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LIfe in the Bureau of Prisons

Kingpin: Prisoner of the War on Drugs - Richard Stratton

Kingpin is a chronicle of the author's time spent incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for trafficking in marijuana in the 1980's. As a retired official in that agency, I fully expected this book to be another "hit-job" on some con's prejudices against the BOP, as well as how he was an innocent bystander who never committed the crime. I was very pleasantly surprised. While Stratton (the author) does not pull punches over what he thinks was a bad organization (the Bureau of Punishment), he also doesn't deny his crimes. On the contrary, he admits them, is totally unrepentant, and is what we would have called a "real convict" (that's actually a compliment among officers). Stratton "does his own time", and never rats on anyone else. Even when the forces of the federal government are stacked against him to get him to roll over on his higher-ups, Stratton sucks it up and takes his lumps, receiving a much harsher sentence than if he had cooperated.
As far as his description of life in the BOP, I question some of his experiences with "dirty staff", but am not naive enough to not admit they may be true. In my over 20 years of service, I ran into dirty staff. And many, many staff like his "Smurf". Furthermore, his chronicling of the "diesel therapy", the life in the units, and his knowledge of (and exploiting) of the rules is pretty much spot-on. And, this may surprise Stratton, but even former BOP employees are dismayed at the way "the war on drugs" was handled.
There are times that I think Stratton overplays his sense of importance in prison. One example was "given my elevated status as the jailhouse lawyer par excellence in the joint". Yes, it was admirable that he self-taught himself law while locked up. But, F Lee Bailey he is not. And his claims of running units for the officers was overdone.
But, and this is the part I most enjoyed about the book. Stratton has an amazing gift of insight into himself. Time and time again in the book I found parts where he let down his guard and laid bare his soul. In the very beginning, he states "prison is an unreasonable place, for we live in a world of damaged men where all that matters is how one carries oneself". That describes prison to a T! Your life in prison, as an inmate or BOP employee, is all dependent upon how you carry yourself. Treat others with respect, be a man of your word, and do what you say you will, are the secrets to survival in prison.
Another quote: "Maybe my life here is not so bad, but it is still prison. The worst thing about prison, as I've said before, and I'll say it again, is that it's lonely. It is so fucking lonely. Brutally lonely, especially for a man who loves the company of women. Yes, you make friends.....And I've learned a lot about men from all strata of society. But at the end of the day, life in prison is as lonely as the tomb. You are cut off from the people you love, cut off from the real world and real life; and that is the punishment". So true. I wish he could speak to young people and express that to them.
Towards the end of the book, Stratton sums up his experiences well. "Criminal, inmate, convict, prisoner, kingpin, drug smuggler; these are the words the authorities use to describe me. But there is something to be said for having taken responsibility for my actions and having served the time. Whatever else they may call me, they can never say rat; that's a name I would have had to take to the grave". Bravo, Stratton. Believe it or not, even an old hack can give you props for that!
An excellent book. Very well written. Very well told. I'm looking forward to going back and reading some of his earlier work.
Highly recommend!

