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Martin Lockett’s Review of Houses of Healing by Robin Casarjian


Initially when I began reading this book, I thought it was going to give me all the reasons why I needed to change my thinking (as an inmate), yet offer not much in the way of breaking down how I could do it — thankfully I was wrong! Houses of Healing is a remarkable guide on how one can truly delve deeply within themselves to peel back the many layers and discover why they are who they are and how they can begin to emerge into the person they know they can become.

This book’s author has created and taught a well-known program within prison walls for over the past two decades. Through this program, countless inmates have come to discover their true selves, inner passions, and potential by first confronting the pain and turmoil they suffered as a child and slowly but surely learning how to work through it. You might be thinking this could only happen with a therapist right there to walk you through such a tumultuous journey — I thought the same. However, Casarjian composed this book to act as a surrogate counselor, walking with you every arduous step of the way, ultimately leading you to a place of healing and self-discovery.

She uses a psychoanalytic approach (focused on tapping into one’s unconscious thoughts and influences that have, unbeknown to them, guided his/her behavior) to bring about this therapeutic breakthrough, whereby the “Inner Child” is the point of reference she asks her readers to get in touch with. The Inner Child, she suggests, resides deeply within all of us and, for prisoners in particular, this Inner Child’s unresolved conflicts that took place decades ago is often at the root of our self-destructive (i.e. substance addiction, violence, criminality, etc.) behavior. We are unable to change such embedded patterns of behavior without first getting in touch with the Inner Child that we’ve “buried” as a means to protect him or her — ourselves.

I read this book with an open mind, allowing the concepts and teachings to sink in. At times I wanted to disregard what she was saying, or dismiss what she was asserting as not applicable to me, but then I realized this was yet again a defense mechanism I was trying to use to protect my Inner Child. When I mentally let my guard down and absorbed what was being said, I noticed how stirred up inside I became and how some discovery and healing was happening as a result. When you read this book and instinctively find yourself shutting down, press on harder. There’s a reason you are having that reaction; chances are it’s because what is being said is exactly what you need to hear and apply to your own life.

Houses of Healing is a highly respected and recommended book, especially by those who have a stake in correctional rehabilitation (i.e. educators, counselors, support group facilitators), namely inmates looking to take their lives in a new direction. This may very well be your guide to truly coming to understand why your life ended up where it did and, more importantly, how you can begin to change both your long-held thoughts and harmful behavioral patterns. If there were one book I could recommend to anyone in prison who is looking to understand why they may have made a series of bad choices (without even thinking about it) that landed them in prison, are tired of living that way and wish to change, this would be that book. Give it a try: you won ‘t be sorry you did.

grad-pic-outsideIn 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services  from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.


Fall 2016 Quarterly E-Newsletter

Click on the image to open the PDF. Sign up here to receive each new issue in your email.

This publication was created for you – family members, friends, and advocates of prisoners. In each issue you will find useful resources for and from inmates; artwork, stories, and recommendations from both adopters and adoptees; and news from the staff. Don’t forget to print and send a copy to your inmate loved one. We welcome your feedback and comments (use link above).

First page shown below, Full PDF here.


Michael Henderson’s Review of Night by Elie Wiesel



It’s not very often I can say that I’m sorry I missed the contemporaneous contributions to humanity by any particular human being. The recent passing of Elie Wiesel has left me feeling that loss.

The vivid portrayal of Mr. Wiesel’s Second World War atrocities were nothing less than shocking and left me with an urgent need to know more about the boy who survived some of the most inhumane conditions ever perpetrated by man, and the man who endured and grew from those conditions.

Much of the treatment meted from the German SS was, I am sure with good reason, not described in Night. Nonetheless, Elie Wiesel is an author I plan on learning more from — even posthumously.

This edition was translated by the person who knew him best — his loving wife — who lost nothing in translation. I was moved for the entire Jewish populous for their ordeal, but I felt uniquely helpless for the author who found the strength to re-live his pain in order to heal the world.

With intense, gripping narrative, I was unable to put the book down until I was overcome by the need to sleep. But sleep doesn’t come easy with the realization of what humans are capable of doing to each other, and how hard Elie Wiesel worked, through his writings, to change the world — his and ours.

