E.A. Bucchianeri's Reviews > A Priest in Hell: Gangs, Murderers, and Snitching in a California Jail

A Priest in Hell by Randall Radic
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's review
May 17, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, autobiography, history, modern-history, criminals-and-bad-boys

Discouraged and disillusioned, having to constantly make ends meet in a struggling parish, the author, a former pastor in northern California, is finally overcome by the temptation to experience the lifestyle of the wealthy, eat the finest foods, drive the most luxuriant cars, have the best of everything. A wild plan was hatched to sell the rectory provided by the church, and then sell the church itself ala the great Brooklyn Bridge scams of the 19th-century. The crime was eventually uncovered when the bank grew suspicious of the unusual deposits. Consequently the author found himself stripped of everything, staring at four empty walls of a jail cell charged with ten felonies. Describing his thoughts as he entered a cell for the first time Radic writes:

"I have nothing left. No energy, no thoughts, no possessions, no food, no personal items, no cup to drink from. No job, no house, no car, no money, no one I love. No book to read, no paper to write on, no pencil. All I have is the orange clothing I wear, and it is not even mine."

The author recounts his journey through the jail system while awaiting his hearing. Thrown into this alien environment he must learn quickly how to survive. He must discover some way to get along with his fellow inmates and find out who not to "hang-out" with, particularly the violent "gangbangers" and sex offenders. The jail-house lingo, with bizarre codenames such as "dog", "Surenos", "OG's", "chomos", "firebug", becomes his new mode of communication. A code of "etiquette" must be observed. Jailhouse currency becomes tobacco, soup packs, and candy bars. The author leaves nothing to the imagination when describing his day-to-day experiences. When he finds himself associating "Jail" with "Home", he realises the time has come to get out of this situation, but how?

An opportunity is presented when a violent sex offender, Roy Gerald Smith, brags about one of his crimes, the murder of his latest victim. Smith also reveals his determination to 'take care of' (eliminate!) a certain co-worker who is a witness to the crime, fully confident no one in jail would break the sacrosanct "Code of Silence"--snitches are not tolerated, snitches do not last long in jail. Armed with all the vital information concerning Smith, our author is faced with a choice, should he remain silent and ride out the last few months in jail, or snitch to make a plea bargain for an early release? If he snitched, he could also prevent the murder of Smith's co-worker, yet risk his own life in the process.

This biography of jail-life delivers as promised, giving the reader a true taste of an inmate's experience: jail is not a pretty place. This a gut-wrenching, realistic account of the sights, sounds, smells and environs of a California jail, complete with the favourite expletives used by the prisoners. If you wish to learn what a few months of incarceration is like and the calibre of people you can expect to encounter, this book is an eye-opener to a facet of life that most of us should hope to never experience.

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