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Reviewed by Lorraine Cobcroft for Readers' Favorite
Karen Gedney's 30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor is the true story of a female doctor’s thirty years of service to the United States Corrections System, serving as the prison doctor in a male prison. That she accepted the challenge in the first place, as a young graduate, is surprising. That she continued after being the victim of a violent crime is astonishing. That she remained in the post for thirty years is nothing short of awesome. Her story is one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking tales I have read in a very long time. Karen Gedney poses some challenging questions in 30 Years Behind Bars. If you are among those who, like me, have been tempted to say that we should lock up criminals and throw away the key, she might make you uncomfortable with that belief. She might even change your view entirely. Gedney tells in one chapter of a program that involved bringing aggressive dogs into the prison for the prisoners to train. She asks the question if we can believe that an aggressive animal can be tamed with love and guidance, why not humans? She points out that punishment isn’t working to stop recidivism, and asks if maybe a different approach would be more successful. One can’t help but wonder!
Gedney speaks with great empathy and understanding of the prisoners she treated, many of whom were lifers who committed horrendous crimes. And yet she sees goodness in them. She sees hope. She sees that helping them to find a purpose in life and a reason to want to change can drive real change. And she tells with justifiable pride of the projects she instigated and ran in her spare time to teach prisoners how to change and to motivate them to want to. This is not a book you read for entertainment. It’s a very serious study that will, at times, cause great discomfort. But it’s a book that should be compulsory reading for everyone involved in the criminal justice system or correctional system. It’s a book that will hopefully inspire many to volunteer their time, energy, and skills to work on projects that give prisoners hope and to lobby for reform of a flawed system. I congratulate Karen Gedney MD both for her amazing work and for writing her inspiring story. It does what I believe all good writing should do. It nudges the world a little. It shines a light in dark corners and prompts us to think about how to make the world a better place. Well done, Dr. G. Thank you for your service.