As a former prisoner, I’ve read plenty of prison memoirs, and Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars struck me the most. Kenneth Hartman doesn’t expect your sympathy when he describes how he murdered a homeless man and used his propensity for violence to rise up in the brutal California state prison system. But the honesty in his writing and the pace of the story kept me riveted. His writing is some of the most accurate I’ve read about prison gangs. He captures exactly their structure, the way they operate and their nuances.
Prison time allowed Ken to meditate on life. Out of hardship, he forged himself into a better person. I finished the book over a week ago, and I still feel deeply moved by his transformation, his constant campaigning, and how, against steep odds, he helped introduce The Honor Program – the creation of safer living quarters for better behaved inmates.
I enjoyed Ken’s deep insights into the system and its Kafkaesque committees. He also shows how prison has deteriorated over the years into a system of dangerous mass warehousing, operating in the financial interest of politicians, contactors, and guards unions.
I highly recommend Mother California to anyone looking for an action-packed and honest account of prison. It’s as real as it gets.