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Kingpin: Prisoner of the War on Drugs Hardcover – May 2, 2017
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"“There is nothing abstract or contentious about Richard Stratton's Kingpin, an indictment of America's severely flawed and corrupt system of criminal justice. He has experienced it all at firsthand, spending eight years on a journey through the squalid prisons and politically tainted courts, from Los Angeles to New York and points between. His story is told in the first person and present tense which gives it an immediacy and pace that catches the reader early and won't let go. At one point, recounting his harrowing experience, Stratton writes. ‘But then, just maybe I will make it through and live long enough to write about it. That is my secret desire, my solitary plan.’ He has fulfilled his desire, accomplished his plan, and succeeded brilliantly.” Convicting the Innocent: Death Row and America's Broken System of Criminal Justice. Stanley Cohen is the author, most recently, of Convicting the Innocent: Death Row and America's Broken System of Criminal Justice.
"Stratton's portrait of prison life is unsparing . . . This prison memoir stands out due to Stratton's elite criminal status and also the quality of his writing, which tends to be observant, mordant, and sometimes hilariously vulgar. A pulpy, well-crafted recollection of time behind bars packed with unsettling questions about society's embrace of mass imprisonment and the drug war.” Kirkus
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Richard Stratton is something of a living legend, a former major pot and hash trafficker turned federal inmate and jailhouse lawyer turned award-winning journalist, author, publisher, producer, and now director... And, the fact that he beat his 25 year case by representing himself and filing his own appeal and not by becoming a stool pigeon makes his story all the greater.
This book, the second in a 3-part memoir series about his life focuses on his years in prison during the 1980s. He tells stories of the infamous people he met, but also a story about meeting himself and establishing who he really was: A Man.
For it's only when one is stripped to nothing, with their back against the wall, do we find out who we really are, and in a sense this is a 'coming of age' story, or at least, a coming of age in his new, second, incarcerated life.
I'm not saying Stratton wasn't a man before he got arrested. Not at all. But there are things we can only learn about ourselves when plunged to unexplored depths and after living the high life smuggling tons of pot and hash, jet-setting around the world with models and celebrities, Stratton is now locked down facing 25 years, and wonders how he'll survive... But, a newfound inner strength and ingenuity reveals itself and it seems, he is almost grateful that this challenge was put before for him, for it sets the stage for the third act of his life which he is currently living with a respect and experience which he wouldn't have had otherwise. Something that is invaluable for a writer.
A part of me wishes this 3-book series was just condensed into one book with a beginning, middle and end.
However: Richard truly has lived three different lives and this is the second of them.
We spoke about it yesterday on my podcast Kasparoza Radio and I was honored to learn more about it:
The book demonstrates that Stratton, by any definition, is a stand-up guy who drew the reluctant admiration of even those who dedicated their careers to pursuing him. Instead of moral compromise, he fought the law and he won. Through sheer intelligence and brilliant legal research, he was single-handedly able to convince the court to reduce 25 years to 8. But eight years behind bars is an extended nightmare as he dramatically illustrates. He was incarcerated in some of the worst (and best) prisons in the United States.
Stratton eloquently and with brutal, sometimes humorous honesty takes us through those eight years. We meet the fascinating characters he encountered along the way and learn the creative ways he designed to physically and emotionally survive. I spent nearly 25 years working in the federal criminal justice system and thought I knew what went on. I had no idea.
Something I can relate to since i too was a guest of the Bureau Of Punishment. Richard's depiction of what goes on in prison as well as the so called Criminal Justice system is right on target. Right down to the psychological warfare in both systems. A person has to be beyond tough to hold up.
Thanks, Richard. I'll read Smuggler's Blues next.