LIfe in the Bureau of Prisons

Kingpin: Prisoner of the War on Drugs - Richard Stratton

Kingpin is a chronicle of the author's time spent incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for trafficking in marijuana in the 1980's. As a retired official in that agency, I fully expected this book to be another "hit-job" on some con's prejudices against the BOP, as well as how he was an innocent bystander who never committed the crime. I was very pleasantly surprised. While Stratton (the author) does not pull punches over what he thinks was a bad organization (the Bureau of Punishment), he also doesn't deny his crimes. On the contrary, he admits them, is totally unrepentant, and is what we would have called a "real convict" (that's actually a compliment among officers). Stratton "does his own time", and never rats on anyone else. Even when the forces of the federal government are stacked against him to get him to roll over on his higher-ups, Stratton sucks it up and takes his lumps, receiving a much harsher sentence than if he had cooperated.
As far as his description of life in the BOP, I question some of his experiences with "dirty staff", but am not naive enough to not admit they may be true. In my over 20 years of service, I ran into dirty staff. And many, many staff like his "Smurf". Furthermore, his chronicling of the "diesel therapy", the life in the units, and his knowledge of (and exploiting) of the rules is pretty much spot-on. And, this may surprise Stratton, but even former BOP employees are dismayed at the way "the war on drugs" was handled.
There are times that I think Stratton overplays his sense of importance in prison. One example was "given my elevated status as the jailhouse lawyer par excellence in the joint". Yes, it was admirable that he self-taught himself law while locked up. But, F Lee Bailey he is not. And his claims of running units for the officers was overdone.
But, and this is the part I most enjoyed about the book. Stratton has an amazing gift of insight into himself. Time and time again in the book I found parts where he let down his guard and laid bare his soul. In the very beginning, he states "prison is an unreasonable place, for we live in a world of damaged men where all that matters is how one carries oneself". That describes prison to a T! Your life in prison, as an inmate or BOP employee, is all dependent upon how you carry yourself. Treat others with respect, be a man of your word, and do what you say you will, are the secrets to survival in prison.
Another quote: "Maybe my life here is not so bad, but it is still prison. The worst thing about prison, as I've said before, and I'll say it again, is that it's lonely. It is so fucking lonely. Brutally lonely, especially for a man who loves the company of women. Yes, you make friends.....And I've learned a lot about men from all strata of society. But at the end of the day, life in prison is as lonely as the tomb. You are cut off from the people you love, cut off from the real world and real life; and that is the punishment". So true. I wish he could speak to young people and express that to them.
Towards the end of the book, Stratton sums up his experiences well. "Criminal, inmate, convict, prisoner, kingpin, drug smuggler; these are the words the authorities use to describe me. But there is something to be said for having taken responsibility for my actions and having served the time. Whatever else they may call me, they can never say rat; that's a name I would have had to take to the grave". Bravo, Stratton. Believe it or not, even an old hack can give you props for that!
An excellent book. Very well written. Very well told. I'm looking forward to going back and reading some of his earlier work.
Highly recommend!

New Americans - Geoffrey C Scott Harrison

A good resource for late middle school or early high school students. Very timely!  Explores the history of, and the pro's and con's of immigration to the United States. Very easily readable. Somewhat of a more liberal leaning bias, but all in all, a good text. I did find the number of, and placement of the numerous insets and dialogue boxes to be very confusing, detracting greatly from the flow of the book. 

Golden Prey - John Sandford

It's been several years since I have read one of Sandford's "Prey" novels. I'm happy to say that I picked the right one to jump back into the series. This was a highly enjoyable book, and I had a hard time putting it down.
Sandford's protagonist, Lucas Davenport, has found himself in a new and exciting position. He has now been assigned to the U.S. Marshal's Service, as a special appointee. This move has allowed Sandford to move beyond the Minnesota area and expand the scope of Davenport's adventures.
Golden Prey's focus is on the robbery of a drug money counting operation, the people who stole the money, the cartel employee's trying to get the money back, and Davenport's team trying to apprehend them all. The novel moves across several states in the South, ending in the finale in Texas.
The novel moves along very fast, with action in every chapter. The characters are well developed. The action sequences are loads of fun. And the novel ends well, with enough of a teaser to keep readers coming back for the next one.
All in all, a great, fun read!

 

A New Career for Lucas!

Golden Prey - John Sandford

It's been several years since I have read one of Sandford's "Prey" novels. I'm happy to say that I picked the right one to jump back into the series. This was a highly enjoyable book, and I had a hard time putting it down.
Sandford's protagonist, Lucas Davenport, has found himself in a new and exciting position. He has now been assigned to the U.S. Marshal's Service, as a special appointee. This move has allowed Sandford to move beyond the Minnesota area and expand the scope of Davenport's adventures.
Golden Prey's focus is on the robbery of a drug money counting operation, the people who stole the money, the cartel employee's trying to get the money back, and Davenport's team trying to apprehend them all. The novel moves across several states in the South, ending in the finale in Texas.
The novel moves along very fast, with action in every chapter. The characters are well developed. The action sequences are loads of fun. And the novel ends well, with enough of a teaser to keep readers coming back for the next one.
All in all, a great, fun read!

