Mr. Smith Goes to Prison

In 2004, when he was 30, the author was a rising star in Missouri politics, narrowly losing a Democratic primary election to replace the retiring House minority leader, Dick Gephardt. Five years later, then a state senator, Smith lied to the FBI about a minor malfeasance in his 2004 campaign, was found guilty of obstruction of justice and was sentenced to a year in a federal prison. He was a unique inmate, not only because he was a middle-class white guy with a Ph.D.—the most useless degree imaginable in a prison context—but also because he was only 5 feet 7 inches and weighed just 125 pounds. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison is a survival story, a male version of Orange Is the New Black rich in fascinating characters and telling incidents. It's also a devastating critique of the American prison system written from an inside perspective. It would make a worthy—and highly readable—companion volume to Just Mercy, this year's local Book in Common, whose author, Bryan Stevenson, will be in Chico this spring.