Life Inside Out: How I Found True Freedom In God, by Mark Foss
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Life Sentence Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]
I must admit that while I read a lot of memoirs, that I seldom have the chance to read prison memoirs, and that is precisely what this book is about. There is a familiar narrative to this sort of conversion story . The author covers the span of an entire life, or at least most of it. There is a u-shaped melodramatic narrative: often the author begins with a discussion of a life that starts out good, has an immensely troubling middle section, often where substance abuse, alcoholism, and serious errors in judgment occur, where reaching the bottom leads to a conversion and a life dedicated to serving others and seeking to make good upon the unmerited pardon of God for sins committed, followed by happiness in a (usually second) marriage and a general restoration to happiness and health and a good reputation even if scars remain.
This is a well-told tale. It does not whitewash the author’s culpability, it captures his genuine voice, even using some letters written while in prison and the text of a speech to give a flavor of the author’s mindset during the times discussed in the memoir. The capers discussed in the book do not blame his parents for his mistakes, which seems fair in this case, even if some alcoholism appears to have run in the family. Of particularly grim interest is the way that the author appears to be coy about some of his more serious mistakes, even if the general mood is confessional and he admits to some major mistakes, like living with a woman fifteen years younger when he was in his 30’s, or engaging in interstate drug trades, or getting in fights with bikers, or starting an ominously racist-sounding Minnesota gang that he declined to name, or making weapons for others while in one of his stints in prison.
No one reading this book would want to emulate the life of the author. To be sure, his conversion was remarkable, and his desire to help those in similar positions is entirely to be expected. The book is honest about prison life, about the grip of addiction, about the importance of making powerful friends to make an intolerable situation a bit easier to manage, and about the graciousness of God. This is the sort of book that makes one want to cheer on the author and hope that the past truly is past, and that there will be no relapse, no loss of restraint that would lead to further trouble in a life that has known far too much of it already. The sense of the book can be understood by the Bible verses above every chapter, and the author’s sincere and heartfelt regrets at wasted time and trust.
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