Mike Tyson Slept Here by Chris Huntington, Boaz Publishing Co., 2011,202 pp.
When I first read the title of Chris Huntington's novel, Mike Tyson Slept Here, I immediately began reminiscing about my celebrity "guest" in the 1990s, James Brown of "I Feel Good" fame. I'm relatively certain that my reaction would be the same for many corrections professionals; many people of note have "spent time" with us regardless of their socioeconomic status. Chris Huntington, winner of the third Fabri Literacy Prize for this novel, has spent almost 10 years working for the Indiana Department of Correction. He notes that most of his adult writing falls into one of two categories--his experiences in prison and his experiences of adoption and fatherhood.
May has arrived, and 22-year-old Brant Gilmour, recently graduated from college, takes a job teaching GED classes at Plainfield Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison outside Indianapolis housing nonviolent offenders to include drug dealers, housebreakers and sex offenders. Other characters include: Isa Boone, another teacher with whom Gilmour has a relationship; Officer Englehart, who is eventually terminated for trafficking; Marie Simmons, a nurse who is sued for giving the wrong dosage of medicine to the wrong inmate; John Winston, another correctional officer; and, of course, the offenders. A few "free world" people are also included, but their stories all connect with the prison and with Gilmour.
While this novel mainly follows the protagonist and his experiences while working in a prison, it is also interspersed with stories of other people within or connected to the prison system, and snippets of overheard conversations. One has to read carefully to later understand the relevance of each story or conversation and how it connects to the protagonist--who starts out as Gilmour but turns into the criminal justice system and its impact on not only those who work for the system, but also people in general. This book has appeal for all corrections professionals because it portrays the good, the bad and the ugly. Huntington makes it easy for readers to identify with the prison system and acknowledges that corrections professionals' experiences can be both positive and negative. His novel can serve as a reality check for the field. The general public will also find the novel fascinating, as most people really have little knowledge of the world of corrections professionals.
Huntington gives readers an insightful view inside the fence and inside the people who work/live there. He reminds us that we need to keep our professional and personal priorities straight and to know who we are inside. As Englehart, the officer in the book who was terminated for trafficking observed, "[If] you're in the barber shop long enough, sooner or later you're going to get a haircut." While the novel is entertaining, it also tells a poignant story to both corrections professionals and the general public.
Judy C. Anderson is a warden at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution.