My Side of the Bars
by Cleo Dunnit
Stratton Press

"There is definitely something very strange about having a serial killer tell you, 'God bless you.'"

Dunnit shares her daily experiences working as a psychiatric nurse at Sullivan Correctional Facility. Her book is written in the form of diary entries spanning a roughly six-month period. Having worked in a variety of nursing settings, when the opportunity for employment as a "forensic psychiatric nurse" presented itself, Dunnit writes she thought it "might be interesting to study the criminal mind." Indeed, the day-to-day stories of her work inside the maximum-security prison not only maintain high interest throughout the memoir but prove to be equal parts humorous, enlightening, revealing, disappointing, and inspirational. The reader comes to know intimately the corrections officers, fellow nurses, an impossibly horrible boss, and other staff with whom Dunnit works. Also revealed is a plethora of quite colorful inmate patients, who populate the stories rather like a cast of over-the-top characters, confirming the adage that truth can be much stranger than fiction.

Dunnit captures one's attention from the outset and continuously delivers amazingly detailed accounts of prison life, from ever-occurring suicide attempts by many inmates to her dedication to providing medical service for a population comprised entirely of individuals who are behind bars for crimes such as homicide, rape, and other violent acts. And yet, the basic humanity of those she serves in the locked-down facility becomes apparent, such as when the author finds herself engaged in philosophical conversation with particular prisoners, contemplating large and significant issues. "I have learned a lot from the inmates," writes Dunnit. "They continue to teach me new things every day. They have shared laughter and their innermost thoughts with me and even their tears." This display of basic humanity from hardened criminals often suffering from issues of extreme mental illness proves to be the book's greatest strength and point of intrigue.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home