Kenneth E. Hartman has served 30 continuous years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on a life without the possibility of parole sentence. An award-winning writer and prison reform activist, he helped establish the Honor Program at the California State Prison – Los Angeles County. He is currently leading grassroots campaigns to end life without parole sentences, to bring higher education back into the prison system, and to provide opportunities for prisoners to perform good works for the free world.
“In this memoir, a magnificent inquiry into the human condition, a man serving a life sentence in the California prison system documents the brutality and inhumanity of life “inside,” where criminals are victimized rather than rehabilitated, and chaos flowers among the despairing. Hartman, an eloquent, middle-aged prisoner convicted of murder at 19, tells a sad but unsentimental story: a rough childhood and a wish for invincibility fueled Hartman’s youth and downfall, but in the time since, he has married in prison, fathered a child, and currently works to improve the broken U.S. prison system. Hartman discovered his talent in a writing class, after having abandoned drugs; using it, he examines up close the “mad, violent circus” of prison life, his place in it, and the fate of his fellow prisoners: “Under the big tent of this brutally unnatural environment, few of us ever take the frightening step of analyzing our deeper motives.” Publishers Weekly, 11/10/09
“An illuminating, unflinching, self-portrait of a life behind bars. A snapshot of who we are as a society through the gritty prism of ‘how we punish those we throw away.’ If Charles Bukowski had committed murder and done time, this is what he would have written. Raw. Searing. Brutal. Written without self-pity. Regardless of your politics, you will read the last page of Mother California, close this book, and walk away transformed.” Erik Jensen co-author (with Jessica Blank) of the stage play and film The Exonerated, the play Aftermath and the memoir Living Justice: Love Freedom and the Making of The Exonerated