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What is it like for a convicted murderer who has spent decades behind bars to suddenly find himself released into a world he barely recognizes? What is it like to start over from nothing? To answer these questions Sabine Heinlein followed the everyday lives and emotional struggles of Angel Ramos and his friends Bruce and Adam—three men convicted of some of society’s most heinous crimes—as they return to the free world.

Heinlein spent more than two years at the Castle, a prominent halfway house in West Harlem, shadowing her protagonists as they painstakingly learn how to master their freedom. Having lived most of their lives behind bars, the men struggle to cross the street, choose a dish at a restaurant, and withdraw money from an ATM. Her empathetic first-person narrative gives a visceral sense of the men’s inner lives and of the institutions they encounter on their odyssey to redemption. Heinlein follows the men as they navigate the subway, visit the barber shop, venture on stage, celebrate Halloween, and loop through the maze of New York’s reentry programs. She asks what constitutes successful rehabilitation and how one faces the guilt and shame of having taken someone’s life.

With more than 700,000 people being released from prisons each year to a society largely unprepared—and unwilling—to receive them, this book provides an incomparable perspective on a pressing public policy issue. It offers a poignant view into a rarely seen social setting and into the hearts and minds of three unforgettable individuals who struggle with some of life’s harshest challenges.

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