A POIGNANT, ENLIGHTENING LOOK AT LIFE AFTER MURDER
Should society care about what happens to convicted killers once they’re released from prison? Are their lives redeemable? Does it even matter if they are? Nancy Mullane tries to provide the answers without ever asking the questions. She does it by tracking the lives of five convicted murderers during and after their time in San Quentin Prison.
It all started when Mullane, a reporter from National Public Radio, was assigned to do a story about the high cost of keeping prisoners.
Fearful at first of coming face-to-face with men who had killed, she slowly came to recognize them as more than incarcerated humans with numbers on their clothes. That morphed into gaining their trust and, eventually, compiling their sorrows and joys both inside and outside San Quentin.
YOU WILL BE SHOCKED BY YOUR DESPERATION TO TURN THE PAGES
This much is clear: When California voters approved Proposition 89 in 1988, thus granting the governor authority to reverse decisions made by the Board of Parole Hearings on parole-eligible murderers, paroles in these cases almost ceased to occur. At a cost to the state of $50,000 to $100,000 per inmate per year, former governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed the board’s decision to parole in a vast majority of cases.
What’s less clear, and what Nancy Mullane wants us to consider, is what this situation has meant for the prisoners. Through claustrophobia-inducing descriptions of prison cells and sobering reports of how a prisoner who has been incarcerated more than 20 years actually conceives of freedom (“What’s the first thing you want to do when you get out?” “Take my shoes off and then take my socks off and walk on the carpet. Then I want to go to the store and buy all different kinds of salsa.”), Mullane reveals how little we know about what life is like for long-term prisoners, and reminds us how significant this is.
As Kim Richman, professor of sociology and legal studies, is quoted in the book, “Responsible human beings should understand the living conditions of their fellow human beings. That requires a leap, because it requires you to see people inside prisons as humans, which most people don’t.” Reading “Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption,” we have no choice but to do so.
Spending time around murderers, Mullane proves our proxy as she encounters her own ignorance and judgmental tendencies and slowly replaces fears and preconceptions with understanding and compassion. It’s the relationships Mullane builds, and the stories she tells — particularly those of the five paroled murderers who compose the central focus of the book — that move the book beyond policy analysis and into something profoundly human. These five are willing to go public with their crimes because, as one murderer says to Mullane, “If by my telling my story it will make it possible for my brothers who are still locked up to get out, I’ll answer any question you’ve got.”
Their stories are complicated and compelling. When these men meet obstacles, as they surely do, you will be shocked by your desperation to turn the pages and learn that things work out for them. They do, and they don’t.
Because this is not a book of suspense, I don’t mind revealing the surprise happyish ending, policy-wise. In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that a governor must have “current evidence” of a prisoner’s threat to society to deny parole. Since beginning his second term in 2011, Jerry Brown has reversed only 17 percent of the parole board’s decisions. As more murderers who deserve to be released are released, the stories in “Life After Murder” become increasingly important to help us understand this oft-ignored segment of our population.
REMARKABLE ON-THE-GROUND REPORTING
“What happens when men who have committed heinous crimes are released from prison? Nancy Mullane first met her five characters while they were serving life sentences for murder. She persuaded corrections officials to give her unheard of access to the inmates. Then, in an extraordinary turn of events, Mullane documented their unexpected release back into society. Her remarkable on-the-ground reporting should elicit soul-searching from the Left, Right, and Center.
If these five former inmates can lead responsible, productive lives after decades in maximum-security prisons, can they show us the way toward a new policy that combines fiscal responsibility, public safety, and genuine remorse? Read this unusual story, and let the debate begin.…”
–AMY BACH, author of Ordinary Injustice
“It’s summer book time and the good reads are pouring in at The Daily Circuit book desk. It’s both awesome and painful that we get so many interesting reads – it’s great to have so many books in the office, but there are far too many to interview every author, there just isn’t enough time!
I recently finished one of these great books by veteran public radio reporter Nancy Mullane. Life After Murder is the product of years of reporting inside California’s San Quentin State Prison.
What makes the book so compelling is Mullane’s follow up with each of the five men – she chronicles their lives after their release and gets each man to tell the story of their crime in vivid detail – contrasting it with the men they’ve become after decades in prison. She’s also one of very few reporters to ever have complete access to the prison, and her experience at San Quentin is as captivating as the men’s stories.
The book is a humanizing look at a huge section of the population that is utterly removed from the life of an average citizen, and Mullane’s radio reporting comes through in the voice of her writing.”
REVEALING GLIMPSE INTO THE PRISON SYSTEM
“Life After Murder provides a revealing glimpse into the prison system in California, where even if the parole board recommends an inmate’s release, the governor has the authority to overrule the decision. … Mullane builds a convincing case for a reexamination of parole policies for reformed inmates.”
–STEVEN LEVINGSTON, The Washington Post
A REMARKABLE JOURNEY
“Life After Murder challenges us to do the unthinkable in the era of mass incarceration – view those accused of heinous crimes as worthy of our care, compassion and concern.
Nancy Mullane, a white woman who once was just as ignorant about the real world of crime and punishment as the typical television viewer, takes us on a remarkable journey behind bars and introduces us to five unforgettable men who are struggling to transform their lives. Through their stories we are reminded of the power and possibility of redemption, as well the nearly unforgiveable crime our nation has committed: treating some human beings as disposable.”
