About Mr. Smith . . .

According to the somewhat archaic rules of non-fiction book proposals I’m supposed to mention competing books (well, books with the same general theme), note what makes Any Day Now different, and not comment about quality – just in case the proposal ends up in front of the editor who green-lighted the book I slam.

I’m not sure I get this part of the deal, presumably, like every other type of creative endeavor, a whole lot of crap sells and the editor/producer can embrace the cash while holding their nose on a pretty regular basis.

Anyway, I’m breaking this ‘suggested’ rule because this . . . competing  . . . title is just too contemptuous to ignore any longer. Plus, everybody I’ve (extensively) ranted to about it have carefully and compassionately pointed out that I need to bring this to the attention of a broader audience (i.e., not them).

So, it goes like this:

IMG_0694This the Amazon page for Jeff Smith’s book, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis. Smith was a politician, now teaches at The New School, was convicted for lying to federal officers about election malfeasance. The book is interspersed with the story of his political rise, tracks from his many readings/research on prison, and sprinkled with his surefire ideas on how to fix the thing (and probably get back into politics).

In short, pretty much nothing of what I plan to do, certainly not in tone, style, layout, or content. So why do I care?

Here’s the thing, though, that has me … flummoxed: I was up to 3:30 the morning this came out reading through as much as I could without ponying up the $13 they want for the Kindle version (it’s surprisingly a lot between free looks and his interviews). I couldn’t put it down, but not for good reasons.

Because the whole thing is off.

It starts with the blurbs and gets worse in the first 80 pages of the book – he served ‘hard time’, a year in a federal prison, he had to duck the attentions of the Aryan Brotherhood, was threatened by the KKK, had a front row seat to gang fights, racism, worked 40 hours a week in a hot, dusty warehouse for $5.35 a month, a whole lot more.

Problem is, this stuff happens, it just couldn’t have happened to him. He wasn’t in a federal prison, he was in a federal camp. He was never behind bars because there are no bars, in fact, there are no walls, no razor wire, just an honor system and a couple of COs.

There most certainly are no members – past or present – of the Aryan Brotherhood or KKK. Or recognized gangs for that matter. They are security risks and even with good behavior – in the case of the Aryan Brotherhood that would include the sudden ability to walk on water –  can’t go to a camp. Ever. Nor can inmates with ten years of more on their sentences and Smith introduces several of them when we finally get beyond his educational and political background and into the ‘prison’ around page 50.

$5.35 a month is the amount paid to inmates with no-show jobs like policing the compound. Everyone who actually works starts at $.30 to $.45 an hour and can work pretty quickly up to $1/hr. Stealing and smuggling stuff from the warehouse or kitchen because if you don’t the other inmates ‘will take care of you because they can’t trust you’ is not only a blatant lie, it’s right out of a bad movie.Inmates respect those who don’t take stuff and won’t jeopardize their good time, probably because it leaves much more for them.

It was pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Smith’s stories are from high, medium and administrative prisons, relayed to him by inmates who had been in them at one time or another. He adapted them for his use.

Look, this guy’s judge gave him a year and one day sentence. He was allowed to wrap up his affairs before surrendering, was dropped off at the ‘prison’ by his wife, released to a half-way house after a little over 8 months – so, hey, about that title. The first clue he wasn’t in prison should have been when his wife drove past the federal penitentiary. Another hint you’re not in a real prison is being allowed to drive a car.

Here is his corrected Amazon page:


My outage – and it  is outrage – centers around lying about his ‘year behind bars doing hard time’ and passing off inmate stories as his own in order to draw conclusions about the system that support his theories.Theories he claims he had before his arrest.

Look, he wants to write a book, great; he needs to talk about his intellectual prowess on every page while disparaging that of most everyone around him, okay; thinking he has the answers because he was inconvenienced for eight months, not remotely okay.

This pretty much makes him the Brain Williams of prison correspondents.


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