For most of us, the inside of a jail or prison is a mythical, albeit unpleasant, holding ground for those deemed by the state unfit to coexist with the rest of society. What we never really know is what it's like to be inside: strip searches, gang fights, overcrowding to the point of suffocation -- that is, until local author Charles Shaw's Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics, and Spirituality, which is released this week. The memoir tells the gruesome story of an inmate at Cook County Jail in Chicago -- a vast facility that holds nearly 10,000 inmates and has been home to figures such as mobster Al Capone and serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Shaw was convicted of possessing MDMA -- you might know it as ecstasy (and even after his third arrest, Shaw continues to think of it that way) -- and spent a year in the facility. Much of the book retells his experience from inside the walls of the jail, but the self-proclaimed drug activist does frequently plead his case to the reader -- that he was using ecstasy not recreationally, but as treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by cocaine addiction.
Shaw further contends that our nation's handling of illegal drugs is narrow-minded and extreme. Although Shaw is clearly guilty of illegal drug use and by a legal standard deserved his punishment, what stands out is the inside look into our corrections system, which seems more like a cruel and corrupt internment camp based on Shaw's experiences. Readers beware: Exile Nation will not agree with a full stomach.