"Woman Tries to Reintegrate into Society, Family after Leaving Prison"
Reviewed by Min Jung
Posted April 23, 2011
I was pleasantly surprised when I received this book and saw
that it had been autographed by the author. "Hope you enjoy!"
I did more than enjoy this book about Helena (Lena) Hunter
who has just been released from prison. The book actually
opens on her last night in prison, and that's when we get a
glimpse into her life "inside," where she was known only as
"Lucky." This was a persona she created solely to survive.
Lena's reintegration to freedom is not easy as prison was
difficult. Her original five-year sentence was stretched to
eight because of events that happened within the walls, and
she struggles daily to remember that the skills that kept
her alive in prison will lead her back there. Her reunion
with her family is equally interesting, as she served time
for killing her maternal grandmother. While some relatives
understand what happened, some clearly do not, and Lena is
not in a rush to talk about it. The most heart-wrenching
reunion, though, is with her 14-year-old daughter, who never
saw her while she was away.
The book seamlessly takes the reader from Lena's life on the
inside, to her life on the outside, and then back to life
before prison and to the events that led up her prison
sentence. While I am normally not fond of books that jump
back and forth (especially among three different places in
time), Ms. Little does this so effortlessly that the reader
is easily transported to each scene.
Ms. Little's pacing could not be better. In the scenes
leading up to Lena's imprisonment, there is a sense of
foreboding. In the prison scenes, there is a sense of
urgency. And in the scenes during her parole period, you
can feel Lena's unease and anxiety about how to survive on
the outside after being institutionalized.
This was an excellent book about a multi-faceted character
who is inspirational, yet heart-breaking. I couldn't read
it fast enough.
Learn more about Jump
Killing her grandmother was a choice Helena Hunter made all
by herself, but she wasn't thinking about the consequences
of her actions when she pulled the trigger. Back home after
eight years in prison, she finds that the little girl she
left behind is now a teenage stranger who thinks her mother
might be a monster. The family members who labeled her the
black sheep want her to forget the fact that they all played
a part in her downfall. And the wonder of being free again
is overshadowed by the fear of a future filled with
Shaking the stigma of incarceration proves to be more than
Lena bargained for. Before her life went to hell, she was a
middle-class computer geek and a proud parent. Now that
she's been labeled a menace to society, she is a walking,
talking poster child for what can happen to victims who take
the law into their own hands.
Experience is the best teacher, though, and whatever lessons
Lena hasn't learned, she soon will--from the most unlikely
sources. Complete freedom is possible, but only when the
truth is finally revealed and the ghosts from her past are
Those brave enough to step into Lena's world will be left
asking themselves one burning question: "What would I have
I was standing over the body with the gun still smoking
in the palm of my hand when the police finally arrived to
secure the scene. I hadnâ€™t come to kill her and I didnâ€™t
really mean to end her life the way I did, but that was the
result. What was supposed to be a rational discussion
quickly turned into a shouting match and then a crime scene.
I donâ€™t really remember putting the gun in my purse
before I left my apartment. I donâ€™t remember consciously
digging it out in the heat of the moment, aiming it and
pulling the trigger. All I know is that I did.
I do remember watching her body fall to the floor and
take its last breath. I remember those eyes, focused on my
face in a way they never had before, silently accusing me
of losing my mind. And maybe I did lose it for a moment. At
least thatâ€™s what my public defender told the jury. That I
had been temporarily unstable, incapable of making rational
decisions at the time of the murder. He came up with that
brilliant defense after I told him I had been tripping out
on Ecstasy and tripping bad. It was ultimately what kept me
from earning myself a Murder One charge and for that I
guess I should consider myself grateful.
One after another, people who thought they knew me took
the stand and testified that I had not been a drug user
before. Not to discredit me, though the prosecutor worked
that angle, but to help me prove that I was a neophyte, ill-
equipped to handle the side effects of a sneaky drug like
Ecstasy. Supposedly, I didnâ€™t know what I was getting into
when I took the pill and I didnâ€™t know what I was really
doing when I pulled the trigger. It was my first time
experimenting with drugs and now I was a poster child for
just saying no.
But the thing is this. I knew.
Is there a drug in existence, in the entire world, that
can numb the mind and the heart so much that you donâ€™t
realize youâ€™re aiming the barrel of a pistol at your
I donâ€™t think so and the jury didnâ€™t either.
* * * * *
The goddamn jury doesnâ€™t even deliberate a respectable
amount of time. They hide in a room for two hours and
twenty-two minutes and then they emerge with the fate of my
life in their hands. I rise along with everyone else in the
courtroom and crumble to the floor minutes later.
