charaters like Scud, who have a talent for propelling a snot missiles from their nose into the chow hall soup cannister.
The author pulls us into his tiny cell with him, this 8 x 6 concrete and steel box that he is forced to share with Kansas, the Nazi skinhead gang leader. Kansas can't read his neo-Nazi literature because he is illiterate. No problem. Mr. Lerner, a former Corporate executive and a Jew (which he wisely keeps to himself) reads it to him. And even explains it. Lerner even manages to win the confidence and friendship of this maniac and this makes for a fascinating and hilarious sub-plot.
The satirical accounts of our 12-Step culture and his skewering of Alcoholics Anonymous are both politically incorrect and delightfully accurate. I only hope the author survives to provide us with a sequel!!
This is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read!!
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