Books behind bars: Angels with dirty faces – Walidah Imarisha

As I tend to only read books which have been recommended to me by others, I find I have a similar taste to, most are old with some so old it is almost impossible to get hold of a copy especially through the underfunded prison libraries in this country. This is made worse by the obscurity and niche category of what I have found to be the greatest titles, resulting in some remaining on my to-do list until I am lucky enough to come across them years later. When I then recommend these same books to others, I know it is unlikely they will hunt them out with the same level of dedication I have, but some books are just too good to keep quiet about.

Thanks to the guys at AK Press, I am today able to make noise about a title published in 2016 which should be easy to get hold of by everyone. Having just finished Angels with dirty faces by US writer and activist Walidah Imarisha, my immediate thought is Wow! This book is so insightful, creative and powerful that I have fallen in love with Walidah. The bibliography alone reads like my own personal wish list but Walidah has done more than read all of these books, she has truly understood them, sometimes even more than the authors themselves, who range from Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander to Noam Chomsky. She has been able to analyse the concepts found in each of these books, including justice, crime, prisons, politics and racism; then link them all together smoothly in an easy-to-read, gripping collection of true stories. 

Being a prisoner, you can never really know the experience a prison visitor goes through but this is just one aspect Walidah enlightens readers on when she tells her own personal story. The book is broken down into true accounts of three people who are all connected in some ways: Kakamia, a man sentenced to life as the secondary participant in a joint enterprise murder when he was only a teenager, and who has clear mental health problems; Mac, the hitman for a notorious gang turned snitch; and Walidah herself, the life of the book, daughter of a struggling single-parent, mixed-race family grown into an amazing woman with a fascinating intellect who left me with the desire to meet her. 

Even if only to steal future reading ideas from the bibliography, this is a book you have to get. You will be mesmerised and transfixed whilst reading this, and will become a better person with the knowledge it imports. The best book of 2016! 

Kevan Thakrar 

[Kevan Thakrar is an avid reader who was wrongly imprisoned in 2007 for the joint enterprise murder of three men. Kevan has been detained in solitary confinement in the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system, since 2010 when he attempted to defend himself from attack by racist HMP Frankland prison officers. For more information and to contact Kevan about his conviction and campaign for freedom, or to recommend or discuss books, go to or write or email via to Kevan Thakrar A4907AE, HMP Wakefield, 5 Love Lane, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF2 9AG]


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