NEWS & REVIEWS
New York's state legislators finally voted to
rewrite the Rockefeller drug laws on December 7, 2004 —
31 years after these controversial laws were originally enacted.
One week later, Governor George Pataki signed this bill before
a standing room only crowd of politicians, reporters, and several
drug-law activists, including Charles Grodin and Russell Simmons.
At the bill-signing, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the
state's number-two Republican, credited Life on the Outside
with raising awareness about the true impact of the laws'
overly harsh sentences — and ultimately helping convince
legislators to change them.
Check out The
New York Times story from December 8 about this historic
Elaine and Jennifer appeared on The
Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC on December 8 to talk about
the state legislature’s efforts to reform the Rockefeller
"Life on the Outside is a masterpiece."
"[A] stirring and ultimately heartbreaking
book on what it means to leave prison…. The result [is]
a remarkably balanced triumph of immersion journalism."
—Michael Schaffer, The Washington
"[This] book should take its place among
such classics of urban sociology as DuBois' The Philadelphia
Negro, Fox Butterfield's All God's Children, and
Carol Stack’s All Our Kin."
—Debra J. Dickerson, Mother Jones
"Life on the Outside stands with
those rare books that open a detailed and nuanced window into
the often invisible lives of America's urban poor."
—The Christian Science Monitor
"It is…challenging to attempt to
examine a major social issue through the narrow focus of one person's
encounter with it — as not a few better-known writers than
Gonnerman have found to their dismay. Gonnerman has successfully
met the challenge with a sympathetic heart for Bartlett and an
unblinking eye for social injustice."
—The Boston Globe
"Moving and well-reported...Revelatory."
—Brent Staples, The New York Times
Book Review (front page)
"Bracingly compassionate, quietly outraged."
—The Village Voice
"It's a story that grabs your interest and
quickly boils your blood."
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Returning to outside life after prison…turns
out to be full of catch-22s….It's frustrating and confounding.
And the madder you are about it, the more you'll know this book
has worked its magic on you."
"Life on the Outside encompasses
the sweep of black New York, from the heroin-soaked days of Claude
Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land to the present-day
vicissitudes of Rockefeller and workfare. The book is hugely compelling."
"A riveting tale of how America's prison-industrial-complex
sets up people of color, churns them through the system, and spits
them lifelessly back on the streets."
"Every once in a while you read something
in which the characters are so vivid you find yourself thinking
about them even when you’re not immersed in the text. "Life
on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett" is
such a book….The result is journalism in the powerful tradition
of Michael Harrington, Jacob Riis and Margaret Sanger."
—New York Law Journal
"Compulsively readable account of a life
wasted by the war on drugs but later reclaimed…Elaine’s
story forces the reader to consider the toll exacted by the myopic
and effectively racist public policies that purport to address
the social conundrum of illicit drugs in a market economy. Powerful
stuff, grievously well rendered."
"Guaranteed to raise both eyebrows and
awareness, this powerful testament to tenacity raises important
questions about this nation’s inadequately funded and poorly
designed reentry system for paroled inmates."
"Gonnerman captures both the love and the
decades of grief that envelop the entire Bartlett clan. This powerful
book shows in detail what unfair sentences do — to the convicts,
but also to their neighborhoods and families."
"Gonnerman makes an excellent argument for the ways in
which the New York criminal justice system, particularly the ‘tough
on crime’ measures imposed in the last three decades, fails
poor and less educated people. She skillfully uses Bartlett, a
tough assertive woman who struggles to hold a job and keep her
family together after their years of enforced separation, as an
exemplar of the wide-ranging impact of incarceration on both ex-cons
and the communities they leave behind, a social problem just beginning
to be studied."
"Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine
Bartlett, a powerful new book by Jennifer Gonnerman, offers
an unvarnished glimpse into the life of a former prisoner. It
joins a growing list of literature emerging on the issue of prisoner
What People Are Saying
Gonnerman’s Life on the Outside is that rarest
of books. It informs both the heart and the mind. Honest and stirring,
Life on the Outside will keep you reading through the
night. And it will leave you shaking your head at our nation’s
thirst for rigid and unforgiving sentencing laws. This book is
a triumph of storytelling."
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There
Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River
"Through the remarkable Elaine Bartlett,
Jennifer Gonnerman deftly maps out the middle passage of what
is perhaps the most pernicious social injustice of our time. She
charts a seemingly impenetrable intersection of problems, fact
by brutal fact. Only writing and reporting of this caliber could
track the intricate ways in which our nation’s prison industry
is also family business, and show how harsh sentences don't end
on the outside."
—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of
"Elaine Bartlett is a real person for whom
conservative and liberal nostrums are unreal. Jennifer Gonnerman’s
searing book will drag you into a world where an ex-con like Bartlett,
a mother of four, serves a ridiculous sentence for a first drug
offense, then with no confidence, no job, and few skills leaves
prison and struggles to survive. Gonnerman crafts a first-rate
story with universal meaning from the particulars of Bartlett’s
life. This luminous book gets inside your brain and doesn’t
media correspondent, The New Yorker, and author of Backstory:
Inside the Business of News
"Life on the Outside is required
reading. At a time when the prison-industrial complex is destroying
African-American families and neighborhoods, Elaine Bartlett is
more than a survivor: she is a heroine. The future of our communities
depends on women like her."
—Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam
Records and chairman of The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network
"The Rockefeller Drug Laws were put into
effect to show that New York State was tough on crime, but when
you look at the case of Elaine Bartlett you don’t think
tough on crime but human rights violation, cruel and unusual punishment,
or just plain immoral."
—Charles Grodin, actor and author
of I Like It Better When You're Funny