The book and its mission
Prison culture is an entity that feeds itself with rage, indifference and the force of addiction. It is a culture that's born in the streets, germinates behind bars, and then flows back into neighborhoods as ongoing cycles of victimization.
The U.S. currently has the most overcrowded prisons in the world; some states are combating the legal and political fallout from this reality by enacting new experiments for handling criminals. But behind the cliched expressions from lawmakers, oversimplified narratives from officials and fragmented reporting by the media, truths around America's justice system lie out of sight for most citizens, purposefully hidden behind curtains of overwhelming failure. Many who work within the system understand its veiled dysfunction comes not only from the confusing nature of criminality, but also from laws tied more to bureaucratic advantage and financial gain than the truth of what's happening in the streets.
"The Cutting Four-piece" is a new journalistic approach in telling that story.
How the book came about
"The Cutting Four-piece" is directly tied to an earlier successful Kickstarter project, "Shadow People: how meth-driven crime is eating at the heart of rural America." In that project, I spent more than 16 months embedded with law enforcement agencies to document the link between methamphetamine addiction and burglaries, robberies, child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence and murder.
When "Shadow People" was released in 2012, I quickly discovered that while most readers accepted the book's premise, reading it left them with new questions: They wanted to know why certain people described in "Shadow People" stayed on seemingly lifelong criminal trajectories. They wanted to know why meth, crack and heroin are so hard to walk away from. They wanted to know why jail and prison are so easy to return to. They wanted to know what level of intelligence is actually operating within our laws. They wanted to know how much government underfunding of mental health care plays a role in people needlessly going to jail and prison. They wanted to know if elected officials are putting the public good and the nation's values ahead of their own political goals.
Why this book is different than other reports
I've written "The Cutting Four-piece" from the vantage point of a newspaper crime reporter with nearly nine years of experience. In addition to the 800 documented hours I spent embedded with law enforcement for "Shadow People," I engaged in an additional 210 hours of embedded time with officers and detectives for "The Cutting Four-piece." More importantly, I broadened the storytelling lens by spending nearly an equal amount of time with convicts, ex-convicts, drug addicts and men and women recovering from lives rattled by violence, exploitation and addiction.
Why a commercial book publisher will not work for "The Cutting Four-piece"
It has been my experience that, even when a reporter is backed and funded by a reputable national foundation, main stream book-publishing houses won't release journalistic books on crime with the same standards of factual reporting that newspapers and magazines use every day.We have enough simplified, watered down, half-verified journalism around the criminal justice system and the phenomenon of street crime. The public doesn't need a project that is more of the same.
"The Cutting Four-piece" will reach the public with assistance and support from a nonprofit publisher and nonprofit book distributor, both based in California. This same approach, along with support from backers on Kickstarter, allowed "Shadow People" to sell thousands of copies nationwide, with hundreds of free copies being sent to nonprofit groups. If "The Cutting Four-piece" is successfully funded, it will be released in April of 2015 at a retail cost of only $10, and a large number of free copies will be sent to community foundations and other nonprofit groups working around victim support and criminal rehabilitation.
Risks and challenges
Having executed a similar book project on Kickstarter between the end of 2011 and start of 2012, my experience makes any risks around not completing fulfillment for backers pretty low; and since there are publishing forces and professional journalists assisting with it, I think any chance of the project not being finished on time is unlikely.
The biggest challenge for the book will be post-production marketing, as it's journalistic aim does not fit into brief, easy-to-digest sound bites.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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