–MICHELLE ALEXANDER, author of The New Jim Crow
JOURNALISM AT ITS FINEST
“Life After Murder is a gripping behind the scenes look at men who have committed heinous crimes yet still challenge our humanity by asking us to truly consider the meaning of redemption. This is journalism at its finest and a must-read for anyone interested in the realities of our prison system.”
–TOM AMMIANO, California Assembly Member and Chair of the Public Safety Committee
IMPRESSIVE INVESTIGATIVE WORK
A radio journalist immerses herself in the lives of five murderers incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison in California .
NPR reporter and producer Mullane received remarkable cooperation from the prison staff as well as her subjects as they sought parole for good behavior and changed character. Though the parole process is long and complex, the decisions can be overturned by the governor without detailed explanation. However, for obvious reasons, most governors tend to reject parole requests from murderers even when prison officials and parole board members favor release. Mullane was surprised to learn that of the approximately 1,000 convicted murderers paroled in California in the last 21 years, not one has murdered again.
The accounts of the five prisoners—Don Cronk, Ed Ramirez, Rich Rael, Phillip Seiler and Jesse Reed—interweave throughout the book, making the narrative difficult to track at times. The author examines their young lives before the murders, the circumstances of their crimes, their prison terms and their attempts to readjust to the world outside prison. She recounts interviews with family members, lovers and friends, but does not approach those close to the murder victims, a conscious editorial decision that certainly spared suffering for those loved ones but detracts from the book’s emotional impact. Nonetheless, Mullane demonstrates clearly that each of the five men was to some extent a caring person who made a terrible decision on an especially bad day and has spent years trying to sincerely atone for the murder. The author believes in rehabilitation and second chances, and her accounts are unusual in their optimism about inmates living productively behind bars and after their release…Overall an impressive investigative work with interesting findings that tend to contradict conventional wisdom.
AN IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION TO SENTENCING REFORM
“Nancy Mullane sheds light on the country’s most easily forgotten prisoners: lifers. By sharing the struggles and triumphs of inmates serving life, she reminds us of their humanity, compassion, and genuine desire for redemption. This book is an important contribution to the field of sentencing reform because of its careful documentation of the winding and often convoluted route required for qualified lifers to maintain hope for release.”
BOASTING TOP-NOTCH JOURNALISM — MULLANE PIERCES THE MYTH OF THE UNREDEEMABLE KILLER
Can a murderer be redeemed? This is Mullane’s central theme in her revealing book of five murderers who all served lengthy sentences in California’s notorious San Quentin Prison, now seeking to live out the remainder of their tainted lives without condemnation or reproach.
Without any attempt to excuse their crimes, Mullane, a producer for Public Radio International’s This American Life, offers a highly charged exposé of this quintet of hopeful ex-cons—Eddie Ramirez, Donald Cronk, Phillip Seiler, Jesse Reed, Richard Rael—battered by a wicked tangle of red tape and penal regulations, along with an unsympathetic outside world that refuses to either forget or forgive their transgressions. With their fates in the hands of the governor and the parole board, very few lifers are released, Mullane writes, and often wait up to 15 years between parole hearings.
Boasting gripping, top-notch journalism, Mullane pierces the myth of the unredeemable killer with these portraits of troubled men in a society that fears and reviles them. Agent: Gail Ross Literary Agency.
HUMAN FACES ON PEOPLE DEMONIZED
“[Mullane’s] account manages to put human faces on people who are too often demonized by the media–and then forgotten. As its title suggests, Life After Murder makes a strong argument that a sane sentencing policy should address the reality that long after even the most terrible sins of youth, people can change.”
A CHRONICLE OF REDEMPTION AND HOPE
Life After Murder is as much a study of jarring re-entries as it is a chronicle of redemption and hope. But it’s also the story of Mullane’s own transformation from frightened observer to cheerleading sympathizer. The Nancy Mullane who dines easily with parolee Reed, invites convicts home for dinner with her family, and finds herself emotionally invested in their triumphs is a far cry from the woman who approached San Quentin with such quavering timidity in the opening chapter—a woman acutely aware both of her own vulnerabilities and the imperviousness of surroundings which were, for her, only temporary: “Behind us, the back side of the steep wall is topped with rows of razor wire looping around and around like an unwound, lethal Slinky.” Reading along—at home, out and about, somewhere you choose to be—you may find yourself undergoing a similar change.
INSIGHT INTO THE PSYCHES OF MEN SENTENCED TO LIFE
Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption by Nancy Mullane. The NPR journalist follows the fates of five men sentenced to life in San Quentin for murder. She tracks their individual stories from childhood through their crime and their lives in prison as each comes up for parole after decades. Interesting insight into the psyches of men who hope to rejoin society, seemingly on its terms.
MULLANE TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO INMATES
Incarcerated convicts are often portrayed as ruthless, like the buff guys on The History Channel’s Gangland, with aliases, face tats, and the casual use of creepy prison slang like “keister stash.” But Nancy Mullane’s new book, Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption, takes a different, more sociological approach to our nation’s correctional facilities and the inmates who call them home.
LIFE AFTER MURDER READS LIKE A DOCUMENTARY
Life After Murder follows five paroled lifers as they try to readjust to life on the outside after decades on the inside. These men are having a helluva time. California doesn’t make it easy for a paroled felon, let alone a paroled murderer, to reintegrate into society. No state does.