Monday, January 07, 2008

Dave Jackson's Forty to Life ~ Reviewed

Forty to Life
Dave Jackson
Published by Bethany House
331 pages

Back Cover: 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 gang banger ties difficult to escape and even necessary for survival. Just when he's resigned himself to this new existence, though, Fay 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?


Raymond Slewinski age 14, starts out to prove to a gang leader that he is a man not a chicken. But Ray doesn't expect the feelings he has and to see what he does after the gun in his hand goes off. Everything seemed in slow motion to Ray as he watched the blood spray out of the young man's chest. All of a sudden Ray realizes he just shot someone he goes to school with. What had he done? Was Greg going to die? Ray had to get out of there.

Shooting someone in "real" life was very different than shooting a guy in a video game. The person you shot doesn't come back to life. You can't have a do over! The game is over for good. Ray's world is crumbling fast. He is on the fast track to prison. How did the police find him so fast? There was no get out of jail card in his future. Ray gets arrested and stays in a juvenile detention center until his case comes to trial. Things aren't so bad there. He hears bad things about the adult prisons. By the time his case comes to trial he will be considered an adult.

He is haunted by this message in his head "You do the crime, you do the time? He knew that was the way society worked, but some how, even 1 ½ years after pulling the trigger, Ray still had not been able to accept that he actually murdered someone. A murderer? How could this be?" He thought he wasn't that bad. This was his first offense. How had things gone so wrong?

While Ray is serving his sentence in adult prison he learns that he could have a second chance at a productive life; even in prison. His cell mate tells him "A guy can turn around if he wants to. God does forgive" Ray soon discovers forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice. A choice he could make that would change his life forever - hadn't Greg's mom forgiven him?

I never really thought about the big differences in juvenile detention centers and adult prisons. Dave is descriptive but not really graphic. I didn't give much thought to the whole legal system and politics that go on before and during a trial until I read this book. Dave does set the mood and creates the heaviness within the adult prison walls effectively. Ray Slewinski is not a perfect kid and slips up many times even in prison. I found myself getting frustrated with Ray and his decisions. I wanted to say to him "Haven't you learned anything?"

But I soon realized that my Heavenly Father has probably looked down at me and wanted to say the very same thing. It's the choices I make every day that bring me life or death. My choices help me get closer to my Abba Daddy, or I can completely turn my back on Him. He still loves me and is waiting with open arms for my return. I'm so glad our Heavenly Father is patient with me; He shows me kindness, love and mercy when I don't deserve it.

This is the essence of the story. "He Came to Pay a Debt He Didn't Owe Because I owed a Debt I Couldn't Pay." I'm glad that God is God and I am not! This is a powerful story.

Nora St.Laurent
Book Club Servant Leader

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