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Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One’s in Jail, by Wes Denham

(Chicago Review Press, 2010). 263 pages (paperback), $16.95.

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One’s in Jail is a detailed “how-to” manual for educating the uninformed about the harsh realities of what jail entails, with the ultimate goal being to guide family members as to 1) whether they should bother to try to help their loved one who’s in the pokey, and 2) if so, how to best accomplish such assistance.

Author Wes Denham speaks from years of experience; he is a private investigator, often hired by families who want to aid an incarcerated loved one. Denham is cynical of both the system as well as the motives of prisoners who mainly want to get out of jail. Arrested is an incredibly insightful and pragmatic treatise for the outsider tying to cope with the ugly realities of jails, guards and prisoners. The book’s 27 chapters are written in a blatantly sincere style that minces no words, often spiked with humorous cynicism. It could be described as a fun read were its subject matter not so serious and visceral.

Arrested steels the reader who is faced with the difficult decision of offering immediate financial help in response to an unexpected call in the middle of the night, announcing that their loved one has been jailed. They call asking for help in posting bail; they want commissary money put on their books; they want family members to make illicit phone calls for them; they seek visits; they need funds to hire the best attorney.

But the reality of the situation, per the well-informed author of Arrested, requires a measured response. For example, perhaps they are plainly guilty and just need a public defender to make a plea deal for them. Maybe they are desperate to survive and will use known information they remember – such as your bank account or Social Security number – as collateral in jail to pay unscrupulous drug dealers or commissary scalpers. Arrested goes into excruciating detail as to the types of scams you must suddenly be prepared to defend against; it is an incredible eye-opener into the ugly realities of jail life.

As Denham relates, one must first and foremost make a realistic determination with respect to what good, if any, will come from responding to an incarcerated loved one’s urgent request for assistance. Is bail even available for the charges? Will he or she jump bail, leaving you to forfeit your home to the bail bond company? If they are released on bail for one charge, will they be rearrested upon release for another pending charge, resulting in instant bail forfeiture? Getting more personal, does the arrestee have a drug addiction that he is trying to maintain in jail by buying yet more drugs from other prisoners? Does he suffer from health problems that need immediate attention in the jail’s typically abysmal medical system? Is he likely to be sexually victimized by other prisoners or guards? How can you get help by
interceding on his behalf?

To comprehend how to analyze all of these variables, Arrested supplies the reader with sample forms with checkboxes that can be used to make rational decisions. Skull and crossbones flags are used as headers for warnings that should be carefully read. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of Arrested is that not enough people will read it before needing to know the sound advice presented in its 263 pages. Alternatively, Arrested will give the sociologically curious a truly distasteful vision of the seedy nature of America’s jails.

Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One’s in Jail is available in PLN’s bookstore; see page 62 in this issue.

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