Book review by John E. Dannenberg
Dr. Elaine Leeder, Dean of the of the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University, offers a concise, compassionate view of the life and psyche of California prisoners serving term-life sentences. After a long career that has included volunteering to teach prisoners in New York State, and, later, for a decade in San Quentin State Prison, Dr. Leeder has blended her deeply personal humane support of the underdog with her expertise as a sociologist to show that people “thrown away” by society upon being convicted of murder are still people, capable of rehabilitation and eager for the chance to gain the tools for reintegration into society through intensive education while incarcerated.
My Life with Lifers chronicles Dr. Leeder’s interaction with life-sentenced prisoners at San Quentin in a round table discussion group she leads at the facility, called “New Leaf on Life.” Each month, Dr. Leeder brings a guest speaker – a professor or student – to lead the group in discussion on a topic far removed from prison life. The speaker engages the lifers’ minds in thought processes that take them to new levels – daring them to learn, interact in dialogue and yearn to learn more. Many of the prisoners also participated in college-level classes offered by volunteers from a local private university.