Cover Image: Life Sentence

Life Sentence

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In Life Sentence Mark Bowden has done an amazing job in portraying life in Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods.  He describes the drug sales; and the extreme violence that goes along with them, in vivid detail. 

Montana "Tana" Barronette is a perfect example of a young man born to an addicted mother and deported father, raised by a grandmother with too many grandchildren and scanty resources.  Tana did well in school and worked two conventional jobs; however, he couldn't resist the money to be made in "The Game". It was great until it wasn't. 

I would highly recommend Life Sentence to all true crime readers, as well as Mark Bowden fans.

On the interest of full disclosure, I received a free digital copy of this title to review. 

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Life Sentence is a story about a web of connections that all trace back to Montana Barronette. Montana, otherwise known as 'Tana', was a young kid who was brought up in circumstances that are typical of his behavior, dad in prison, addicted mom struggling to live, a faith believing grandmother who tried her best to raise her grandkids in church with good morals and values, and a young boy who seemed to beat the odds by even finishing school, but yet... that's just part of the story. Tana's older brother Rell going to prison seems just one part of a string of circumstances that impact Tana, to the point that it almost seems pivotal in his rise to the top of a gang named TTG or Trained To Go, and what unfolds next is shocking, but yet, not surprising. Mark Bowden takes you from the beginning of Tana's story into the gang life all the way up to, and including, his trial. What Bowden has done is create a narrative, thanks to a treasure trove of documents, wire taps, court transcriptions, and has weaved them together to make the characters come alive on the pages rather than just recounting shocking statistics of the horrors this gang left behind. Raw, real, brutally honest, and yet a very well done job giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of how this particular gang had operated and the real impact they left behind in a community. 
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my own opinion*
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This is such an interesting book and I look at a part of Society most of this never see Mark Boden has done a wonderful job with his deep dive into the inner life those living just miles from the White House in Washington DC when reading this book I kept thinking of the differences between those to live in the projects in low income housing and those living in Georgetown this was such an interesting book and when I highly recommend if you like being a fly on the wall and viewing the way the other half live then you need to read Life Sentence  by Mark Boden just make sure you have time to read it because you will not want to put it down. I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.
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Life Sentence shows the rise and fall of Montana "Tana" Barronette in the Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown. Tana led TTG, or Trained to Go, a gang linked to numerous murders in the neighborhood. Mark Bowden details TTG's various crimes and the work of the police and eventually federal investigators trying to solve them. He also gives a broader history of Baltimore to give context to why Sandtown exists as it does today. 

Bowden's access to the evidence prosecutors had in building their case against TTG allows Bowden to detail the lives of the TTG members and people they interacted with. Bowden makes sure to keep the characters complex, rather than boiling them down to characitures, something that can happen all too often when telling the stories of gang members. TTG was a product of its environment, but also a group operating in such a violent and heinous manner that the police pushed to bring a case against them. Bowden is an excellent non-fiction writer and takes everything he has learned about TTG and Baltimore and crafted it into a compelling narrative. 

I live three miles away from where most of the events of this book take place, but its an entirely different world due to the ongoing effects of discrimination in Baltimore. This book works like a modern update of The Wire, examining the same neighborhood an dpower structure that fights, enables, and ignores the drug trade. This book will interest people who want a view of the influences that can make people join and remain in a gang, and those who want to track a case from the influences leading to a crime all the way to its eventual prosecution. It works as a history book and a true crime book by examining the larger picture of Baltimore.

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for a copy of Life Sentence in exchange for an honest review.
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A thought provoking and thoughtful look at poverty, race, class, crime and justice all balled up in one man- Montana Barronette, who ruled and wrecked his Baltimore neighborhood until he was finally convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Tana's story is one we think we know from the headlines but Bowden has taken care to look deeper.  He took advantage of access to the prosecutors and his own knowledge of both Baltimore and the drug trade to craft a portrait which is both searing and sad.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ArC.  Not an easy read- not always enjoyable because of the subject matter- but an important one.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This one was a DNF for me. I found the book to be very slow, it seemed like I would read pages and pages and the book had gone nowhere. I also found the tone very dry. This one didn’t work for me, but I’m sure others would enjoy it.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press for an advanced copy of this look at Maryland, crime, the effects of the drugs on a community, the failure of government, the police and a young man who rose to such great heights, that barring a legal victory, will never have the freedom to do what he wants for the rest of his life. 

