Gonnerman, Jennifer 1971-
GONNERMAN, Jennifer 1971-
Born 1971. Education: Columbia University, B.A.
Office—Village Voice Media, Inc. 36 Cooper Sq., New York, NY 10003.
Journalist. Village Voice, New York, NY, reporter, 1997—.
Gold Typewriter Award for outstanding public service, New York Press Club; Meyer Berger Award, Columbia University School of Journalism; Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, Farrar, Straus, (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times magazine, Nation, Newsday, Vibe, and the Source.
Jennifer Gonnerman's reporting on the criminal justice system for the Village Voice led to her first book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett. Gonnerman met Bartlett in 1998 while Bartlett was serving twenty years to life for possession of four ounces of cocaine. She was arrested in a sting operation and sentenced for her first offense under the Rockefeller drug laws. Bartlett's boyfriend, Nathan Brooks, a drug dealer and the father of her two youngest children, went along to protect her as she traveled with her package from Harlem to Albany, where she was intercepted. He received twenty-five years to life; interestingly, the judge married the couple before passing sentence. Bartlett was an exemplary prisoner at Bedford Hills, lobbying hard for release, and she became the poster child for clemency when Governor George Pataki ended her sentence in 1999.
When Bartlett entered prison, she left four children, who were then cared for by her mother. When she returned home she found four young adults. Her youngest son, Jamel, who had been six when she was imprisoned, had been the most traumatized by losing her. At age ten, he became a drug runner; at age twelve he bought a gun. By the time he was sixteen years old, Jamel was himself in prison, writing to his mother of his love for her and vowing to change when he was released. According to Gonnerman, Bartlett's is a story that is repeated by each of the 600,000 prisoners who are now being released each year, all of whom are ejected into lives on the outside that are little better than jail.
City Limits contributor Kai Wright wrote in her review of Life on the Outside that "one of the book's most affecting passages juxtaposes Bartlett's fate seventeen years later with that of those who destroyed her life.… Gonnerman tells us that, by this point, the lead cop had become deputy superintendent of state police. The informant had been arrested for a later cocaine deal but was a savvy enough defendant to plead to a lesser charge and get a mere six years. (He later died of an overdose). And the state's annual prison budget had grown from $450 million when the Rockefeller laws passed in 1973 to $1.7 billion."
Documenting life in prison was viewed as one of the strengths of Life on the Outside. In addition, Gonnerman explains how Bartlett expanded her role as an advocate, and also covered her experiences when she leaves, including her difficulty finding work, her lack of access to public housing, and her experiences with various parole officers. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Gonnerman "captures this angry urban milieu in clear-eyed, non-melodramatic terms."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 22, 2004, Teresa Weaver, review of Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, section L, p. 4.
Booklist, February 1, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, p. 938.
Chicago Sun-Times, June 21, 2004, Debra Pickett, review of Life on the Outside, p. 2.
City Limits, March, 2004, Kai Wright, review of Life on the Outside, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Life on the Outside, p. 23.
Mother Jones, March-April, 2004, Debra J. Dickerson, review of Life on the Outside, p. 81.
Nation, April 26, 2004, Jennifer Egan, review of Life on the Outside, p. 30.
New York Times Book Review, March 21, 2004, Brent Staples, review of Life on the Outside, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 2004, review of Life on the Outside, p. 45.
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 28, 2004, Clark Brooks, review of Life on the Outside, p. 2.
Tribune Books, March 28, 2004, Samuel Freedman, review of Life on the Outside, p. 1.
Washington Post Book World, April 4, 2004, Michael Schaffer, review of Life on the Outside, section T, p. 10.
Jennifer Gonnerman Home Page,http://www.lifeontheoutside.com (August 21, 2004).