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.