Crime is big business. For the underground economy making something illegal makes a demand that capitalism always wants to fill, and while street people take the risk, and get a small taste, those in power make so much cash, that rats eat more of it than can be banked. For private business, and government crime is a cash cow that never ceases. No one wants to be called soft on crime, so budgets are always rising on cool cars for D.A.R.E. programs that don't work, and privatized prisons that need human capital to make money. Overtime budgets for police, and elite units that are usually more a gang then the evildoers they are supposed to go after. Money can be made from gentrified neighborhoods, while shoving people who can't afford these new homes deeper and deeper into rundown areas, that never get money for anything, as the taxes they generate are almost non-existent. In these areas where people are born almost giving up on anything, crime provides both money and self-worth. One might have nothing, but they have fear on the streets, and followers on TikTok. Into this world one man, well one teen, made his way, a pleasant faced kid who once wanted to be a police officer, till he learned better, and learned there was nothing else for him. An entire federal task force was created to chase him down, and in turn made him a legend. Mark Bowden, writer of Blackhawk Down, Killing Pablo and other great books about crime, events, and most powerfully people, tells the story of this corner Kingpin and the investigation to bring him to justice in Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader. 

The book begins with an offer to the author to get the full story of a federal case in the state of Maryland that prosecutors were quite proud of. Bowden would be given access to everything, witness statements, phone transcripts, court records, surveillance information, and interview with many of the people involved, if they chose to. There might have been thoughts that a guy who wrote so eloquently on the US military and the killing of Pablo Escobar would write a positive piece that reflects well on both Federal investigators and a troubled Baltimore police force, that has seen better days, and is under federal oversite. Bowden is much better that that. Instead Bowden does his homework, looking at the racism that has been present in Maryland since the beginning, the money that is never given to certain areas, and how these areas have been created. Bowden looks at the failure of mayors, many who didn't serve their terms as they were arrested for corruption, and the police especially elite units who stole more, or beat more than they ever protected. And the people. Readers meet the people who are just trying to get by, fighting as hard as they can against a deck that is stacked against them. Bowden shares stories about victims, their families, good cops, good people trying to make a difference, And what went into creating people like the gang that takes center stage here. 

Mark Bowden has a real gift, taking complicated ideas, and telling them so that people can understand them. Highways changing neighborhoods, a botched drug kidnapping. A shooting of a man asking another not to disrespect his sister. A trial that had eight different defendants. All of this is clear, and fascinating. The book grabs right from the beginning and doesn't let go. Bowden talks to everyone, and everyone has a say. He's not afraid to talk about how he grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, and how he saw all these things going on, but never thought about them. Today though he writes about them. Bowden is a great writer, a writer with empathy, that does not get in the way of the story, nor can anyone say that he is picking a side. Bowden is literally telling it like it is. 

There are a lot of great lines in the book. A mention that helicopters are stacked up over a hospital to deliver shooting victims to their trauma unit, something that just stayed with me. Foreshadowing with a phone conversation that helps turn a member of a street gang to helping the cops. Using Instagram to deliver messages about the crimes the gang had committed. A really great book. For fans of Mark Bowden. Readers of good nonfiction, and for fans of the Wire television show. A book that I hope will be discussed, and debated.
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If you have ever been to Baltimore, nothing in Life Sentence by Mark Bowden will shock you. This also happens to be Bowden's point. A searing look at a crime infested area of Baltimore called Sandtown, Bowden is more than telling a story of a gang. He is indicting the society which created Sandtown and refuses to do anything about it or at least anything successful so far. He's also depicting gang life and how murder could be so commonplace.

A book like this can easily spin too far into blaming a tragic story on only one source. If you place all the blame on a racist society then the gang member murdering innocent people isn't guilty at all. If you blame crime purely on criminals then you are ignoring the world they grew up in and probably could never leave. I felt Bowden managed all these viewpoints. In telling the story of Montana "Tana" Barronette and his gang "TTG", Bowden doesn't give Tana a pass. He is a murderer and the circumstances of his life do not absolve him from destroying lives. However, Bowden points out that locking up Tana didn't solve Sandtown's problems, either.

