Jamie Morgan Kane was born into unfortunate circumstances on the Isle of Man. His father is absent and his mother forever on the move as she couldn’t afford rent. At around age four they take off for Arizona, where he lives illegally in America for many more years, under a new name. As his mother takes off and leaves him with random people more frequently, there is a lack of stability and you can feel the real vulnerability of this child and the potential future available to him. He eventually gets brought into a violent family and begins school a few years too late. He performs well and afterwards joins up to the US Air Force where he saw action in Vietnam. He then marries and quickly divorces after having a son. He marries again, has another son, and runs a motorbike repair garage. One night he gets home to discover a dead body, which his wife says happened accidentally. Jamie is asked to remove the body, which he leaves outside in an easily found place with his phone number in the pocket.

The story really starts when, despite all the evidence being against him, Jamie pleads guilty in order to support his wife and children, and so begins his 34 years in the American prison system. Wanting to keep his head down and work through his time, he explains how the different institutions are run, how prisoners sort out their pecking order and how he survived going through such horrendous conditions for so many years and meeting some notorious inmates.

The story is told well, factually rather than emotionally, and it gives a first-hand insight into American justice and their penal system. Despite his poor start to life, PTSD and many other sad events that befall him, this story is essentially uplifting to finish and I couldn’t help warming to him and wanting the best for him. He strikes me as a good person who had a difficult deal from life, who deserves to tell his story under his proper name. It’s also great to hear about the valuable relationship of penpals and how hard charities will fight with little resources to try and make a difference.

This book was a quick read for me that gave me lots of new insight into a subject I thought I knew well from television. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in life in prisons and how the justice system works, or doesn’t.

Helen Corton 4/4

34 Years in Hell by Jamie Morgan Kane
Mirror Books 9781912624560 pbk Jun 2019