‘Letters’ a powerful read

Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

You figured you had a lock on things.


“Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” by Hill Harper, c. 2013, Gotham Books, $27.50, 400 pages. (Special to the Guardian)

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

Now that lock you had has you. You are in prison and it's a whole new world in there, one you are not sure you can survive. But when you read, "Letters to an Incarcerated Brother" by Hill Harper, you will 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," Harper says, "our prison population has mushroomed." Though statistics show that offenders are likely to return, Harper says "there is hope and there are solutions."

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."

Get as much education as you can: Get your GED, look for college coursework that's available to incarcerated students, and read.

Stay in your children's lives any way you can. Keep away from prison gangs and trouble because 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.

And do not "micro-quit."

In his introduction, Harper lays out several goals for this book, such as to show the importance of education, to offer inspiration through example, and to explain how to "beat the odds and avoid returning" to jail.

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

Terri Schlichenmeyer lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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