I loved this book. Bowden humanizes everyone involved from gang leaders to police officers. He never paints anyone as all good or all bad and highlights the blind spots people have. It's a powerful narrative by someone who clearly knows what he's doing.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Grove Atlantic.)
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This book is raw and uncut , from the first page I was had . A few nights of staying up so I could read more , loved it . Packed full of gang life and what comes with it .
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Thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for sharing Mark Bowden’s latest work with me. I think I’ve read and enjoyed everything he has written and this is no exception. This is a disheartening study of the gang and drug culture in Baltimore near my home, but could be many other cities, I’m sure. He also covers the hard work that local and federal investigators did to make a case leading to the conviction of gang members. Bowden does a great job of trying to identify some of the causes such as institutional racism which has lead to an overall sense of nihilism among Baltimore residents, especially young ones. It’s not an easy read, but worthwhile.
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Another great book by the author, Mark Bowden!  As always, it is impeccably researched, and backstopped with copious footnotes. With all his research and background information, one would expect a dry, boring book. Not at all! The story moves along rapidly, much like any good fiction crime novel. Well developed characters, an intriguing plot, and many shocks and surprises along the way. 
It's the story of a "small" but extremely violent street gang leader in Baltimore, Maryland. It takes place primarily during the 2010's.  Montana Barronette was the leader of the gang, named "TTG", for Trained To Go. In just a short time, they became the most violent, murdering, drug dealing group in the history of Baltimore. The book chronicles his rise in "stature", his crimes, and the eventual downfall and imprisoning of the members. 
Bowden also deftly weaves in the story of Baltimore's racial history, it's problems, the problems with gangs, and with law enforcement. Being from the Baltimore area, it's an area Bowden knows well. 
This is a book that you will want to set aside a good chunk of time for, because it's a promise that you will not be able to put it down! It's that good!
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This book was extremely well written and researched. It definitely pulled me in from page one, I couldn’t stop reading it.
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Life sentence is a deep dive into the inner-city gang life in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. We follow Montana “Tana” Barronette who was the leader of a gang and held the nickname “Baltimore’s Number One Trigger Puller”. Under his reign his gang dominated Sandtown. Mark Bowden heavily researches Tana by reviewing wiretapped drug buys, police interviews, undercover videos, texts, social posts, trial transcripts and his own interviews with Tana’s family and community.

I’ve never been to Baltimore, but this book describes a inner-city gang that could be found in any large city. To say Mark Bowden did his research is an understatement. The amount of research that went into this book just oozes off the pages and into the readers hands. Mark shy’s away from pointing fingers, rather focusing on laying out the circumstances that shaped Tana and who he was. Now, just because Tana had the deck stacked against him does not excuse his murders, and Mark did a wonderful job of pointing that out. He merely provided the framework for why Tana was how he was, and what ultimately put him behind bars. This was a great true-crime and history novel in one.

If you are interested into learning more about the human psyche, and how our environment shapes us, then pick this one up on April 11th! Thank you to Grove Atlantic, the author, and @netgalley for a copy of this e-arc in exchange for this honest review
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This was a really well done true crime book, it was what I was looking for from the description. Mark Bowden has a great job in telling the story and was really well written. I was hooked from the first page and glad I was able to go through this book. It was really well done and does a great job in telling the story it needed to.

