Common sense isn't.
The author was the warden of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary when
James Earl Ray escaped in 1977, and he tells the story of Ray's escape
capture, as well as the story of the author's life growing up and
living in rural Kentucky and Tennessee. The autobiography covers
Stonney Ray Lane's life, from birth in 1937 in Kentucky, through his
retirement from prisons (and return to schools) in about 1979.
Approximately the middle third of the book covers James Earl Ray's
escape, capture, and subsequent trial.
I enjoyed reading the book, and I recommend it, not only for the history involving James Earl Ray, but also for the insights into life and violence in prisons, education inside and outside of prisons, life and violence in coal country, and for the descriptions of some local sites around Knoxville, Tennessee. How could one not like a book that adds favorably to the legend of places like Big Ed's Pizza Parlor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee?
The book has a few rough edges. It has very little apparent structure or organization. Although the story-telling is easy enough to read, there are only four separate sections in the book, and only three sections are titled. For someone who is primarily interested in the portions about Ray's escape, it may seem to take a long time to get to that part. The book also has no table of contents, and no index. The bulk of the book is in one very long, unbroken, autobiographical narrative (271 pages in the paperback). This lack of structure makes it somewhat difficult to stay with the book at times. I noted a few typos, including "English" spelled as "Egnlish" in the Foreward, ironically in the section where Lane describes how he copied and cheated his way through college English.
The book contains some confusion, which disturbed me at first, regarding whether it is actually non-fiction. After seeing the author describe the book as a true story in an interview on a local cable access channel, I was surprised to see the following disclaimer at the top of the copyright page at the front of the book:
"This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental."In the paperback book released in 2003, at the end of the first section called "Foreward - Biographical Sketch of Stonney Lane," the following statement clearly contradicts the disclaimer:
"The publishers have classified this book as "fiction" because I had to change some of the names of the inmates. But this story is the truth as I remember it. It is not a made up story; it really happened, as strange as it may seem. It is humbly dedicated to my children Lisa, Dusty, and Lori."The publisher, [which was] 1stBooks.com [once upon a time] provides an online copy of the Foreward and a "Free Preview," which amounts to the entire contents of the first 21 pages of the paperback, excluding the title and copyright pages. The online version is dated 2000, and does not contain the statements mentioned above. [On July 17, 2005 the Preview was available here.]
Other than the concluding plea for help, the book is depressing, and offers little hope. It traces the history from fiercely independent settlers, through company coal towns, to a severely depressed welfare state with poor schools, which threaten to perpetuate the problems indefinitely. Despite the depressing aspects, the history is well written and interesting.
In predicting the continued decline of the coal industry, the author does reasonably well, but does not foresee the formation of an organization like OPEC, and he makes an interesting, perhaps over-confident comment about nuclear power. He says, "The growing petroleum glut and the network of natural gas pipelines lessen coal's importance with each passing season. Within a few years tireless atomic reactors will provide much of the electric power now made from coal."
|Quote of the moment|
|If you would fain by worthy deeds be known, / Seek to be prisoned without cause, lie long, / And find no friend to listen to your moan.|
|~ -Autobiography Benvenuto Cellini ~|
Common sense isn't.
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