Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett” as Want to Read:
Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  383 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Life on the Outside tells the story of Elaine Bartlett, who spent sixteen years in Bedford Hills prison for selling cocaine--a first offense--under New York's Rockefeller drug laws. The book opens on the morning of January 26, 2000, when Bartlett is set free and returns to New York City. At 42, she has virtually nothing: no money, no job, no real home.

All she does have is
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Picador (first published March 15th 2004)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Life on the Outside, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Life on the Outside

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 811)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I'm so happy that I read this book. I think that it is a must, especially for people who work with offenders/ex-offenders after prison. This book has potential to generate a lot of understanding on the parts of people who were never in prison. I learned a lot from this book- about life after prison, about the drug laws that have been devastating our society in unspoken, unacknowledged ways. This is definitely applicable if you're into sociology, criminology or drug laws.
All I can say is, wow! In an age when society has begun to assume that the victim is always to blame here comes a raw, emotional journey that will make one take pause concerning the war on drugs and who really pays the ultimate price.

What does society owe to another individual? Do they owe anything at all? How has the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York State affected millions? How many realize that the real victims are the children and family left behind that tend to spiral in a never ending sea
This book was fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Elaine Bartlett was a 26 year old mother of 4 on welfare. A friend of hers -- who was an international drug smuggler, though she did not know this -- offered her $2500 if she would carry 4 oz of cocaine in a package to upstate NY on the train, where he had buyers. Elaine agreed to do this, and her boyfriend Nathan went along with her, just to protect her.

They arrived in Albany, went to the motel to drop off the package, and dozed off on
Kathleen Hulser
Impact of Rockefeller drug laws through the eyes of a prisoner slapped with a sentence of 20 years for a first time marijuana offense, setup by a police informant who was a major dealer criminal himself. Reveals the strange, skewed criminal justice system, the effects on one person, and the way in which system punishes family and children, over and over again. Gonnerman implicitly raises the question that sensible people must be asking themselves: how is it that the US can feel ok about looking ...more
In the past two months I've read Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the second time in my life and both of these books are powerful and should certainly leave any human being with a heart to feel compassion for what they suffered. What happened then was wrong but what is happening today is equally tragic but the blame is not on someone else but rather the person themselves.

Having grown up in NYC during the time when this book begins, having lived in similar circumstances and having come from a sing
The Urban Book Source
Unlike most prison stories which chronicle the lives of men caught in the system, Life on the Outside, sketches the life of Elaine Bartlett, a mother of four and victim of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Jennifer Gonnerman, a Village Voice staff writer, draws an amazing picture of the hardships and suffering women face when they try to weave their way back into society after a long prison term without any training or support. Unmatched by any other book, Life on the Outside will give readers a glimps ...more
This book was well written, and painstakingly researched. I really feel for these people who are sent to prison under "get tough on drug crime" legislation, that allows cops to raise their arrest stats, prosecutors to become judges, and judges to become senators, and lets senators get re-elected -- all the while ensuring the cycle of crime and poverty continues, and everyone continues to make their money off the misery of the drug trade. As one wise man said, "carry a gun or briefcase, it's all ...more
Tina Parsons
All I can say is, wow! In an age when society has begun to assume that the victim is always to blame here comes a raw, emotional journey that will make one take pause concerning the war on drugs and who really pays the ultimate price.

