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BOOK REVIEW: 'Letters to an Incarcerated Brother' by Hill Harper

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.
You’re in prison and it's a whole new world in there, one you're not sure you can survive. But when ...

c.2013, Gotham Books

$27.50/$29 Canada

400 pages

You figured you had a lock on things.

Sell or steal a little something. Hold for somebody, “borrow” a car, gain respect. Make a little money and it’d be all good, right?

Now that lock you had… has you. You’re in prison and it’s a whole new world in there, one you’re not sure you can survive. But when you read “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” by Hill Harper, you’ll see that you have choices.

It’s no secret that there are more people in American prisons than ever before. “In less than 30 years,” says Harper,” our prison population has mushroomed.” But though statistics show that offenders are likely to return, Harper says “there is hope and there are solutions.” This book lays them out.

When Harper was contacted by an old friend who landed in “county,” he admitted to the young man that he “didn’t know what to say.” Harper believes himself to be a problem-solver. He had no answers that time, but he quickly discovered some.

First, he says, find mentorship. You can’t go it alone, so look for someone you want to make proud. Consider prison as a place to “make… tune-ups and adjustments” in your life, but remember that “you need to be prepared to change.”

Stay patient, even though it’s hard and even though you don’t always understand what’s to come. Sometimes, “it’s more important for you to simply understand you.” Learn to keep your mind free, even if your body is not.

Get as much education as you can: get your GED, look for college coursework that’s available to incarcerated students, and read. The time you spend in prison shouldn’t go to waste; use it to better your mind.

Stay in your children’s lives any way you can. Keep away from prison gangs and trouble; it’s only going to make things worse. Learn not to take things personally. Understand that real men do ask for help when they need it. Eliminate disrespectful words from your vocabulary, particularly in reference to women. Set goals. Learn to apologize and embrace change. Be a leader.

And do not “micro-quit.”

In his introduction, author Hill Harper lays out several goals for this book: among others, to show the importance of education, to offer inspiration through example, and to explain how to “beat the odds and avoid returning” to jail.

Definitely, those goals are attainable but that’s not all. Harper offers words of wisdom from influential contributors to support his ideas. There’s guidance here, help and resources, and he displays gentle patience, even deference, for his friend – but Harper’s nobody’s fool. He’s not afraid to call the man on his lies and half-truths, and he’s not afraid to show frustration. Such realism makes this one powerful book.

This isn’t just a reference for inmates, though. It’ll also be a great help for families, as well as a caution for boys who are headed for trouble. If that – or encouragement, sense, or inspiration – is what you need, “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” has it locked up.