95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them?
There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, now about to reenter an unrecognizable world. Vicki, a five-time loser who had cycled in and out of prison for more than a third of her life. They are simultaneously joyful and overwhelmed at the prospect of freedom. Anxious, confused, sometimes terrified, and often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the free world, all are intent on reclaiming and remaking their lives.
What is the road they must travel from caged to free? How do they navigate their way home?
A gripping and empathetic work of immersion reportage, FREE reveals what awaits them and the hundreds of thousands of others who are released from prison every year: the first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles and logistical roadblocks, grinding bureaucracies, lack of resources, societal stigmas and damning self-perceptions, the sometimes overwhelming psychological challenges. Veteran reporter Lauren Kessler, both clear-eyed and compassionate, follows six people whose diverse stories paint an intimate portrait of struggle, persistence, and resilience.
The truth—the many truths—about life after lockup is more interesting, more nuanced, and both more troubling and more deeply triumphant than we know.
Lauren Kessler is the award-winning author of ten works of nonfiction, all of which combine lively narrative with deep research and in-the-trenches immersion to explore hidden worlds. The creator of two graduate programs in creative nonfiction, she founded a writers’ group for lifers at a maximum security prison. She lives in western Oregon.