A New Career

Golden Prey - John Sandford

It's been several years since I have read one of Sandford's "Prey" novels. I'm happy to say that I picked the right one to jump back into the series. This was a highly enjoyable book, and I had a hard time putting it down.
Sandford's protagonist, Lucas Davenport, has found himself in a new and exciting position. He has now been assigned to the U.S. Marshal's Service, as a special appointee. This move has allowed Sandford to move beyond the Minnesota area and expand the scope of Davenport's adventures.
Golden Prey's focus is on the robbery of a drug money counting operation, the people who stole the money, the cartel employee's trying to get the money back, and Davenport's team trying to apprehend them all. The novel moves across several states in the South, ending in the finale in Texas.
The novel moves along very fast, with action in every chapter. The characters are well developed. The action sequences are loads of fun. And the novel ends well, with enough of a teaser to keep readers coming back for the next one.
All in all, a great, fun read!

A New Career

Golden Prey - John Sandford

It's been several years since I have read one of Sandford's "Prey" novels. I'm happy to say that I picked the right one to jump back into the series. This was a highly enjoyable book, and I had a hard time putting it down.
Sandford's protagonist, Lucas Davenport, has found himself in a new and exciting position. He has now been assigned to the U.S. Marshal's Service, as a special appointee. This move has allowed Sandford to move beyond the Minnesota area and expand the scope of Davenport's adventures.
Golden Prey's focus is on the robbery of a drug money counting operation, the people who stole the money, the cartel employee's trying to get the money back, and Davenport's team trying to apprehend them all. The novel moves across several states in the South, ending in the finale in Texas.
The novel moves along very fast, with action in every chapter. The characters are well developed. The action sequences are loads of fun. And the novel ends well, with enough of a teaser to keep readers coming back for the next one.
All in all, a great, fun read!

Timely

New Americans - Geoffrey C Scott Harrison

A good resource for late middle school or early high school students. Very timely!  Explores the history of, and the pro's and con's of immigration to the United States. Very easily readable. Somewhat of a more liberal leaning bias, but all in all, a good text. I did find the number of, and placement of the numerous insets and dialogue boxes to be very confusing, detracting greatly from the flow of the book. 

Utter Hogwash!

— feeling bad smell
Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's Winning Strategy - Doug Wead

From the cover of the book, I expected it to be somewhat partisan. "The inside story of Hillary Clinton's failed campaign and Donald Trump's winning strategy". However, I was unprepared for what lay inside.
Wead not only completely and utterly lays the fault of everything from the fall of America to the crucifying of Christ at the hands of Clinton, he totally absolves Trump as the second coming of Christ himself. While utilizing great journalistic prose such as "the first lady ALLEGEDLY answered. The story was APPARENTLY corroborated by others". Granted, Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, with a huge trunk of baggage and an apparent dislike of the truth, but to have to embellish her story with the use of allegedly and apparently is the work of a jealous high schooler who has been thrown over for a prom date. It would have been so much more effective to just lay out the facts, and let the reader make up their own mind.
Wead takes just the opposite tack with Trump. Not a word of dissent was spoken against him. Instead, readers learn of Trump's conquering of his military school, his unquestionable belief in God, and his single-handed saving of New York City in the 1970's.
Not satisfied with merely trashing Clinton, Wead turns his eye on the "evil media". Such as "CNN covered the quote, but then added its own commentary; it couldn't trust the viewers to hear Trump without a filter". And, "But the major American media had already picked the winner and they weren't interested in narratives that might confuse their audience".
I honestly could not stomach the entire book. I made it through the first 40%, by holding my nose and trying to give it a fair read. Perhaps it is too soon to objectively look at the election as the battle between two deeply flawed candidates. Hopefully we will learn from this round and improve in the future.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review. I only wish it was possible to assign a negative number of stars.

