Bethany House Publishers
In his novel Forty to Life, Dave Jackson tells a story about the power of forgiveness and redemption in the life of a young prisoner. Jackson’s book focuses on Ray Slewinski, a Chicago youth who is sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for the murder of a teen. Ray desperately searches for answers about what happened to his life as he tries to stay alive inside jail.
Jackson’s story reads like a cross between “Prison Break” and “Law and Order” – complete with a realistic portrayal of life in prison and a flair for describing courtroom drama. Ray’s involvement with the chaplaincy program in prison is explained well and does not feel forced, and his spiritual experience seems heartfelt and is handled in a way that lines up with his character’s behavior. The most thrilling part of the book, however, comes years after Ray’s incarceration and his conversion experience, when Ray is desperately searching for his sister on the streets of Chicago and ends up in a high-speed car chase.
After his conviction, Ray loses all hope for his life. However, he is then visited by the mother of the boy he murdered. Rather than yelling at Ray or giving him a lecture, the victim’s mother simply tells Ray that she forgives him. This act of forgiveness bewilders Ray, who offsets the monotony of daily life inside prison by seeking to discover what it means to be forgiven.
One flaw with the book is that the first-person musings of Ray often seem inconsistent with the overwhelmed mind of teenager. One minute Ray will be struggling to understand why the police don’t want him to have a lawyer present during their interrogation, and the next minute he will be planning an elaborate escape on par with a J.J. Abrams show. Ray’s closest companions throughout the book — his cellmate “Zitty” and a minister called Mr. Gee — seem realistic and honest in their flawed, but genuine care for Ray. Ray’s relationship with his family, however, seems a bit forced, as Jackson awkwardly describes interactions between Ray and his visiting mother and sister. Ray speaks to his sister and mother in ways completely contradictory with the emotional depth and sensitivity his character displays throughout the rest of the novel.
Forty to Life is no “Shawshank Redemption,” but it provides an entertaining and thought-provoking example about the power of forgiveness can change a life. If you’re up for a fast-paced narrative that will give you a taste of life inside prison, or if you want a redemptive story that feels relevant with today’s culture, Forty to Life is worth a look. – Andrew Neel, Christian Book Previews.com
Murderer. It's a word few people ever expect to apply to them. But for fourteen-year-old Ray, it's suddenly a reality. Provoked by a gang leader into the random shooting of an innocent guy, Ray now faces a forty-year sentence in Chicago's infamous prison system. As far as Ray is concerned, it might as well be for life.
In prison, Ray finds his gangbanger ties difficult to escape and even necessary for survival. Just when he's resigned himself to this new existence, though, Ray receives an unexpected gift--forgiveness. Even as he learns that the source of this forgiveness is God, Ray struggles with accepting it. And then the ultimate test comes: When faced with the man who ruined his life, can Ray extend the same forgiveness that has been handed to him?