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Behind a convict’s eyes doing time in a modern prison


             The book Behind a Convict’s Eyes: Doing Time in a Modern Prison explores life in a modern prison. The story is told through the experiences of the author. It gives an overview of the American Prison System from the perspective of a prisoner. This review is going to explore the major themes addressed by the author as well as identify the major strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Book overview

            The book is written by a prisoner using a pseudonym, Carceral, K. C., to hide his identity. The book looks at life in prisons giving precise descriptions of prisons. The issues addressed in the book include prison violence, friendship, and sexual behaviors. Through personal experiences, the author describes how serving time in the American prison system feels. The reader, therefore, gets a glimpse of prison life as seen through the eyes of a prisoner.

Major themes

            The author explores several themes in the book. First, the book deals with identity. It explores how one’s identity changes to acquire a prison identity. This identity change follows several processes that lead to the transformation of the character in question. This change in identity involves degradation of one’s status, especially before the prison guards. This usually happens during the placement process (Carceral, 2004). The prisoner learns that life has changed the first time he or she enters the prison. The prisoner learns several things in prison that make his or her life in jail a little bit ‘bearable.’ The prisoner must learn to adapt to the new changes in status (Schmid & Jones, 2001).

            Secondly, the book also addresses the issue of sexual behavior in prison. According to the book, all moral standards in regards to sex are thrown out of the window. Prisoners are subjected to forced sex for various reasons. This atrocity can be directed to prisoners from the guards or fellow prisoners (Carceral, 2004). The prisoners may do this in return for favors from the authorities or for protection against rogue prisoners. As such, the prison economy can be said to one of ‘scratch my back I scratch yours’ (Schmid & Jones, 2001).

            These actions highlight the oppression that takes place in prisons. It would appear that human rights were not crafted for those who are incarcerated but rather for the free. Prisoners can be punished for petty violations, which are sometimes turned to significant disciplinary actions by the authorities (Carceral, 2004). That then brings up the question of the role of prisons. It can be argued that the treatment of the prisoner, from this perspective, only acts to harden them rather than reforming them (Schmid & Jones, 2001).

Prison life, in this case, reveals a significant contrast between doing time in prison and the reality of life outside prison. The prisoner spends life as if living in an infinite cosmos since all their life they are subjected to a prison program segregated from the rest of humanity.

 Prison politics play out clearly in the book. The inmates more often than not lack solidarity with each other. They will often cause trouble for each other, and some get too close to the guards perhaps in an attempt to get better treatment from them. In this regard, the author reveals life in prison that seems to extend crime within prison doors. There is a prison economy controlled by gangs (Carceral, 2004). This economy deals at times with illegal substances such as drugs. That places into doubt the purpose played by the prisons. Do they work to transforms criminals or are they just an extension of crime life?

 Other issues addressed in the book include violence in prisons, racism as well as medical treatment of the prisoners. The violence is usually brought about by gangster life in jail. Racism is prevalent in prisons. As far as treatment is concerned, the writer highlights the type of ailments inmates are likely to be treated for (Carceral, 2004).

Strengths and weaknesses of the book

            The book strength lies in the simplicity of language in alerting the reader about prison life experiences. One can get a clear picture of the prisoners’ life even without stepping foot in prison. The themes explored by the writer brings into reality the role of prisons and thereby gives food for thought on improving prison life to make prisons places for reforms rather than hardening criminals. The major weakness, however, lies in the focus on the negatives. The text provides a one-sided view of prison life. It would have been great if the writer also explored specific issues so that the reader can get a complete picture of prison life and, therefore, make an objective decision.


            The issues addressed in the book casts doubt on the role of prisons in the country. The purpose for which prisons were established is to rehabilitate criminals and thus lead to reformation. However, the book paints a different role of prisons. It would appear that prisons are places meant to make criminals perfect their crime. They look like extensions of crime life rather than reformation institutions. Therefore, authorities should sit and draft prison reforms that would ensure that prisons serve the role for which they are established, that of reformation. A more objective discussion of prison life is necessary to establish prison reforms.

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