Book Review: In Spite of the Consequences: Prison Letters on Exoneration, Abolition, and Freedom
Publication Date: Jul 25, 2023
List Price: $28.99
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Imprint: Broadleaf Books
Publisher: 1517 Media
Parent Company: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Read a Description of In Spite of the Consequences: Prison Letters on Exoneration, Abolition, and Freedom
Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
If you were politically conscious decades ago, you would have read the prison chronicles of cultural superstars such as George Jackson, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X. Their literary view of post-Jim Crow America gave the innocent and the naïve stunning and shocking insights into the nation that was not portrayed on mainstream media.
Currently in the publishing spotlight, this book, In Spite of the Consequences: Prison Letters On Exoneration, Abolition, and Freedom, was written by activist Latino Hamilton, who was wrongly jailed for 26 years because of a wrongful conviction. Hamilton was exonerated in September 2020. Many wrongful convictions occurred with bogus information and fabricated evidence of confessions, a popular practice of law enforcement nationwide. What makes men and women of color a common target for corruption and lawlessness? As Hamilton wrote about his case, he introduced the book:
I spent over half my life imprisoned due to Detroit Homicide Detective James Fleming and Wayne County Prosecutor Ruth Carter using serial jailhouse snitch Oliver Cowan to secure a conviction against me through fabrication of evidence and the withholding of information regarding a jailhouse snitch scheme used by and known to police and prosecutors to secure wrongful convictions.
Hamilton noted a group of jailhouse snitches were kept at the Detroit’s 1st Precinct, supplied by detectives with information necessary to strengthen the false confessions and gain long sentences. Hamilton maintained police groomed Cowan with the lie that the prisoner confessed to killing his foster mother of more than more than fifteen years. He wrote more than ten thousand letters in a campaign to not die in prison. His readers were treated to letters “blending personal narrative with criticism and analysis of the criminal justice system.” He noted that some of these letters were concealed, passed between inmates, read secretly, and smuggled out of prison.
How does a person stay sane in a place designed to promote madness?
Imprisonment, he wrote, is not just the concrete, razor wire, bulletproof glass, or trained assassins watching from gun towers. Imprisonment is not just the isolation, monotony, loneliness, or assiduous misery…Imprisonment is also knowing how very different my life could have been. It is a perpetual defeat of sorts.
Once behind prison walls, authorities maintain a crippling control over their inmates, drugging about 40% of them with psychotropic meds. This keeps them in an acute confused state, but with an overlapping aggressive behavior, leading to a rise in assaults, stabbings, and killings. Some inmates simply give up. As Hamilton added, suicide enters the minds of most prisoners at one time or another while serving their sentence, even short ones. He admitted being there himself. Some of them stay to themselves and avoid trouble.
Critics say redemption and renewal are not possible, but Hamilton disagreed.
Once a person has been in prison, the offense they went in for is the event that defines them and justifies denying them housing, employment, voting rights, safety net benefits, and any kind of respectable social standing. In many ways, God is the only entity that is forgiving. Society does not forgive, and the prison definitely doesn’t because that would require seeing something redeemable in us.
The goal of dehumanization seemed to be the prime achievement of imprisonment, as Hamilton wrote, such as the guards stripped all of the things that separated prisoners from beasts.
As soon as you left and I stepped through those visiting room doors back into the real prison, I had to get naked, show both sides of my hands, raised my arms over my head, open my mouth and stick out my tongue, lift up my private parts, turn around, show the bottoms of both feet, and the most degrading and humiliating part is always left for last: “Bend over and spread them.”
Nature vs. Nurture? Hamilton examined the roles of poverty and family dysfunction to sum up the growing population behind bars. Born the first of six children, his mother was fourteen and was taken into the ward of the state. His father, eighteen, was serving the first of four prison sentences. For much of his formulative years, he was moved from one foster home to another. Prison officials considered these letters, written with intelligence and reflection, very dangerous. Although these letters have the stated goals of exoneration, abolition, and freedom, they would lose their potency and quality without the example of the resilience and determination of the life of Lacino Hamilton. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been more than 3,287 exonerations recorded by the registry since 1989.
“Surviving for me, in large part, means exiting prison with my self-worth and dignity intact,” he wrote. “Being my own person. Not having the prison become my brain.”
Exoneration and freedom meant restoring lives back to their original state, often meaning the victim comfortable with money or a major change of behavior in the victim or granting community service or a heartfelt apology. However, most citizens just want to keep the prisoners locked up, out of sight, out of mind.
Hamilton looked back at the years incarcerated with horror and regret.
Prison has always been a place where broken people meet up, but the people here have never been shattered. Prison has descended into something awfully frightening. Prison is a clown show, of all ages and races. A daycare center for wannabe gang bangers…It has become the norm to be ignorant, have no agenda, play all day, be loud, be a pill head, and jump from one gang to another.
In Spite of the Consequences, presents the terror and cruelty of America’s penal colony. Hamilton’s letters plead for analysis and perspective of the complex issues surrounding the incarcerated, replacing them with something that “addresses harm and community accountability.” The freed author, like all of the writers of the important prison missives, only asked for “some real justice.” For those readers concerned with social control and the prison-industrial complex, this is the real McCoy, a detailed, disturbing, and compelling book addressing these topics.