Exile Nation Examines the U.S. Drug War From Behind Bars

For most of us, the inside of a jail or prison is a mythical, albeit unpleasant, holding ground for those deemed by the state unfit to coexist with the rest of society. What we never really know is what it's like to be inside: strip searches, gang fights, overcrowding to the point of suffocation -- that is, until local author Charles Shaw's Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics, and Spirituality, which is released this week. The memoir tells the gruesome story of an inmate at Cook County Jail in Chicago -- a vast facility that holds nearly 10,000 inmates and has been home to figures such as mobster Al Capone and serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Shaw was convicted of possessing MDMA -- you might know it as ecstasy (and even after his third arrest, Shaw continues to think of it that way) -- and spent a year in the facility. Much of the book retells his experience from inside the walls of the jail, but the self-proclaimed drug activist does frequently plead his case to the reader -- that he was using ecstasy not recreationally, but as treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by cocaine addiction.

Shaw further contends that our nation's handling of illegal drugs is narrow-minded and extreme. Although Shaw is clearly guilty of illegal drug use and by a legal standard deserved his punishment, what stands out is the inside look into our corrections system, which seems more like a cruel and corrupt internment camp based on Shaw's experiences. Readers beware: Exile Nation will not agree with a full stomach.

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Charles Shaw
Charles Shaw

Hi Alyssa...this is the author. Thank you so much for the review. I just wanted to clarify a factual error above. I spent a year at the East Moline Correctional Center, which is part of the Illinois Department of Corrections (aka prison). Although I began at Cook County, and spent significant enough time there, which is chronicled in the first chapter, my sentence was to IDOC. The majority of the book takes place not in Cook County but in IDOC. For those to whom these issues matter, it's a notable difference that is worth making. Otherwise, thank you again. 

~ Charles ShawSF, CA

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