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Prison Voices is a beautiful book published by the John Howard Society of Canada and edited by Lee Weinstein and Richard Jaccoma. It features writings by inmates, as well as interviews with them detailing their crimes, life histories, and experiences in prison. They are complemented by full color photographs of the authors.

This book contains twelve of the best from hundreds of submissions, and includes authors from a wide range of perspectives, differing in age, gender, ethnicity, and the severity of the crime they committed.

The writings within are both accessible and insightful, and paint a vivid picture not only of life within the prison system, but also of the humanity of the prisoners.

"I've sort of always known how to read. Not that I really enjoyed it much, but I could read. The writing didn't come until one of my [prison] sentences."

Sample Excerpt:

The next morning a shattering scream for help woke me from a restless sleep. At first I thought I was dreaming, so I didn't sit up right away. I heard a thump on the wall. My whole cell shook from the thud. I sat up and noticed that my door had already buzzed open. I crept around my desk to the door and looked out into the hallway. Everybody else was out of their cells looking my way. A foul stench of burnt hair and gasoline wafted into the hall from my next door neighbor. His cell was on fire. I heard the scream again. I pulled open the door to his cell and saw a blazing mass on the floor.

It was my neighbor. He was on fire.

The fire alarms howled like a drowning dog. I looked down the hallway for any sign og the guards. No one came. Some of the doors in the hall slammed shut. No one cared about the burning hairball. They were all probably angry about being woken up from their sleep. How could they sleep at a moment like this? My neighbor was going to die.

I ran into my room and ripped a blanket off my bed. As much as I disliked the guy, I couldn't just stand by and let him burn. I bounded into his fiery room and pounced on him. His screams became moans of pain as I smothered the flames against his thin body. The fire was extinguished and the blanket stuck to the hot, open flesh wounds. His body trembeled in my arms. Groans and whimpers escaped his lungs. He was in shock. Naked, in shock, and with a two-hundred-pound man on your back squeezing air out of your lungs. What a way to wake up.

Boots trampled down the hallway. In seconds, guards stood at the door with a hose and gas masks. They pushed me away from my scorched neighbor and back into my cell. I watched as they escorted him out of the cell and down the hall amidst the catcalls and insults hurled by the convicts on the range. What were they yelling at? The junkie? I wondered if everyone had known the fire was going to happen. One guard stayed behind and inspected the room before he closed the door. The entire range converged into small groups chattering about what had just transpired at 7:45 in the morning.


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