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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
At the crux of this tale of incarceration is a cross-examination of social inequalities in race and gender. Penitentiary Tales: A Love Story by EA Luetkemeyer presents Dean Davis, an educated white male doing time for dealing marijuana. In an ethnically diverse penitentiary, Dean discovers that prison may well be hell on earth, as he has to watch his back for gangs, extortion, and harassment. How a highly literate convict manages to survive makes for a brilliant depiction of how the human spirit can triumph under the most adverse conditions. Dean has made enemies, but also made friendships. Along the way, he has touched lives. In return, he learns fortitude.
This book raises a high note in depicting imprisonment as a vital organizing principle in stirring an in-depth assessment of the naked realities of oppression and marginalization. Luetkemeyer continues that tradition of using prison literature as an important and influential literary sphere. The chapters in Penitentiary Tales discuss not only explicit expositions that delve into the dark side of human behavior but also the pervasive maneuvers of how prisoners, in their oppressed and unheard voices, appropriate prison as an extension of their turf and establish their dominance. Against this backdrop, Luetkemeyer remains optimistic, with a Pandora’s Box style ending wherein hope is not lost for his main protagonist, and that love can spring forth in the cruelest environment if we give it a chance. He may have chosen to write about prison life in the hopes of creating a significant impact in a setting that hardens criminals but softens our hearts to miracles.