053803 Life at Fifteen
by Robert J. Gagnon
R J Gagnon Publishing; 336 pages; US $14.95 (Kindle eBook)
15 year-old Robert Gagnon needed to kick his drug and alcohol addiction. He decided that by robbing a bank, he would get the assistance he needed so badly. As a young offender, he thought he might have to stay in jail for a few months and he then could start over again. It was December 19, 1975.
Only nothing turned out as he planned. He ended up serving 10 years in an adult prison before he was released in 1985. He grew up in the correctional institutions of the State of Florida.
Gagnon was deemed to dangerous to be placed with other young offenders. Being placed among hardened criminals, 15-year-old Gagnon needed to learn fast and act quickly to survive. So begins this epic story of survival, friendship, and life.
Although the book was written long after Gagnon’s release, the narrative is compelling and the plot page-turning. Gagnon projects his memory onto the pages as accurately as he can and invits the readers to watch the show with him.
During his 10 years in prison, Gagnon transformed from an insecure young man to a content small engine repairman. Details of an inmate’s daily routine are intimately scripted – the chores, the politics, the racism, the sex – they were all there. Gagnon’s story is candid, frank, and sometimes appalling but always fascinating. The inner demons, the insecurity, the anxiety, and the fear of a convict are shared with the readers without reservation.
While Gagnon makes no apologies for what he had to do to survive in jail, readers can feel his remorse and desire to redeem himself as the story carries on.
The book is written, quite understandably, in colloquial language. The dialogue is filled with expletives, as one would expect in a prison setting. The narrative, however, could have been edited more professionally. A few misused words are misused throughout the book. For example, on at least four occasions the word “aspect” is mistakenly used in the place of the word “except,” and the word “then” in the place of “than.” Sentences are sometimes fragmented or run-on with modifiers dangling. The reading would certainly become smoother if these details were looked after.
Despite these minor flaws, the book remains quite enjoyable. A story of self-preservation and redemption, 053803 Life at Fifteen will definitely pique the attention of readers interested in the criminal justice system.