Five stars and I’m looking for more.

Michael Henderson, FL

Rick Fisk’s Review of Church History in Plain Language (Third Edition) by Bruce L. Shelley

Book Image: Church History in Plain Language

Have you ever wondered why there are so many Christian denominations? Wondered what the difference between a Greek Orthodox and and a Roman Catholic is? Did you know that the word iconoclast, used today as a label for those who clash against tradition, once represented those who split orthodoxy from Rome?

Bruce Shelley, professor of church history at the Denver Seminary, has written a fascinating history of the Christian Church which spans the life of Jesus and creation of His church until the present day. While the book is not exhaustive, it is thorough enough to reveal the answers to many questions both believers and non-believers have regarding  historical Christianity.

For instance, I have been told many times from many sources that what constituted biblical ‘canon’ – those books accepted as being inspired works – were decided at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. I assumed that this was the truth. You know what they say about that. In truth, it was the body of Christians themselves who decided what constituted the bible. By 190 A.D., more than a hundred years before the Council of Nicea, most of the New Testament had been assembled and was in use based on the individual self-evident nature of the works. Only a few books were questioned by the time of Constantine’s reign as emperor and head of the church. The Nicean council already had its Bible. Its job was to issue a decree about the divinity of Jesus, not to determine Biblical canon. This didn’t mean that every church member had his own Bible, but nearly every church had either the Hebrew or Greek Old Testament and the ‘apostles memoirs’ and letters which were read during services.

These facts struck me as extremely important. There are many people who scoff at the Bible, claiming that it was assembled by a bunch of crusty old patriarchs bent on dominating their subjects with tales of hellfire and brimstone. Shelley’s book puts the lie to that idea and exposes at the same time atrocities performed in the name of ‘righteousness,’ such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.

The best thing that can be said of this book is that it informs us while keeping us interested. Shelley’s work belongs alongside the works of McCullough or McPhee in terms of its prose and quality.

Five stars. 

Rick Fisk – TDCJ

Martin Lockett’s Review of Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis by Jeff Smith

What a book! This in-depth, candid memoir depicts a prominent man’s epic fall from being a young hot shot politician with a sky’s-the-limit career staring him in the face to a convicted felon serving hard time in a federal prison among some of society’s most degenerate criminals. And yet, this 5′ 2″ suburbanite with a Ph.D was able to not only successfully conform and navigate his new survival-driven surroundings, but also thrive in numerous ways while coming away with a wealth of knowledge that has spurred his efforts to reform the criminal justice system from, once again, a position of prominence and privilege.

It’s not everyday that a politician is convicted of a campaign indiscretion (well, an illegal act in terms of campaign laws) and sent to federal prison, but Smith acknowledges and admits fault for his poor judgement, despite the fact that most who commit such crimes do so routinely and with impunity. He does not dwell on this fact, however, but instead chooses to focus on how he can best utilize his time — and that he does.

In his book, Smith takes his readers through a vivid depiction of prison life by narrating many personal anecdotes of his prison experience, relationships, and the peculiar dynamics that characterize prison life. He provides succinct translations of all institution jargon that he uses throughout the book for his readers’ comprehension, giving the full effect of his experience. We learn about his awkward adjustments to certain situations that could potentially get someone beat up or even killed, his run-ins with Aryan Brotherhood members who detested his association with black inmates, and his resourcefulness in using his superb athletic prowess to make friends while simultaneously building alliances. But this book is so much more than a memoir of intriguing tales of prison exploits and riveting episodes of survival among career criminals — so much more.

Former State Senator Smith was astonished to discover the plethora of untapped human talent locked away in state and federal prisons while he served time for a year. He began to draw the many connections between the prison population and the political world: both require a fierce tenacity in order to gain an advantage over others; both demand assertiveness and attentiveness to details in a world where complacency can be one’s literal or figurative demise. But even more than that, says Smith, there lies a mountain of human potential in the drug dealers who possess inherent, extraordinary entrepreneurial attributes, the embezzler who has superb accountant skills, and the con artist who is charismatic and possesses the gift of gab better than most. The issue, however, is the illegal ways they have used their gifts.

