Still Doing Life
22 Lifers, 25 Years Later
by Howard Zehr; Barb Toews
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 15 Mar 2022
Side-by-side, time-lapse photos and interviews, separated by twenty-five years, of people serving life sentences in prison, by the bestselling author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice
“Shows the remarkable resilience of people sentenced to die in prison and raises profound questions about a system of punishment that has no means of recognizing the potential of people to change.” —Marc Mauer, senior adviser, The Sentencing Project, and co-author (with Ashley Nellis) of The Meaning of Life
“Life without parole is a death sentence without an execution date.” —Aaron Fox (lifer) from Still Doing Life
In 1996, Howard Zehr, a restorative justice activist and photographer, published Doing Life, a book of photo portraits of individuals serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania prisons. Twenty-five years later, Zehr revisited many of the same individuals and photographed them in the same poses. In Still Doing Life, Zehr and co-author Barb Toews present the two photos of each individual side by side, along with interviews conducted at the two different photo sessions, creating a deeply moving of people who, for the past quarter century, have been trying to live meaningful lives while facing the likelihood that they will never be free.
In the tradition of other compelling photo books including Milton Rogovin’s Triptychs and Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters, Still Doing Life offers a riveting longitudinal look at a group of people over an extended period of time—in this case with complex and problematic implications for the American criminal justice system. Each night in the United States, more than 200,000 men and women incarcerated in state and federal prisons will go to sleep facing the reality that they may die without ever returning home. There could be no more compelling book to challenge readers to think seriously about the consequences of life sentences.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 16 members
This was an interesting book unlike any I have read before. I liked the photo comparisons and enjoyed reading what they wrote in the 1990s and especially compared to today, seeing the growth they all had. The concept was intriguing to me as this is a side of society that doesn’t seem to get a lot of airtime, it feels like we head about the bad things the lifers had done and that’s it, throw away the key and forget they ever existed. I would like to read more books about other parts of society that are also relatively untapped.
Still Doing Life is one of those books where the impact on the reader is greater than the pleasure of the reading. I had to read it in short sittings so I wouldn't be overwhelmed but also so I could think about my own ideas and viewpoints.
I have long been an advocate of restorative justice, though the specific practical changes that have to be made have always made me wonder how we make the first steps so that we can then continue. In other words, my knowledge has lagged far behind my approval of the idea. Like so many people, regardless of where they stand on our "justice" system, there is a tendency to forget that we are talking about people, fellow human beings. They are not just numbers, they are not just whatever crime they committed. They may have done something that we consider worse than anything we have done, but what is more important isn't some hierarchy of wrongs but how we deal with the situations after wrongs are done. I don't want my entire life to be judged by the worst act I ever committed. I believe that is true of most of us. We should find ways to treat people who commit crimes in a similar manner. A productive member of society is far preferrable to locking someone away for life. If a solution short of that can be found we owe it not just to them but to our society to find and implement that solution.
This book shows in very clear terms the humanity of many of these lifers, the ways they have changed and the ways they have been prevented from changing. If you care about humanity, whether as a humanist or an "everyone is a child of God" variety, you can't think it is okay to lock these people up without a chance at living and contributing to society. Unless, of course, you are just paying lip service to whatever ethical or moral system you pretend to follow.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
Still Doing Life was a photo book which told the stories of lifers. Interviews taken 20 years apart helped the reader digest the true realities of what a life in prison is like. I couldn’t stop reading. Interview after interview, I just genuinely couldn’t stop reading. I’m so thankful to an author who put in the work to show the realities of the American justice system. Weather you are for “death by incarceration” or not, this book is worth the read.