Among Murderers: Life After Prison (University of California Press, 2013), has won the 2014 Gold IPPY award in the category current affairs/social issues. Sabine is an investigative journalist whose work can be found in German, American, and British publications, among them The New York Times, The Guardian, Psychology Today, Poets&Writers, The New York Observer, Aeon, Art in America, The Paris Review Daily, Longreads and Die Zeit. Heinlein has received a Pushcart Prize, a Margolis Award, a Sidney Gross Award for Investigative Reporting, and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, Hambidge, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
With more than two million people behind bars and more than four million on parole and probation, America is facing an unprecedented criminal justice crisis. Each year, prisons across the country release more than 600,000 individuals with little to no preparation. What is it like for a convicted murderer who has spent decades behind bars to suddenly find himself released into a world he barely recognizes? What is it like to start over from nothing? For her book Among Murderers: Life After Prison, Heinlein spent several years following her three protagonists as they painstakingly learn how to master their freedom. Having lived most of their lives behind bars, the men struggle to cross the street, choose a dish at a restaurant and withdraw money from an ATM. Heinlein’s narrative gives a visceral sense of the men’s inner lives and of the institutions they encounter on their odyssey to redemption. Among Murderers asks what constitutes successful rehabilitation and how one faces the prospect of rejoining society with the guilt and shame of having taken another person’s life.
The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison (HarperCollins, 2016) is a riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with prisoners at the Jessup Correctional Institute, a maximum-security men’s prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them. On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe’s story “The Black Cat,” and Nabokov’s Lolita—books that don’t flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may “only” be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.
“Take nine convicted felons confined for the long haul at a maximum security men’s prison. Add a well-meaning literary scholar armed only with cheap reprints of challenging books by writers from Conrad to Kafka. The resulting dynamic is the subject of Mikita Brottman’s fascinating and unvarnished book about criminals as rough-hewn literary critics. I tore through The Maximum Security Book Club, curious to read the answers to the questions Brottman asks herself: Can literature illuminate, and perhaps even change, the lives of those warehoused over the long haul at America’s penal institutions? Can shared reactions to classic books empower those whom society has rendered powerless? What is the value of literature and language, and what are its limitations?” ~ Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True
Mikita Brottman is a Professor in the Department of Humanistic Studies at MICA. She has a D.Phil from Oxford University and a PhD in psychoanalysis. She is a writer of non-fiction, both academic and creative, and a certified psychoanalyst. To learn more, read a profile of Mikita and her work published in the Baltimore Sun by Mary Carole McCauley on July 22 2016.