Steinberg recounts stories of the inmates personal lives as well as their prison lives and does a fairly good job of remaining objective. When he finds himself not being objective, he talks about his feelings and it becomes a part of the story he is telling.
In this book we learn a new definition for the word 'kite'. What we learn is that it is not something one flies, but rather it is a note to a friend, or a poem or love letter one leaves in a library book for your girl over in the woman's prison. Steinberg and the prison guards regularly searched for kites as the library was not supposed to be a place where secret communications took place amongst prisoners. Steinberg took a more lenient view on the kites however and when he found one that he thought was innocent enough, he would leave it for the intended person to find. In fact, after visiting the prison 'museum' which wasn't really a museum at all, just boxed up memos and other items from the past; Steinberg decided to memorialize some of the kites he found by creating a book of them which he kept in his office.
Steinberg tells the story of Chudney, a frequent visitor of the library who dreamed of being a TV chef when he got out of prison. And then continued on with Chudney story by telling how he broke all of the prison rules by going to Chudney's funeral after he'd gotten out and by taking a kite that he knew Chudney'd written and deliverying it to Chudney's mother at her home. While the kite wasn't written to his mother, Steinberg felt that Chudney's mother would appreciate what he had written.
The author was raised by Orthadox Jews and the stories of his life and the struggles he had leaving his religion are intermingled with the stories of prison life and add a poignancy to this book. These stories also add some mirth as he tells stories on himself of being a diminutive Jew amongst some rather burly prisoners.
While this book won't leave you with any profound truth about the rightness or wrongness of prison, (frankly, I don't think that was the intent of the author, or the book) it is a very good read and it does leave you with the feeling that there is underneath everyone some good - it just has to be found like the kites in the prison library.
Rating: 7 / 10
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Year Published: 2010
Edition: 1st / 1st Printing