What does society owe to another individual? Do they owe anything at all? How has the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York State affected millions? How many realize that the real victims are the children and family left behind that tend to spiral in a never ending sea
This was another book I read for a class. I probably would give it 3.5 stars. It was a very enlightening book about what it is like to be set up in a drug deal and how the Rockefeller drug laws in New York have ruined the lives of Elaine Bartlett and her family. Mandatory sentencing for drug offenses have multiplied the prison population to ridiculous degrees, and also caused millions to be spent on building new prisons. Elaine Bartlett was imprisoned for 20 years to life for a first offense dru ...more
While this book starts out a little too journalist-formula for my taste, and the narrator inside character's heads makes me uncomfortable, I was still hooked by the first 20 pages. This is the first book I've read in a while that made me put the rest of my life on hold so I could get to the next chapter. Many of the chapters end suspensefully, although suspense is not quite the reason I was captivated (most readers will have a pretty good idea of the story arc before beginning the book). Instead ...more
Apr 27, 2015 Becky rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: casa
Reads like a novel ... I appreciated the author's insights into what it's like to leave prison and try to pick up where you left off, especially how children of the newly released react. Elaine Bartlett is a strong woman.
Jul 28, 2008 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Kathryn, Lori
Recommended to Laura by: Martin
Well researched and fine writing. Provides a very in-depth look at one woman's experience after being tried and convicted under the Rockefeller drug laws and the long-term effects of incarceration upon family structures. While I recognize the author's need to focus on the aspect of Elaine's experience as a learning lesson, I do feel the book falls short when it comes to discussing larger policy implications and providing a sociological look at the myriad of factors keeping this family, and many ...more
Melissa B
A book I couldn't put down. A book that touched my heart, brought tears to my eyes, and swarms of thoughts about how our justice system is failing; leaving me wondering if it could ever change or how we could make it change. A book about cycles of life, where for some people no matter how hard you try to get ahead, it doesn't come easy or at all.
Every criminology student should read this. This book demonstrates theories so well you will start to understand how the theories may have been formula
Presents honest, realistic picture of what it means to return home from prison if you are a poor inner city minority.
Dec 22, 2010 Amber rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in criminal justice, criminology, race issues, equality issues, etc.
Recommended to Amber by: Criminology class
This was required reading for a "Criminology" class, and I have to say that I quite enjoyed it -- Perhaps because I am strangely fascinated by both the human condition and our (often flawed) criminal justice system. Although I would have loved reading more about Elaine's life while still actually in prison, I love that this book describes her struggles once she was released. It is very revealing, and allows us to reflect on a 16+ year punishment for a first-time (set-up) drug offense. The effect ...more
Such a good piece of journalism! The whole situation seems so bleak.
Had to read it for my criminology class...
didn't get all the way through it, but it was a lot of technical details. Not a very much story like book, more for information on how life is for people who are/get involved with crime, and how justice/injustice takes place in our criminal justice system. Informative, yet a little dragging.
This is a massive amount of work. Essential reading for why sending small time drug criminals to prision is a really bad idea. Also interesting to me as a sort of anthropoligical sense of a different culture and class in america. Helps me understand more where people of different social strata might be coming from.
Jeston Heath
I really enjoyed this book. It showed me a different side to the prison system that people never really think about. I had never considered how extensive peoples lives are effected by serving prison time. Even once they get out they are still influenced becasue of it. This book illuminated that fact.
Courtney Ali
I thought this book was really interesting. I learned a lot about the extreme difficulties of post-prison life. The author made this very easy to read and it was a quick read. I was amazed that none of the names were disguised as well. I wonder how Elaine is doing now, six years later.
Found this interesting book while wandering the biography section at the library. An interesting story as to how one wrong decision can affect your entire life. Elaine Bartlett, the subject of the biography, had a tough row to hoe, but she is making it and I had to cheer for her.
This book is great! It outlines Elaine Barlett's journey in prison, and after prison. She realizes that life outside of prison is not as great as she thought it would be and she struggles a lot. Her children don't recognize her as a mother, and she has trouble finding a job.

One woman's struggle in post-prison life. This book examines the questionable ideologies behind the New York drug laws. Jennifer Gonnerman highlights racial and economic discrimination saturating American politics. A poignant and disturbing view of our government.
You can tell it's written by a reporter -- I mean that in a good and bad way -- but the story is very moving. We all know a productive life is almost impossible for those who have done time in prison and this book shows it clearly.
This book is well researched and written by Jennifer Gonnerman, one of the best writer from The Village Voice. It explores the prison and re-entry experience of Elaine Bartlett and shows the ineffectiveness of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
This book got me hooked on the criminal justice system. I actually changed my career because of it. It is filled with great data, heart warming stories, and illuminating reality.
I read this back in 2008 and I still think about Elaine. One of the first books I read that introduced me to the very corrupt and skewed prison system we have in America.
Ann Moore
Real world insights. Sad,thought-provoking. Makes you wish there was something you could do to change our current system of locking people up for drug use.
Megan Corrigan
Dec 04, 2009 Megan Corrigan is currently reading it
A story about a woman who is unfairly sent to prison for drug dealing, and her experience with the system. Definitely recommend for the feminist book club!
Very good, but to make an absolutely arbitrary and unfair comparison, Random Family is better by a mile.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 27 28 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Coralville Librar...: Life on the Outside 1 2 Jan 11, 2012 12:13PM  
  • Inside Rikers: Stories from the World's Largest Penal Colony
  • Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
  • Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office
  • A Life Worth Living: A Doctor's Reflections on Illness in a High-Tech Era
  • You Got Nothing Coming: Notes From a Prison Fish
  • No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare
  • Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town
  • Island Practice: Cobblestone Rash, Underground Tom, and Other Adventures of a Nantucket Doctor
  • The Run of His Life : The People versus O. J. Simpson
  • The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions
  • Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire
  • A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars
  • Lost Decency, the Untold Afghan Story
  • The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care
  • Somebody's Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa
  • Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage
  • American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood
Jennifer Gonnerman joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2015. She came to the magazine from New York magazine, where she was a contributing editor for seven years. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Village Voice. Her journalism has received numerous prizes, including a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Her first piece for The New Yorker, “Before the Law,” about a teen-ager who ...more
More about Jennifer Gonnerman...

Share This Book