Illuminating!

Crazy-Stressed: Saving Today's Overwhelmed Teens with Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience - Michael J. Bradley

Bradley has created a wonderful text on dealing with today's adolescents. It would be beneficial to any parent, teacher, or adult who has interactions with teenagers.
The author begins with an explanation of today's youth, and how the pressures they face today are much different than the ones we older folks dealt with. The main stress point today is social media, specifically cyberbullying. When I was a teenager, there were bullies, and cliques, and of course they were difficult to deal with. But only while at school, once out of school for the day I had not to deal with them any longer. Today's teens, thanks to all the social media platforms, have to deal with these factions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They never know when they are going to be slammed online. No wonder today's kids seem so exhausted! And this exhaustion plays into teens making bad decisions. Behavioral, schoolwork, sex, and on and on.
Bradley's solution is to not shelter teens from the bombardment. After all, how could we, there seems to be a new social media platform everyday. His solution is to teach kids resilience. How to absorb the hits and bounce back effectively. In time, teen brains mature enough to deal with these life stresses, but it takes time.
The author lays out seven strategies to teach resilience. And then goes in depth into how parents can help. The "do's and don'ts" of dealing with teens.
All in all, this is a very effective book. I lingered over it for a long time, as there is a lot of information inside, and I found it very engaging. I look forward to trying the ideas in my classroom.

Chasing Understanding In The Jungles of Vietnam: My Year as a Black Scarf - Douglas Beed

Beed has written a memoir of experiences that ten of thousands of young men in the late 60's lived through. Being drafted to fight in Vietnam, going there and doing his job, and returning to the U.S. a changed and damaged man. Experiencing hell, dealing with it, and pushing on. He tells his story through the eyes of an infantryman. And he tells it excellently, honestly, and openly. The training, the waiting, the boredom, the excitement, and the outright terror of the deployment. The incompetence of the "lifers". The return home, the anger, the drinking, the confusion, and ultimately, the conquering of the experiences.  While Beed experiences an amazing amount of combat, he never once "blows his own horn", instead he relates the experiences in a plain-spoken, yet vivid manner. The result is that the reader feels they are there with Beed. The same when he returns home, never boasting of his experiences, instead keeping them to himself. Yet the way he opens up in the end of the book, you have to marvel at the man, his strength, and of  the other men with similar experiences. Excellent book!

Fascinating!

Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumors - Zoë Howe

This is a re-release of a book from a few years ago. I received it from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
I have always been enthralled, "bewitched", and fascinated by Stevie Nicks. From the first time I listened to Fleetwood Mac in the mid-seventies until today. That voice. That music. And, later, when I would see concert clips of them on The Midnight Special and other shows, the pure enchantment of watching Stevie perform. And, later, to actually seeing them perform in concert in person. It would just fill me with a sense of wonder.
And the rumors. Of the drug use. Of the drama. Of the in-fighting. What to believe?
Well, it's pretty much all laid bare in this book. I found that I just could not put it down. And it left me, at age 57, still feeling the same way about Stevie Nicks as I did when I was a teenager. Fascinating!

Good Presentation of a Current Situation

Great Debates: Church & State - Geoffrey C. Harrison, Thomas F. Scott

This short (48 pages) book was written for a young audience, perhaps a high school student. It explores the relationship of "church and state" in the American governmental system, in a "debate" style format. The book is broken down into different chapters, each asking a question regarding the role of religion (or non-role) in American government. One example is: should there be limits to religious freedom in our society? Another is: should the government have power over religion? The authors do a good job of setting up the debate, starting with the beginnings of our country, and into what the founding members said or didn't say in developing the constitution. Each question is dealt with fairly and with balance, presenting both sides of the question. The only thing that I did not like in the book was the use of confusing graphics throughout. Perhaps, because this was an ebook, the graphics would be more useful in an actual printed book.
This book could be an important tool in our children's educational growth, especially today, with the current furor around immigration and religion. I would hope that parents would allow it to be used in the classroom, because it does provide an informed and thoughtful approach. Sadly, with the country so divided currently, I'm afraid that it would be shouted down by parents with their own agendas to push.

