From our book desk: ‘Life After Murder’

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It’s summer book time and the good reads are pouring in at The Daily Circuit book desk. It’s both awesome and painful that we get so many interesting reads – it’s great to have so many books in the office, but there are far too many to interview every author, there just isn’t enough time!

I recently finished one of these great books by veteran public radio reporter Nancy Mullane. Life After Murder is the product of years of reporting inside California’s San Quentin State Prison. Mullane follows five convicted murderers serving life sentences with the possibility of parole – all of the men have served decades inside the California prison system and are at crucial times in their sentencing in terms of the potential for release. Each man she follows has been in prison longer than their original sentencing, and most have been turned down by the parole board many, many times. For the men who actually obtain both the rare parole board’s approval and the even more rare Governor’s approval, returning to the outside world after decades behind bars is a different kind of challenge. Most have family or wives waiting for them, but it’s not a seamless transition for anyone.

What makes the book so compelling is Mullane’s follow up with each of the five men – she chronicles their lives after their release and gets each man to tell the story of their crime in vivid detail – contrasting it with the men they’ve become after decades in prison. She’s also one of very few reporters to ever have complete access to the prison, and her experience at San Quentin is as captivating as the men’s stories – the facility has the largest death row population in the country but also some of the best prisoner rehabilitation programs including a drama center and college degree program. Mullane also writes extensively about the overcrowding at the prison – San Quentin is at double the capacity that it was originally designed for and Mullane allows herself to be locked inside a tiny two-person cell to experience the daily life of a prisoner; her description of the cramped cement block haunted me for the rest of my afternoon.

The book is a humanizing look at a huge section of the population that is utterly removed from the life of an average citizen, and Mullane’s radio reporting comes through in the voice of her writing. Life After Murder was both an interesting and eerie read – not your average light summer book, but a great one nonetheless.