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YOU GOT NOTHING COMING- Notes From A Prison Fish
by Jimmy Lerner (Broadway Books) Memoir, 2002. 397 Pages. This is the darkly hilarious yet sad (yet not-too-sad) tale of Mr. Jimmy Lerner, a middle-aged, middle-class corporate cube drone who suddenly finds himself in a maximum-security Nevada prison for voluntary manslaughter. After killing (in self-defense, he claims) someone who for most of the book is only mysteriously referred to as the Monster, Jimmy’s life is slammed full force into the nightmare that is the American prison system.  Early on he gets put into a cell with Kansas, a huge, muscle-bound skinhead with a large swastika tattooed on his neck. As it turns out, ol’ Kansas just happens to be the main shot caller for the penitentiary’s white supremacists.  The fact that Lerner is Jewish is initially lost on Kansas, but when the big sumbitch eventually questions him about his name, Jimmy responds by telling him it’s just like that solid old German standby Werner, only it’s spelled with an “L” instead of a “W.”  Kansas is down with that, and they end up forming a strange but solid, slightly touching friendship as time goes on.
     Months pass and Jimmy, who has been facetiously dubbed O.G. (short for Original Gangsta) by the other cons, learns the dos and don’ts of prison life, and his association with Kansas actually helps him avoid some serious physical harm and humiliation.  Some of the funniest parts of this book occur when Lerner tries to apply the various corporate seminar strategies that he learned while working for the phone company to the madness of prison life, getting a variety of results.  As time passes he becomes a righteous con (i.e. respected), keeping his sense of humor and hope but still having some of his soul destroyed by the daily grind of prison life.  The last part of the book details the specifics of his pre-prison existence and how he came to meet, like, loathe and eventually kill the Monster.  This part of the story is also pretty interesting.   
     Lerner, who was incarcerated throughout the writing of this book but has since been paroled, is a natural storyteller, and he’s one funny muthafucka.  While much of the time I really felt bad for him (and sometimes horrified for him), I found myself seriously laughing out loud every page or two.  He also has a GREAT gift for dialogue and capturing the unique language of the prison, which is essentially Ebonics meets Hillbilly.  He writes it in such a way that I found myself starting to say some of the most oft repeated phrases in my own conversations, completely baffling the hell out of whoever I happened to be talking to at the time. 
     Bottom line is that I really had a hard time putting this book down.  In fact, it’s the best thing I’ve read this year. –Ben Hunter

 

 

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