Smith advocates for rehabilitative mechanisms to be implemented in the criminal justice system that would not only educate and transform these men into productive members of society, using their gifts for the benefit of us all, but also demonstrates how investments in such resources would save the American taxpayers billions of dollars over time. He cites many studies that substantiate his claim, bolstering the legitimacy of his proposed solutions and causing the average, rationally-minded reader (regardless of where ones stands ideologically or politically) to think critically about the issue of mass incarceration and our philosophy as a nation on the criminal justice system.

This man’s tumultuous, unlikely journey is a compilation of entertaining stories of how anyone who didn’t grow up in a criminal environment might successfully adjust to the violent, predator-prey, perpetually volatile prison setting they are thrust into. It is also a very insightful, thoughtful manifesto of what is glaringly wrong with our current prison (and political) system and how it can begin to be rectified, benefiting all of America at the same time. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison is one of my favorite books this year, and I am confident it will be one of yours. Give it a read — you won’t be sorry you did.


 In 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services  from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.

Martin Lockett’s Review of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

the new jim crow m-alexander pic

I’ll admit, when I first heard the title of this best-selling book, I, as a black man, was taken aback. I scoffed at the notion that anyone could attempt to make a sound case for comparing the atrocious Jim Crow segregation laws of the 50s and 60s with today’s – albeit egregious – system of mass incarceration . . . and then she did it!

Michelle Alexander, a civil rights attorney and law professor at Ohio State University, starts from the beginning by illustrating the political and economic motivations by those in power to exploit and subjugate blacks and poor people from seventeenth century North American slavery to twenty-first century mass incarceration. She makes this provocative case by providing compelling evidence through a social and historical narrative that is driven by greed, political power, and economic advantage. If I were a skeptic, her book would at the very least cause me to pause and reconsider my position. Alexander argues her stance as though she were a seasoned lawyer (which she is) presenting her case to a biased jury that she knew would not see it her way unless she presented a masterful argument to win them over — and she does.

Professor Alexander refuses to allow her political persuasion (which I still don’t know) to interfere with her assessment of our broken criminal justice system and its treatment of minorities and poor white people. She equally criticizes Republicans and Democrats for their promotion through propaganda and funding of bad policy that are responsible for creating the highest per capita rate of incarceration among its citizens of any country in the world. She highlights the shrewd political expedience used by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to propagate the “necessity” to fund the War on Drugs and later devise, state by state, sweeping mandatory minimum sentencing laws, respectively — which are both underlying policies resulting in over 2.2 million people currently incarcerated. She is unapologetically critical of the policies of other presidential administrations, including our current one (which was, frankly, somewhat surprising as she is a black woman), pointing out how they have been led by special interest groups and the big business of building more prisons with the hope of garnering more votes during election cycles.

I found The New Jim Crow to be both incredibly insightful yet profoundly disheartening. It bears the naked ugly truth of America’s ongoing struggle to accept and treat groups of people as equal participants in our diverse society. This book forces its readers to view an insidious, corrupt system – which is driven by politics and money – that confines, disenfranchises, and discriminates against millions of its citizens through a more cynical lens; one that we thought we had moved on from since 1865. For anyone who is affected by or interested in understanding the many tenets that have shaped our system of mass incarceration, I strongly encourage you to read this book – then give it to ten friends to read!


Martin L. Lockett is a GED tutor at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon. While Incarcerated, he has earned a Human Services Certificate from Louisiana State University, an AGS from Indiana University, and a BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.

Rick Fisk’s Review of The Great Bridge by David McCullough

The Great Bridge cover

David McCullough’s The Great Bridge is an extraordinary book. It tells the tale of how the Brooklyn Bridge was conceived and built. As is the case with other McCullough works, it is superbly crafted and reads as well as any great work of fiction. The main focus of the book is the bridge, but it is about the fascinating human beings who made the bridge possible. Designed originally by John A. Roebling, it was his son Washington who completed it, along with his incredible wife Emily — as unlikely a story in the Victorian era as one might encounter.

