Book Review: Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls

Peter Grant’s fascinating account of his work as a prison chaplain and his observations about the US penal system provides a well-written, though-provoking view of an area most people try to avoid. Although the reader may disagree with his conclusions and prescriptions for fixing some of the chronic problems with criminal justice in the US, Grant’s prose will keep the reader involved and reading until the end of the book.

Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls follows a day-in-the-life pattern. Interspersed with chapters marking the hours of the author’s duty shift are sections describing the larger world of the US penal system, notably the federal system, and letters from inmates to the chaplain. From the time he arrives at the main gate until he turns his pickup for home, Grant shows how time passes in the prison, with activities and checks, moments of excitement (thankfully rare) and periods of not-quite boredom, assisted by coffee and leavened by humor. And it’s hard not to laugh at the “exploits” of Sam the (self -proclaimed) Sex God and a few others. Or to wonder about forgiveness and redemption in a county hospital ER.

Grant writes very well. The book flows, with just enough detail to keep the reader involved but not enough to bog things down. The characters are composites, as you would anticipate, but anyone who’s dealt with the darker side of the real world will recognize the types that Grant (and the reader) encounters. I found the details about the gangs and religions in prison fascinating, and had to nod and smile a little as Grant described some of the “ritual items” the prisoners insisted they needed (but were denied).

Despite the humor, this is not a book for someone looking for a soft-focus fictional read. This isn’t a Father Tim of Mitford, NC, type of clergy story. There’s violence and sodomy, cursing and anger, and the hard reality of hard men. But Peter Grant shines a light into a place most people look away from, and offers suggestions for reducing the prison population.

As mentioned above, readers may disagree with some of Grant’s suggestions. But they come from someone who has seen the inside of the system and the men who move in and out (and all too often back in), unlike some of the better known, fuzzy-bunny ideas floating through discussions about crime and justice in the US. Peter Grant’s book is a well-written, highly readable work that encourages discussion about and serious appraisal of the world it describes.

FCC/FTC/ whoever else disclaimer: I purchased this book. I received no compensation from the author for this review.


One thought on “Book Review: Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls

  1. I’ve been meaning to read that, but haven’t gotten to it yet. This review should move it back up my list.

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