Reviewed by: Delonya Conyers
The murder of Christian Alexander’s uncle triggered his descent into a life of crime. By the age of 19 he was already considered a menace to the streets of San Antonio Texas earning him a federal prison sentence. During his incarceration Christian would face adversity that not even the streets could prepare him for. As if existing within a corrupt system that has no interest in rehabilitation wasn’t difficult enough the prison that Christian is housed in is entrenched in a battle for control by rival gangs that are divided up amongst racial lines. But there’s even dissention in the gangs as infighting occurs over leadership. What make matters even worse is that the blacks have the smallest population in the prison.
Christian is determined to make it home safely to his family. But the atrocities that he faces while in the federal prison system if they don’t cause him to lose his life they just might cost him his humanity. The road to redemption in subhuman conditions is a hard fought battle but that is exactly what Christian must do if he is to survive the belly of the beast. But not only does Christian survive he develops into someone that will help others exist within the prison walls as well. Highlighting that inspiration can be found even while within negative environments.
With Belly of The Beast author Caleb Alexander does an exceptional job revealing the horrific reality of incarceration. There is no glorification of the conditions that exist behind bars. Although the book is undoubtedly urban fiction it surpasses other books in that genre by exploring the consequences of crimes which so many other books fail to do. They usually end once the character is jailed or if the incarceration is delved into it is usually glossed over as a place where characters get their weight up or plot the moves they’re going to make upon being released. But with Belly of The Beast readers will find a dark gritty tale that exemplifies how the truth always makes way better fiction.
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Reviewed by: Reads4Pleasure
Fans of the HBO series Oz will appreciate the latest from Caleb Alexander, Belly of the Beast. Set in a Texas prison it is the story of Christian Alexander. Raised by his strict grandmother and a high performing student in his Catholic high school, Christian seems destined for greatness. With his own father in prison, Christian looks to his uncle for guidance. When that uncle is gunned down while walking a friend home, Christian descends into his own personal hell. With little regard for life, he goes on a killing spree that lands him in a maximum security prison.
Coming from the streets of San Antonio, Christian has always had Hispanic friends. He learns quickly that there’s no such thing as friends of another race in prison. Separated from Enrique, his lifelong friend, Christian quickly aligns himself with others of his race. At first content to go along to get along, Christian doesn’t get involved in prison politics or race wars. When his best friend is attacked, his views change and he begins to organize the biggest and most well trained prisoners that the system has witnessed.
A student of several world religions, Christian creates Umkhonto, whose sole purpose is to protect black prisoners from those that would do them harm. Backed by his counterparts in other parts of the yard, Umkhonto becomes a force with which to be reckoned. As the native Mexicans and U.S. Mexicans do battle on the yard for dominance, the Umkhonto quietly build up their numbers in preparation for the battle that is surely coming.
Though not an extremely lengthy read, I found myself struggling to make it through this book, simply because of the subject matter. There’s a point when Christian rejoices over the number of black men arriving at the prison because to him it means more soldiers for his war. To me it simply meant more black men displaced from their families and more black women left behind to raise their kids alone.
Is it hypocritical of me to enjoy shows such as Oz or the works of Iceberg Slim, yet question this storyline? Perhaps. Christian does have redeeming qualities and expands his mind enough to think beyond the prison walls. The fact that such an avowed separatist can find it in his heart to save a man of another race is enough to make me step back and question whether or not I’ve misjudged him.
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