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Sentence : ten years and a thousand books in prison
2022
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Publishers Weekly Reviews

A man does hard time with the help of literature in this striking and soulful debut. Journalist Genis revisits his stint in New York State prisons from 2003 to 2014 after committing a string of knife-point street robberies to fund his heroin habit at the age of 25, when he was also working at a Manhattan literary agency. (His remorseful demeanor got him dubbed "the Apologetic Bandit" by the press.) His gritty picaresque features jail-yard fights ("You don't have to win the fight or stab to kill, just show up"); witnessings of attempted murders and suicides; routine humiliations ("My orifices were rudely peered into, a part of the process supervised by a man wielding a club," he writes, recalling his entry at New York's Downstate Correctional Facility); squalid conjugal visits with his wife; and much Kafkaesque absurdity (he was sent to solitary for purchasing other inmates' "souls" with cups of coffee, which violated rules against commercial transactions). Counteracting boredom and despair was his reading list, which included Sartre's No Exit—a schizophrenic cellmate brought home the play's declaration that hell is other people—and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, which taught him that memory was the antidote to the inevitability of losing time. By turns harrowing and mordantly funny, Genis's account illuminates how the written word helps humanity endure in the stoniest soil. Photos. (Feb.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

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"A memoir of a decade in prison by a well-educated young addict known as the "Apologetic Bandit". In 2003, fresh out of NYU, Daniel Genis was working in publishing as his writer father had always expected. But he was also hiding a serious heroin addiction that led him into debt and burglary. After he was arrested for robbing people at knifepoint in 2003, Daniel Genis was nicknamed the "apologetic bandit" in the press, given his habit of apologizing to his victims as he took their cash. He was sentenced to twelve years (ten with good behavior), surviving the decade by reading 1,046 books, weightlifting, having philosophical discussions with various inmates, encountering violence on a daily basis, working at a series of prison jobs, and in general observing an existence for which nothing in his life had prepared him. Sentence is one of the most striking prison memoirs--and memoirs in general--in recent years--written with intelligence, wit, empathy, and remarkable style. Genis is the son of a famous Sovietâemigrâe writer, broadcaster, and culture critic in Russia. He grew up in a home whose visitors included Mikhail Baryshnikov; Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov; authors Kurt Vonnegut, Umberto Eco and Norman Mailer; and Czech film director Milos Forman. The education and culture so prized by his family were his lifeline during his decade in prison, and he describes in unsparing and vivid detail the realities of daily life in the New York penal system, from Rikers Island through a series of upstateinstitutions. He learns about the social strata of gangs, the "court" system that sets geographic boundaries in prison yards, how sex was obtained, the black market of drugs and more practical goods, the inventiveness required for everyday tasks such as cooking, and how debilitating solitary confinement actually is--all while trying to preserve his relationship with his recently married wife"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

Formerly a well-educated young addict dubbed the “Apologetic Bandit,” the author shares his 10-year stint in the New York penal system—a decade where he learned to survive the brutalities of prison by reading 1,046 books. - (Baker & Taylor)

A memoir of a decade in prison by a well-educated young addict known as the "Apologetic Bandit"

In 2003 Daniel Genis, the son of a famous Soviet émigré writer, broadcaster, and culture critic, was fresh out of NYU when he faced a serious heroin addiction that led him into debt and ultimately crime. After he was arrested for robbing people at knifepoint, he was nicknamed the “Apologetic Bandit” in the press, given his habit of expressing regret to his victims as he took their cash. He was sentenced to twelve years—ten with good behavior, a decade he survived by reading 1,046 books, taking up weightlifting, having philosophical discussions with his fellow inmates, working at a series of prison jobs, and in general observing an existence for which nothing in his life had prepared him.
 
Genis describes in unsparing and vivid detail the realities of daily life in the New York penal system. In his journey from Rikers Island and through a series of upstate institutions, he encounters violence on an almost daily basis, while learning about the social strata of gangs, the “court” system that sets geographic boundaries in prison yards, how sex was obtained, the workings of the black market in drugs and more practical goods, the inventiveness required for everyday tasks such as cooking, and how debilitating solitary confinement actually is—all while trying to preserve his relationship with his wife, whom he recently married.
 
Written with empathy and wit, Sentence is a strikingly powerful memoir of the brutalities of prison and how one man survived them, leaving its walls with this book inside him, “one made of pain and fear and laughter and lots of other books.” - (Penguin Putnam)

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