"The truth is, the whole neighborhood knew who had shot Alfonzo Williams, but apart from his sisters—newcomers who did not know Tana and could not pick him from a photo lineup—no one would name him. Fuller had a list of witnesses who wouldn’t talk. They were terrified."
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In The Life Sentence, Mark Bowden delves deep into the world of inner-city gang life, offering a gripping and revealing portrait of the notorious Baltimore gang leader Montana Barronette and the 2016 FBI investigation that landed him and eight other gang members in prison. Drawing on exclusive access to FBI files and a wealth of other sources, Bowden traces the rise and fall of Barronette's gang, Trained to Go (TTG), and the ruthless, casual violence that dominated the streets of Sandtown, one of the deadliest neighborhoods in the world. With his signature precision and narrative drive, Bowden offers an unprecedented look at the life of a notorious gang leader and the forces that shaped him, positioning Barronette's story within the larger context of Baltimore and America. The Life Sentence is a must-read for anyone interested in the inner workings of inner-city gangs and the complex forces that drive them.
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I enjoyed this book as I enjoy anything from this author. A story about the rise and fall of a Baltimore street gang and its colorful characters certainly kept the book moving along. I reminded me about one of my favorite series ever, The Wire, and the complexities and intelligence of street gangs and how they are ruthless but also adept at staying out of trouble and making a lot of money. I found it hard to understand the senseless violence to garner respect lost or rise up in the gang since if it wasn't for the violence, I assume this gang would all be very wealthy and able to leave the game with plenty of life left and lots of money. A very good story that moves along that I saw where it was heading but still eagerly followed all the way there.
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Walk in the shoes of Montana Barronette, a young gang leader in Baltimore. He started dealing drugs by the time he was thirteen, later taking over drug turf when he was still very young. He was taken down by people he grew up with, some were former friends or competitors. A fast paced read that’s full of background and inside information about the case.

From the court case, “You’re going to hear evidence that these individuals, this enterprise, killed people for money,” he said. “They killed people to protect their business; They killed people to grow their enterprise; and they killed or tried to kill people to silence them from cooperating with law enforcement witnesses.”
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Life And Death On These Streets Of Sandtown Baltimore.
Ruling by fear Sandtown is nicknamed Bodymore as it is so bad on the streets as drug dealers, shootings and corrupt police vie for position, territory, and respect. Most young black children who are brought up in Sandtown have not know anything else in their lives as their parents and grandparents use drugs and dominate their corners selling drugs with guns and violence used daily. Shootings are the norm, and every family knows somebody in their family who has been shot or killed. 
This book is about a Gang Leader named Montana Barronette or Tana as he is known on the Sandtown streets. Tana has grown up in Sandtown and at a young age he is on the streets ducking and diving running drugs for dealers and jumping over bodies of people lying dead or dying. When Tana becomes a young teenager he becomes the leader of his gang, and they decide to name the gang Trained To Go or TTG.
This book is all about life on these streets and how Tana and the gang live their lives daily as drug dealers, rappers, thugs, and murders killing anyone who crosses their path for snitching or for the smallest of things like bad mothing someone or disrespecting Tana or the gang.
Eventually the FBI start to investigate all the murders going on in Sandtown as they have increased rapidly up to 50% on deaths since Tana and his gang have formed their TTG gang on these streets.
It is a fascinating read into the life of these young men growing up in what is known as the deadliest streets in the world and the consequences that came from their actions, as Mark tells the story from the exclusive access to the FBI files and unprecedented insight into one of the city’s deadliest gangs and its notorious leader. 
Eventually Tana’s rule and domination in Sandtown comes to an end as detectives gather enough evidence to land eight gang members in prison on charges of serial murder. You will read about how the police gathered together wire taps, police interviews, drug buys, text messages from cell phones, videos and witnesses who are too intimidated to testify but some eventually change their minds as they no they could be the next to die and most have families and small children and no this is there one chance to leave and maybe turn their life’s around.

This book would be one of the most in-depth books and accounts I have ever read of an inner-city gang. This is an extremely well researched and written book by Mark Bowden.  It is not only a true crime book but also a good history book on The Brief and Tragic Career of inner-city gang life in Baltimore’s Deadliest city Sandtown. Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers of this book for giving me a free advance copy of the book to preview and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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Chilling, terrifying in its matter of factness acceptance of killing as a way of protecting or gaining turf and respect in the gang riddled Sandtown area of Baltimore this is an important and timely book.

Forensically detailed but never sensationalist, this is the tale of the rise of the TTG gang and its psychotic leader Montana Barronette, how gangland killing added to drug pushing became their modus operandi and how they were finally brought to justice when their excesses became just too great to bear.

Bowden came from the same city and he is revisiting his youth which adds to the poignancy. There is much of value here to explain the WHYs as well as the HOW and there is much for us all to ponder in terms of the lack of parental and community influence, poverty, education and opportunity.

A truly important book.
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