New Book Causes Reader to Question American Penal System

Contact: Ashley Runyon,

Is any punishment enough when someone takes the life of another? What’s the point of living a life behind bars? Award-winning author Lauren Kessler’s new book, A Grip of Time, investigates these questions while bringing readers into the minds and hearts of men who are serving out life sentences in a maximum-security prison.

“With A Grip of Time, Lauren Kessler takes us on a compelling, intensely personal journey into the rarely glimpsed endpoint of our justice system,” explained Edward Humes, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t.

Over the past three years, these men, many who have been imprisoned since they were teenagers, attended Kessler’s Lifer’s Writing Group twice a month, sharing their pasts and struggling to come to terms with their actions and their future.

“With a clear eye, Lauren Kessler writes of their journey—and her own,” said Rene Denfeld, internationally bestselling author of The Child Finder, “This is a devastating examination of guilt and remorse, of the unanswered questions of a nation that has pursued mass incarceration without even asking what justice means, or should be. Erased, vanished, haunted: this is a story not just about American prisoners, but of our country's moral code.”

Throughout the book, Kessler reveals her struggles with the competing ideas of rehabilitation and punishment, forgiveness and blame that are at the heart of the American penal system. This book will make readers consider what life sentences entail and poses tough questions like: Are people capable of change? Can learning how to tell your own story help you understand your life, process what you have not yet processed, empower you to make a change?

Alex Kotlowitz, bestselling author of There Are No Children Here, states, “Lauren Kessler avoids all the usual tropes in writing about prison and has written a keenly observed and deeply felt narrative about what it means to be locked up for life. This book, so original and so compelling, took hold of me, and wouldn't let me go. It was revelatory.”


Photo of Lauren Kessler

About the Author

Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author and immersion reporter who combines lively narrative with in-the-trenches research to explore hidden worlds and make the invisible, visible. She is the author of ten works of narrative nonfiction. Her journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O Magazine, salon.comUtne Reader, the Nation, and elsewhere. An international speaker and workshop leader, she teaches nonfiction storytelling in the U.S. and abroad. She lives with her family in western Oregon. Stay connected with Lauren online on her blog, author website, and on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


Book Information— A Grip of Time

By Lauren Kessler

205 pages, 6 x 9                     

Paper ISBN 978-1-68435-078-0 $25.00

eBook ISBN 978-1-68435-080-3 $24.99

Publication Date: May 1, 2019

For review copies, press kit, or interview requests contact Ashley Runyon,