A Grip of Time

A Grip of Time

When Prison Is Your Life
Lauren Kessler
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/25/2019
ISBN: 978-1-68435-080-3
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A Grip of Time (prison slang for a very long sentence behind bars) takes readers into a world most know little about—a maximum-security prison—and into the minds and hearts of the men who live there. These men, who are serving out life sentences for aggravated murder, join a fledgling Lifers' Writing Group started by award-winning author Lauren Kessler. Over the course of three years, meeting twice a month, the men reveal more and more about themselves, their pasts, and the alternating drama and tedium of their incarcerated lives. As they struggle with the weight of their guilt and wonder if they should hope for a future outside prison walls, Kessler struggles with the fiercely competing ideas of rehabilitation and punishment, forgiveness and blame that are at the heart of the American penal system. Gripping, intense, and heartfelt, A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life shows what a lifetime with no hope of release looks like up-close.

Author Bio

Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author and (semi-) fearless immersion reporter who combines lively narrative with deep research. She has explored everything from the gritty world of a maximum-security prison to the grueling world of professional ballet. She is the author of ten works of narrative nonfiction, including Raising the Barre; Clever Girl; and The Happy Bottom Riding Club. Her books have been BookSense selections, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, Wall Street Journal and People magazine "best" selections, Pacific Northwest Book Award winners, and Oregon Book Award winners.

Her journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O Magazine, salon.com, Utne Reader, the Nation, newsweek.com, Prevention, Ladies Home Journal, and elsewhere. Kessler is an international speaker and workshop leader.

She founded a writers' group for inmates of a maximum-security prison, teaches storytelling for social change to nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad, and works with traditional journalists who want to hone their storytelling skills. She blogs at www.laurenchronicles.com about living an engaged life. She lives in Oregon.


“I have long admired Lauren Kessler. Her latest book, A Grip of Time, evinces unflinching sympathy for the incarcerated who would lift and transform themselves through writing their stories.”
 — Ted Conover, author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

A Grip of Time is a beautiful, tender-hearted story of a group of prisoners for whom writing became their lifeline. Lauren Kessler avoids all the usual tropes in writing about prison, and has written a keenly observed and deeply felt narrative about what it means to be locked up for life. This book, so original and so compelling, took hold of me, and wouldn't let me go. It was revelatory.”
 — Alex Kotlowitz, bestselling author of There Are No Children Here

“What happens when hope is gone? A Grip of Time is the true-life story of a group of men sentenced to life in prison. They have gathered in a writing group, telling stories no one will ever hear. With a clear eye, Lauren Kessler writes of their journey—and her own. This is a devastating examination of guilt and remorse, of the unanswered questions of a nation that has pursued mass incarceration without even asking what justice means, or should be. Erased, vanished, haunted: this is a story not just about American prisoners, but of our country's moral code.”
 — Rene Denfeld, internationally bestselling author of The Child Finder

“With A Grip of Time, Lauren Kessler takes us on a compelling, intensely personal journey into the rarely glimpsed end point of our justice system. Through the lives and poignant stories of lifers, Kessler reveals the insidious truth behind America’s world-record mass incarceration: The system is not, as many believe, failing at its job. It's doing exactly what it was designed to do—dehumanize inmates and leave them ill-equipped to rejoin society. What dignity, meaning, and success these lifers achieve come despite the system’s design.”
 — Edward Humes, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t

“The book provides insight into life inside a maximum-security prison while illuminating the benefits of the craft of writing. . . . This compassionate account reveals a bit of what life is like inside prison, and a bit about how writing can forge connections among vastly different people.”
 — Publishers Weekly

“Kessler gives a pulsing heart and a human face to this portion of the population all too often forgotten outside the walls. An incisive, welcome look at prison life in the U.S.”
 — Kirkus Reviews

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