OVERRIDE

Life on the Outside

The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett

Jennifer Gonnerman

Picador

National Book Award Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book
A Chicago Tribune Best Book


Life on the Outside is a riveting account of one woman's struggle to win her freedom and change her life; it is also an extraordinary feat of reporting, one that makes vivid the real-life effects of the rough justice meted out to the poorest of the poor.

This book tells the story of Elaine Bartlett, who spent sixteen years in prison for a single sale of cocaine—a consequence of New York State's controversially harsh Rockefeller drug laws. It opens on the morning Elaine is set free from the woman's prison in Bedford Hills, New York, after winning clemency from the governor. At age forty-two, having spent most of her adult life behind bars, she has no money, no job, and no real home. What she does have is a large and troubled family, including her four children, who live in a decrepit housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. "I left one prison to come home to another," Elaine says. In the months following her release, she strives to adjust to "life on the outside": conforming to parole's rules, hunting for a job and a new apartment, and reclaiming her role as head of the household, all while campaigning for the repeal of the merciless sentencing laws that led to her long prison term.

In recent years, the United States has imprisoned more than two million people—many for nonviolent crimes—while making few preparations for their eventual release. Now those people are returning to our communities in record numbers, coming home as unprepared for life on the outside as society is for them. With this important book, Gonnerman at once calls attention to a mounting national crisis and claims her place alongside the masters of narrative nonfiction writing—all by telling one woman's story, a saga of struggle and survival, guilt and forgiveness, loneliness and enduring love.

BOOK EXCERPTS

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Life on the Outside

Prologue
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
Bedford Hills, New York
January 26, 2000

Elaine Bartlett strutted the last few yards to the prison's front door and stepped out into the brisk winter air. This morning, she had made every effort to look good. She wore an electric-purple pantsuit, black suede boots, and several coats of lavender glitter nail polish. Snowflakes landed on her trench coat, but she did not pause to brush them off. As quickly as her three-inch heels would permit, she marched down the icy asphalt driveway.
Once she passed through
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REVIEWS

Praise for Life on the Outside

"Heartbreaking...moving and well-reported...Revelatory."--The New York Times Book Review (Front Page)

"[A] stirring and ultimately heartbreaking book on what it means to leave prison . . . A remarkably balanced triumph of immersion journalism."--The Washington Post

"[This] book should take its place among [the] classics of urban sociology."--Mother Jones

"Bracingly compassionate, quietly outraged."--Village Voice

"[It] will keep you reading through the night ....This book is a triumph of storytelling."--Alex Kotlowitz, author of There are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Jennifer Gonnerman

  • Jennifer Gonnerman is a prizewinning staff writer for The Village Voice. She has also written for The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. Her article on which this book is based won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2001.
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Available Formats and Book Details

Life on the Outside

The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett

Jennifer Gonnerman

National Book Awards Finalist, National Book Awards Finalist

BOOKS FOR COURSES AVAILABLE

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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Picador

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