Julia Alvarez writes a very cleverly crafted novel about a female poet who captured the heart and mind of a nation, and her daughter's mission to carr...moreJulia Alvarez writes a very cleverly crafted novel about a female poet who captured the heart and mind of a nation, and her daughter's mission to carry on her mother's legacy. All of Alvarez's books I have read so far have had remarkable female characters of color that transcends the traditional role of female characters in literature. She also proves that the saying "the pen is mightier than the sword" is true in this gem entitled "In the Name of Salome."(less)
There is a saying that if a person commits a crime, then he or she should do the time. However, what if the punishment is more severe than the crime o...moreThere is a saying that if a person commits a crime, then he or she should do the time. However, what if the punishment is more severe than the crime or what if the person who is charged with a crime never committed it to begin with?
In his new book “Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag,” Ivan Goldman explores the issues of a broken American criminal justice system and offers pragmatic solutions for the ever-increasing prison population in the United States.
“Imagine the entire city of Houston, every man, woman and child, 2.3 million people behind bars,” Goldman said. “Houston is the country’s fourth largest city. The U.S. has by far more prisoners than any other nation on the planet, and more prisoners per capita too, more than any vile dictatorships around the world. We’re a dramatically punitive society with outlandishly punitive institutions, and yet most of us aren’t terribly aware of it.”
The Rancho Palos Verdes author added that most of the prisoners are not dangerous, that they either have substance abuse problems, mental health problems or both.
“If they are also poor, which most of them are, getting them into treatment facilities is practically impossible, like trying to get someone into astronaut school,” Goldman said. “But we always have jail cells waiting and that’s no accident. We have a huge prison industrial complex whose operators profit from this system, and legislators writing our statutes hand out years like they’re tossing around Frisbees.”
What effect does a stringent, and at times irrational, sentencing have on a person who has committed a low-level crime?
“Low-level offenders get thrown into lockups with psychopaths and learn to solve problems with violence,” Goldman said. “We’re manufacturing new hardened criminals.”
In the first paragraph of the book, the reader is introduced to Brenda Valencia, who, at the age of 19, was sentenced to prison for 12 years and seven months for giving her roommate’s stepmother, a cocaine dealer, a ride to the home of another dealer.
While it wasn’t known how much time the actual dealers received, Valencia, who had no history of drug use or criminal behavior, received the mandatory minimum for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“That’s the first thing my lawyer told me,” she recalls in an interview with Goldman, “the mandatory minimum, that I couldn’t get less than twelve years, seven months. I knew I deserved punishment for being stupid. But twelve years, seven months! I couldn’t believe it. I tried to tell them, ‘Look at my bank account. I’m not a drug dealer. I’m a student, just a regular person.’”
Valencia, who is now a counselor and a mother, is one of many wrongly confined prisoners Goldman uses to illustrate severe flaws in the American criminal justice system. These are not just occasional oversights or mistakes.
“We all know about it when celebrities like O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake buy themselves out of murder convictions, but almost no one knows about Atiba Parker who is doing 42 years in Mississippi for selling less than three grams of crack to a police informant,” Goldman said.
He added that most prosecutors are honest, but there are cases across the country, including in California, in which some were caught framing defendants by throwing away evidence proving their innocence or persuading witnesses to lie.
“They’ve even filed motions to keep convicts locked up after DNA proved their innocence,” Goldman said. “I couldn’t find a single instance where one of these out-of-control prosecutors was charged with a crime.”
Goldman, who has worked for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, said that he was inspired to write “Sick Justice” after witnessing an incident in a courtroom that seemed to be out of the ordinary.
“Ninety-five percent of cases end in plea bargains, so when you watch hearings, you never really know what’s going on. Most of the important stuff happens behind closed doors. So I was in a Torrance courtroom when a judge sentenced a defendant to two years for a crime that wasn’t named, but the prosecutor told the judge it was ‘nothing serious.’”
“If it wasn’t serious, why send him to prison?” said Goldman. “There are alternatives, but the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney were so used to doing what they were doing that they thought the irrational system was normal.”
Regardless of whether a person thinks the criminal justice system is flawed or it works fine, “Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag” is a must-read for anyone who wants insight into how it functions.
Goldman makes the case that some governmental techniques of reducing crime such as the “war on drugs” has had an adverse effect on our society and is the reason for the exponential prison population and crime over the last several decades.
“Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag” is available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and many bookstores, including the Book Frog in the Promenade on the Peninsula, which promises to order new copies if it runs out. (less)
Leonard Hastings has a secret that he's never shared with anyone until he met Ruth Canby on a chance encounter, or perhaps it was destiny.
Hasting's se...moreLeonard Hastings has a secret that he's never shared with anyone until he met Ruth Canby on a chance encounter, or perhaps it was destiny.