Daydreaming Of The Adventures

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons: A Journey to the Flora and Fauna of a Unique Island - Gerald Durrell

I really enjoy Durrell's books. Both for the adventures and the education he provides. This one was short, a very quick read. Written later in his life, it concentrates a bit more on the conservation aspects than his earlier works. I have to wonder what it would have been like to have accompanied him on his adventures. Just the thought will provide me with many hours of daydreaming!

Alas, Poor Cuthbert!

Three Singles to Adventure - Gerald Durrell

Durrell set out to British Guina in 1950 to obtain animals for zoos in Great Britain. He, and his fellow travelers, had what seemed like countless adventures in doing so. Durrell excels in describing the animals he was after, and in setting the scenes where they were found. Also the safekeeping and care of the animals he obtained. His exploits, no matter how dangerous, were written with a great humor. When you read the saga of poor Cuthbert, you cannot help but laugh.
This is an easy read, and moves along quickly. The only reservation that I have, and you really do have to discount it when you consider the era it was written in, is the somewhat assumed racial superiority of the author. Even with that being taken into account, it would be a great book for younger readers.

Scores: How I Opened the Hottest Strip Club in New York City, Was Extorted out of Millions by the Gambino Family, and Became One of the Most Successful Mafia Informants in FBI History - Michael  D. Blutrich

Scores is the story of Michael Blutrich, a successful New York attorney who opened one of the most famous "gentlemen's clubs" in the country. The real story, though, is how the Gambino crime family got it's hooks into the club, and how Blutrich was made an FBI informant to take down the mafia family.
I honestly could not stop reading this book. It was exciting, well written, and grabbed your attention right away. Blutrich's descriptions of his "adventure" made you feel afraid for him, yet somewhat disgusted by him, at the same time.
I won't get into the morality of a strip club. That's for someone else to decide. I just sat back and enjoyed the story.
This easily could have been a five-star review, except for one thing. Blutrich, in the beginning of the book, talks vaguely about his "Florida troubles". Throughout the book, as he goes deeper and deeper into his informant status, he mentions this many times, but never really gets into it. Finally, you determine that he is under indictment in Florida for some type of insurance fraud.
His agreement with the New York U.S. Attorney's and the FBI is that if he keeps informing on the Gambino's (and others), he will get a substantial sentence reduction. And informing he does, very effectively. And it looks like things are going to go his way.
BUT, the Florida U.S. Attorney's are not going for this agreement, as Blutrich goes on and on about. According to him, the prosecuting attorney and judge in Florida are unfairly against him. They go out of their way to inflict unnecessary harm on him, based mostly on jealousy. Blutrich ends up serving WAY more time than he thought, all because of this one U.S. Attorney and Judge. You are left feeling that he has really been screwed over by the system.
So I did a little digging, researching the book a little further. Turns out, his little insurance fraud case in Florida was actually a MUCH bigger deal than he let on. According to a 60 Minutes profile, what actually happened was that Blutrich opened Scores with money he stole from a large life insurance company in Florida. The money he stole left nearly 26,000 elderly policy holders bilked out of their life savings. The theft totalled $440 million dollars, one of the biggest white collar crimes in U.S. history. Aha! So maybe that's why the U.S. Attorney's in Florida were being so hard headed! Sure, he testified against the mob, and that's great, but in reality there was no nobel purpose, he did it only to save his own skin in Florida. He goes on and on about how unfairly he was treated, how he was promised almost no prison time yet ended up serving 13 years. What he doesn't tell you in the book was that his codefendant in the Florida case was treated much more harshly, ending up being sentenced to 845 years! So Blutrich really did get a big break.
Blutrich's complaining and crying at the end of the book really kind of spoil what would have been an outstanding story.