One of the reasons I found the book so fascinating was the great love and respect Washington and Emily showed each other, culminating in Emily’s selfless dedication to Washington after he suffered physical catastrophe during the bridge’s construction.
Besides the Roeblings, the cast of characters involved with the bridge contains a who’s who of New York’s political and industrial giants, including A.C. Barnes (whom you might associate with today’s Barns & Noble), Seth Low (two-term mayor of Brooklyn, and one-term mayor of New York), and William Marcy Tweed (the infamous “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall). Tangentially even Henry Ward Beecher had a part to play.

For a while, Brooklyn’s Great Bridge was the world’s largest suspension bridge and even though eclipsed by later works including the Golden Gate, it is still the only bridge with a pedestrian promenade. Walking it has been on my own personal bucket list since first reading this book.

While construction of a bridge that might seem to some as exciting as watching paint dry, this book is anything but droll. I was fascinated throughout, but especially so upon learning that what I always thought was an affliction limited to divers, “the bends,” was discovered by bridge builders who were sinking the footings of their creations using specially-designed platforms – caissons – hence the original name of the malady, caisson disease.

McCullough’s book was first published in 1972, and a further testament to its greatness is the fact that it is still in print. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have a 1982 paperback edition that was signed by the author. Neat.

I highly recommend any edition you can lay your hands on. Four stars.

Rick Fisk’s Review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel


Station Eleven is one of those books that is so well-conceived and executed that you are sad when there’s no more to read. After reading so many post-apocalyptic novels, many which barely bother to explain what caused society’s collapse, I expected another contrived and unimaginative version of The Hunger Games or Divergent. While I did enjoy both afore-mentioned series’ this standalone far surpasses either in both imagination and quality of prose.

The story crosses both sides of a global catastrophe from several characters’ point of view, all of whom, in one way or another, are satellites of a famous actor who, in the opening pages is performing King Lear at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.

Emily St. John Mandel draws us into a horrifying and totally plausible world-wide catastrophe and then through ingenious flashbacks and historical reference sews together a tale that is as rich as any great myth.

Even if this type of story isn’t one’s ‘cup of tea,’ I would bet that even the most reluctant would find it riveting.

Station Eleven refers to a self-published comic, written and illustrated by one of the main characters, a frustrated artist who settles for corporate doldrum, yet still manages to complete a few issues of her creation. One of the more interesting facets of this plot device is the way in which the comic influences the characters. Mandel also hints of how all art is a reflection of the creator’s own life and times. That theme is further hammered home when members of the book’s post-apocalyptic theatre troupe, The Symphony, discuss Shakespeare’s own relationship with the plague.

Mandel leaves nothing undone in this novel that needed to be sewn up. Everything has its place, making me  hungry for anything else she may have written.

Four stars. 

Rick Fisk – TDCJ

Martin Lockett’s Review of Lucy’s Legacy by Donald C. Johanson

lucys legacy cover

Fascinating. Riveting. Provocative. The list of superlatives to describe this book could go on for pages. Johanson – the famed archeologist who discovered the 3.2 million-year-old hominid (human ancestry) fossil – has written a book for the ages with this one. This book chronicles his expeditions into the ancient sites of Eastern Africa for the discovery of hominid bones in a vivid and relatable way. He speaks candidly about his discouragement and discontentment with findings (and the lack thereof) and allows his readers to feel as though they are right alongside him as he traverses these historic sites where he luckily “stumbles” across the most important fossils to mankind to date.

Read more…

Review of David McCullough’s 1776 by Rick Fisk

The Imperfect Hero: 1776 – A Review


 All men are flawed and make mistakes. Character is that quality in a man that transcends his flaws and propels him to success. In reading David McCullough’s 1776, one will become intimate with George Washington’s flaws and mistakes, flaws which might have been glossed over by historians more inclined to fuel legend than deeper understanding. Yet, because McCullough reveals so much of Washington’s error, the accomplishments and character of America’s first Commander in Chief are all the more astonishing than any legend.

Through priceless, archived correspondence of English and American soldiers, historians, reporters, and civilians (Washington, John Hancock, Abigail Adams and others too numerous to list here), McCullough weaves a complex tale, rich in detail, reading like a novel too good to lay aside.

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