Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
(St. Martin’s Press)
Jeff Smith tells of his experience - and calls for change - after spending nearly a year in federal prison.
Author: Jeff Smith
Reader Appeal: Parents and Teens
I read an article recently in Reader’s Digest that was an excerpt of Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, and I thought, “Hm. Maybe I should read this book.” I’d enjoyed Piper Kerman’s prison memoir, Orange is the New Black, and I wondered if Smith’s book might be similar to that one.
I enjoyed reading about Jeff Smith’s experiences in Mr. Smith Goes to Prison—but found that it wasn’t really like Kernan’s book. It was about one-third memoir, telling Smith’s experience when he went to jail for obstruction of justice after lying about campaign contributions. (He was sentenced to a year and a day, and ended up serving about ten months.) The bulk of his book, though, offers Smith’s commentary and research on how to reshape and reform the prison system.
I found Jeff Smith’s stories to be especially interesting. For instance, his tales of trying to make friends (and stay alive) in prison are sometimes fascinating. Also, his little detour to explain how electronic bracelets for house-arrest prisoners were invented is kind of cool. (Spoiler: It was inspired by a Spider-Man comic!)
Smith’s findings about the many problems with the current prison system are also relevant and interesting, but perhaps belabored. Clearly the broken system needs change, and Smith uses his own experiences in prison to highlight the kinds of changes he’s lobbying for—but sometimes I didn’t really want to be lobbied; I just wanted to get to know him better through the pages of his book.
Still, parents and teens alike should find this an interesting read. There are some difficult situations in this book, and (no surprise) plenty of profanity, but I never felt like Smith sensationalized anything. He just told his story, warts and all. For thoughtful teens and parents, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison offers plenty of opportunity to discuss values, society, and how small acts can have big consequences.
Let's Talk About It
If your family members are interested in this book, then encourage discussion about it afterward. You can use these questions to get started:
• What was your impression after reading Mr. Smith Goes to Prison?
• What surprised you in this book? What didn’t? Explain.
• What do you think about prison sentencing guidelines? What do you think would be fair punishments for different kinds of crimes? Explain.
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