LITERATURE

You Don’t Know Me: The Incarcerated Women of York Prison Voice Their Truths

Counterpoint. Oct. 2019. 336p. ed. by ed. by Wally Lamb. ISBN 9781640092389. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781640092396. LIT
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Novelist Lamb (She’s Come Undone; I Know This Much Is True) has been a volunteer writing program facilitator at the women’s prison York Correctional Institution, CT, for 20 years. This third volume of essays he’s edited and shepherded through publication features stories of abuse, rape, domestic violence, drug addiction, bad choices, and regret, each account upsetting presumptions about incarcerated women and life in prison (which is nothing like Orange Is the New Black). Some of the women committed murder, or robbed banks, many sold drugs. One offender was born in York prison and writes her mother’s story. None of the essayists make excuses, relating their experiences with wit, resolve, and determination. A concluding chapter brings a number of the women together postincarceration to talk honestly about their difficulties, hopes, fears, and attempts to reconcile with family and children as they rebuild their lives on the outside. Lamb also includes a Q&A chapter about his experiences teaching at York.
VERDICT The writing is polished and the stories compelling and often heartbreaking, but what this volume does best is change the women from faceless criminals into human beings deserving of dignity and compassion. For literary and sociology collections.

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