"We find the defendant guilty of Involuntary
Manslaughter," the foreman announces. He is a round man,
short and balding. He combs the hair on one side of his
head over the gleaming dome in the center, to connect with
the hair on the other side. I have spent the better part of
my trial staring at him, asking myself why he doesnâ€™t just
go out and buy himself a toupee. Wondering if he knows how
silly he looks.
But the last laugh is on me. I am the one who will be
going to the state correctional facility for women and he
will be the one looking silly all the way home.
The buzzing noise in my ears is so loud that I donâ€™t
hear the judgeâ€™s words. I donâ€™t hear my attorneyâ€™s response
or the prosecutorâ€™s comeback. My head swivels around on my
shoulders as I watch their lips move and tears fill my
eyes. I havenâ€™t let myself think about a future outside of
the courtroom. I havenâ€™t stopped to think about prison.
I am sentenced to five years. Hands grasp at me, pulling
my arms behind my back, and handcuffs appear from thin air.
I hear a loud cry from somewhere in the back of the
courtroom and I turn to meet Vickyâ€™s eyes across time and
space. She is dissolving right before my eyes, like the
wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz. She reaches out to me
but I canâ€™t reach back.
I let a single tear race down my face and swallow the
others. "Get Beige," I call out just before I am hustled
across the room and through a doorway. I know where I am
going. To a tiny cell in the bowels of the court house and
then, from there, I am going away for a long time.
"Vicky!" I scream, hoping she can hear me. "Get Beige!
Take care of my baby!" She knows what I am saying to her.
We have talked about this, about how she will take Beige in
and keep her safe until I can get everything straightened
out. Get myself out of the mess I have gotten into.
* * * * *
Vickyâ€™s arms come around me now and I smell her scent.
It takes me back in time to a place I donâ€™t want to go. It
takes me back to the claustrophobic little house my
grandmother lived in, to the depths of her bedroom, where
she kept an endless supply of White Shoulders perfume on
her dressing table. It was her signature scent and now it
I catch myself before I open my mouth to tell her that
her shoulders arenâ€™t white and the scent makes me want to
puke. Instead, I hug her back and say, "Hey."
She pulls back and looks at me, sees that I donâ€™t have a
relaxer anymore, that I have lost weight and gained muscle
mass, and bursts out crying. I lift my locks from my
shoulders and feel air on the back of my neck, watch her
and wait. I wonâ€™t hold her as she cries, wonâ€™t offer her
even a little bit of comfort, because I donâ€™t have it in
me. She hasnâ€™t come to visit me in eight years and I donâ€™t
know why. What I do know is that she wouldnâ€™t be so shocked
by the sight of me if she had.
"Eight years is such a damn long time," she says when
she can talk.
I catch her eyes and smile. "You know better than me. I
owe you, what, about a million dollars and some change?"
She put money on my books faithfully, kept me from having
to beg, borrow or steal to survive.
We stare at each other. If I have changed, she hasnâ€™t.
She still wears her hair long and straight, relaxed to
death and hanging down her back. Still plucks the hell out
of her eyebrows and lines her lips with a dark pencil
before filling them in with bright lip-gloss. She still
looks like a deer trapped in the glare of high beams,
poised to run for her life at the slightest provocation. I
wonder if she is poised to run from me and everything I
"You look good, Vicky," I offer.
"You lookâ€¦" She raises her hands, shakes her head and
lets them drop. "Different. Damn, Lena. What do you press,
a thousand pounds?" She reaches out and squeezes my bicep
lightly, looking awed. She is exaggerating but I let it
roll. I donâ€™t look anything like those tennis star sisters
and she knows it. Smooth and tight, maybe, but nowhere near
as buff. Iâ€™m working on it though.
"Just a couple of hundred," I say. "Give or take. Can we
get the hell out of here?"
My question catches her off guard, snaps her out of her
thoughts and reminds her of where we are. "Oh! Umâ€¦yeah."
She looks at the envelope Iâ€™m holding. "Is this all your
"Everything else belongs to the state."
My eyes go everywhere at once as I follow her out to her
car. She is driving a shiny red machine, something sporty
and compact, and I like the look of it. I give the leather
seats and complicated looking dashboard cursory glances and
then I take my eyes back to the sky, where they really want
I like the look of the sun even better, love the feel of
fresh air on my skin. I canâ€™t get over how much brighter
the sun seems and how much lighter the air is on the
outside. As we drive off and pick up speed on the
interstate, I push a button to lower my window. I stick my
head out and let the wind snatch my breath, stick my tongue
out and taste freedom. Vicky is right, I think, eight years
is a long time.
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