Hasting's secret is that he has been granted eternal youth, and he has roamed the earth for 4,000 years, trying to figure out how he became so fortunate, or if it was just some cruel joke played on him by a higher being.
In Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel "Isaac: A Modern Fable," Lenny, who is actually Isaac from the biblical accounts in Genesis, spends most of this fascinating story balancing the meaning of his longevity, his feelings for Ruth and trying to escape “the beast,” which he believes holds the answers to his everlasting existence.
The driving force behind Isaac’s roller-coaster of emotions throughout the book stems from the incident that took place between him and his father Abraham long ago in which his father offered him as a sacrifice to God.
“It has been in the back of my mind for a while, and if you look at the story of Isaac, one would say it is a confusing story,” Goldman said. “Why are we supposed to honor Abraham for his willingness to slay his son? Now, in modern times, if a father dragged his son up to a mountaintop and was going to kill him, a police officer might shoot him.”
Isaac’s love interest, Ruth, a brilliant philosopher, also went through a traumatic experience at a young age; her mother abandoned her at a carnival when she was two years old.
“You’ll find very early in the novel that Ruth was left at a carnival, and was a foundling,” the Palos Verdes author said. “I came across the true story in a newspaper, but it was a boy instead of a girl who grew up to tell his story. This became my other main character. I liken it to what’s worse, drowning the puppy or throwing the puppy out of the car in the middle of the dessert? Both are pretty bad, they both have parenting problems and they find each other.”
Within the first few pages of the book, Isaac and Ruth meet under ominous circumstances as Ruth has just had a very public disastrous first date with a guy she met over the Internet. Lenny witnesses Ruth’s hellacious date play out, and rushes to comfort her.
“Isaac isn’t the kind of guy who lies on the couch and watches television,” Goldman, who was a general reporter for the Washington Post and Kansas City Star, said. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t have survived all these years. He engages live. He goes out and observes life.”
In some ways, Isaac’s observation about life is a self-reflection about his own existence until he meets Ruth, who had brought him delight albeit temporary.
“If it endured, it wouldn’t feel like delight anymore,” Goldman writes. “Yet this time the misery felt particularly pointless, like waiting for a wound to heal, open up again, heal and reopen in an endless cycle without meaning or purpose. Pleasure ought to be more than just relief from pain.”
Although having eternal life seems like a gift, outliving the people who have come into Isaac’s life over the years only to lose them a short time later to the natural process of death makes that gift seem like a curse. However, he senses, perhaps from the beginning, that Ruth just might be more than a temporary thing, which is why he chooses to reveal her secret to her.
One other character who has an influence on the way Isaac behaves throughout the story, which is the Beast, and he has been the only constant presence over the course of Isaac’s life.
“The Beast is someone that Isaac comes upon from time to time over the course of 4,000 years and he always looks different, but Isaac knows who he is; he’s a mysterious character and always frightening,” Goldman said. “Isaac has two pieces of evidence that a god exist; the Beast and himself because there is something supernatural about a man who never ages.”
“Isaac: A Modern Fable” is a craftily woven tale about the power of love, sacrifice and chance. This dialogue-driven multi-layered story is Goldman’s fifth book and fourth novel. His work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone, Columbia Journalism Review, Utne Reader, The Ring, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
“Issac: A Modern Fable” is available on amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. For more information about the author and the book, visit redroom.com/member/ivan-g-goldman.
In "Sula," Toni Morrison tells an honest, sometimes troubling story about two friends growing into womanhood in a small town in Ohio and learning how...moreIn "Sula," Toni Morrison tells an honest, sometimes troubling story about two friends growing into womanhood in a small town in Ohio and learning how to cope in a male-dominated and prejudiced world together. Sula, the title character, represents the woman who bucks the predominately white authoritative patriarchal society, while her friend Nel, represents the traditional submissive role of the woman. In addition to gender, Morrison paints a vivid and disturbing picture of race relations in America during the early part of the 20th century. In a passage where a white bargeman discovers the body of Chicken Little, a young black boy who accidentally tumbles into a river and drowns, the apathetic bargeman only seems to be concerned with keeping his time schedule. As a result, he tosses the entangled body over the side of his boat as if it was a fish and sends the body back to its family a couple of days later. Although Sula is billed as a heroine, her actions throughout the novel illustrates that she is more of a tragic heroine or can maybe even be considered a villain, who, in the end, gets what she deserves. Morrison writes an intriguing story about two women living a life they did not choose, but each one making the most of it by the choices they make. However, this reader had a tendency to get a little confused with the abrupt introduction of a few minor characters without any back story. Also, the sometimes long-winded voice of consciousness got in the way of the plot development. (less)