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You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover



What is prison like

As I have in the past, I will post excerpts from my prison memoir, Prisonpath. The stories are about the inmates and correctional officers that I encountered during my fifteen months in state prison.

1/19/11 — You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

You wouldn’t notice him on the walks to the chow hall. He was about fifty years old and thin, with a gray beard and dark sad eyes. I had met him through another inmate. Other than meals, he would only go out of his cell for a shower. He remained very quiet during those times. I learned from our mutual acquaintance that he loved to read.

I spoke to him one day and started lending him books. His literary appetite was voracious. Historical fiction, mystery, literary classics, he consumed all of them. He spoke in a soft voice was always thoughtful in his conversations. One day at lunch, there was a discussion about his past and I couldn’t help myself. I asked what he was in for, “I robbed a bank,” and he looked at me.

My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open at this gentle man’s admission. He used a note to rob a bank and walked away with $1200. He was never apprehended by the police. The crime went unsolved. Two years before I met him, he was living in Portland, Oregon, where he joined a group which helped “lost souls.” He realized that he had to change his life and, “atone for his wrongs.” Ten years before that, he was a married man with kids and a small successful business that grossed $250,000. The marriage fell apart. He became an alcoholic with chronic depression. Over the next few years, after having lost his wife, he lost everything else.

After a number of meetings with this group; he decided to take back his life. The year before I met him, he contacted the police in Maryland. Needless to say, they were shocked, since the trail had gone cold. The judge was lenient and imposed a sentence of four years; two would be served before any possible chance of parole. The judge also sentenced another bank robber the same day to fifteen years in prison. I asked him if he still would have turned himself in after experiencing life as an inmate. “Sometimes, I have second thoughts,” he replied, “… but yes — a man needs to be able to live with himself. Yes. I would still have turned myself in to the police.”

By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of