AReview of Life without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today byVictor Hassine
A Review of Life without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today byVictor Hassine
Life without parole has been a debatable issue over the years.Critics argue life without parole is a brutal punishment that iscommon in the American criminal justice system. Menninger, as citedin Stohr and Walsh (2016), observed that although some correctionalscholars concur with the belief that punishment works as a form ofsocial control, some disagree with this view and term punishment asan old barbaric act of the pre-civilized period. For decades, thistype of punishment has been conceived as a replacement for a deathpenalty. Today, capital punishments in the United States of Americahave decreased while life without parole sentences has increased. Inthe book Life without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today(5th edition), Hassine (2011) narratesof his ordeals behind bars. This book and previous editions haveprovided significant contributions to the field of penology andcorrectional units. This paper provides an examination of the use oflife without parole punishment in the prisons, plea bargaining,emotions, prison victimization, in addition to overcrowding.
This edition gives us a vivid memory and stirring record of aproblematic but an exemplary life. Hassine’s work is suggestivewith amazing discernment, moving observations, and intermittent senseof humor. The title of this book is presented in a clear way, and afirst-time reader might automatically know what to expect in thetext.
The first editions of life without parole provide the descriptions ofHassine’s life, his perspectives on penal imprisonment, and variousobservations that he made in prison. The fifth edition was edited bySonia Tabriz and Robert Johnson to include the subtitle Living anddying in prison today to describe Hassine’s life in prison andhis death. The afterthought that introduces the entire text makesthis book an interesting read. Moreover, Hassine gives firsthandaccounts of his experiences in prison, which makes the information inthis book more believable than information narrated by anotherperson. This edition presents prison inmates’ perspectives that aremost of the time not heeded to or neglected by most books in thefield of correctional institutions.
As far as prisoners are concerned, the story of Hassine presentsfamiliar information encountered by inmates of color. He was Jewishwhose origins were from Egypt and lived in Trenton, NJ. After he hadgraduated from law school in New York, he was arrested, accused, andwas declared guilty of recruiting an assassin to murder a manconcerning a dispute that was drug related. Being a new inmate,Hassine had to devise and learn some tactics to survive in thecorrectional system. After several years, the parole board ignoredhis clemency and twenty years later rejected his appeal. According toStohr et al. (2016), ethnicity and race influence the plea and chargedecisions in the capital as well as noncapital cases.
Typesof Emotions Experienced by Inmates in Correctional Institutions
The most captivating information in Hassine’s book is his fictionwriting. He described various kinds of emotions as experienced by menin correctional units. These emotions include a sense of loss, fear,as well as hope. He described fear as a feeling that harbors the mindof an inmate of the time he or she is in prison. The author givesexperiences he and his fellows encountered in the Pennsylvaniaprisons.
Sense of Loss
The next emotion that is familiar to all inmates is the sense ofloss. Hassine (2011) observed that prisoners lost almost all theirbelongings upon conviction and those who were sentenced to lifeimprisonment or incarcerated death, lost contact not only withimportant people, but also with relevant organizations in the entireworld. In the long run, the sense of loss escalates after closestfriends, relatives, and loved ones stop to visit or die during thisperiod.
Hope forms the thirdemotion among convicts. According to Hassine (2011), "All men inprison, being human/cling to hope, for a decent day, a sustainingrelationship, or more ambitiously, a better life down the road, afterprison" (p. 33). He narrated how after he had dealt with theemotion of fear and loss, he developed a sense of hope that made himcommit to helping other inmates and devoted himself to prisonimprovement. Indulged in these activities, he hoped that the paroleboards would consider his clemency, which was not fruitful at all.Twenty years later, the parole board rejected his appeal, and forthat reason, Hassine ended his life.
What fascinated me more about Hassine’s writings is that he doesnot emphasize on the behaviors that led to his imprisonment, butinstead provides detailed information about how he was classified,processed, as well as integrated into the public due to his skincolor. Being neither black nor white made him possess no specificaffiliations. Hassine (2011) stated that loners who owned severalitems faced a lot of victimization in prison. Also, he forewarnedabout the challenges faced by a new inmate, which includes beinglocked inside the cells in the morning while his or her doors areunlocked. Consequently, prison predators get a chance to either rape,brutalize, or steal the new inmate’s items. Stohr et al. (2016)observed that racial violence in the correctional institutions is awell-documented phenomenon in the history of prisons. Victimizationis prevalent in British prisons. However, a false impression has beencreated about the nature of victimization since it is oftencounter-intuitive. In a correctional unit, it is difficult todifferentiate between the victim and the victimizer since thevictimizers can also be victims. Moreover, prisoners do not oftenreport victimization allegations to their staffs, thus making theissue of disagreements in jails and prisons an incident of centralconcern.
Most aspects of this book are to yearn for. The concepts described inthis book by Hassine are important not only in penology, but also inthe deterrence of criminal behaviors. The most important thing isthat Hassine (2011) narrations are based on facts from fieldobservations and his experiences. Moreover, the book is verypersuasive as it includes testimonials from other inmates. Hassine(2011) observed the correctional system, his captors, as well as hisfellow inmates, and as time passed by, he began putting his thoughtsand ideas on paper. In addition, he gave his fellow inmates a chanceto narrate their predicaments. The access to prisoners and prisonwardens in real life situations ensure that the information collectedis accurate, valid, reliable, and easy to understand. By observation,Hassine (2011) was able to identify the plight of convicts by makingan extensive analysis about their experiences. Consequently, he wasable to explore various issues including HIV/AIDS, sexualvictimization, control medication, solitary confinementtransformation, and disagreements between new violent and oldinmates. He narrated his experience as a witness in a savage event inthe course of an upheaval at Western Penitentiary.
Stohr et al. (2016) argued that there are other factors thatinfluence an inmate`s experience in prison apart from money andpolitics such as overcrowding. According to Hassine (2011),overcrowding is the main challenge in contemporary prisons. He linkedthe problem of overcrowding with other problems and stated thatovercrowding is the cause of other problems faced by inmates. Forinstance, he mentioned that rape is influenced by putting severalinmates in one cell that is meant for one person.
Hassine (2011) observed that guards no longer had a good relationshipwith the prisoners. The reason behind the relationship deteriorationis that staff shortage had led to guards pulling overtime shifts tomake up for these shortages. Moreover, the control of prisons hadbecome a difficult task for officers as they consumed the availablelimited resources to cater for convicts’ basic needs. He arguedthat the aftermath of overcrowded prisons is not only a problem inprisons, but also to the society at large.
In conclusion, Life without Parole: Living and dying in prisonhas proven to be of great worth to the penology literature overdecades. It is an essential tool for teaching and learning aboutcorrections, challenges, and realities of the world. Victor Hassine’slife and death in the prisons symbolizes our full cycle in thesociety. This edition touches on the issues of power, redemption,justice, and race that are predominant in the American justicesystem. From his descriptions, Hassine accounts bring into existencethe picture of incarcerated convicts and guards while simultaneouslyrevealing the controversial aspects in the field of penology.Accompanied by contemplative interpretation and detailed backgroundas provided by Sonia Tabriz and Robert Johnson, this book is ahigh-end instrument for not only students in the course of publicpolicy or corrections, but also for the entire society at large.
Hassine, V. (2011).Life without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today. R.Johnson., Tabriz, S. (Ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Stohr, M. K., &Walsh, A. (2016). Corrections: The Essentials (2nd ed.). LosAngeles, CA: Sage Publications.