Author details stories inside Elmira Correctional Facility, other NY prisons

Local News

(WGN) – During a particularly bleak decade in his life—during which three chapters of his biography of Timothy McVeigh were plagiarized and published in a book by a different author and publisher, without consequence, and he fell into the grip of substance abuse—journalist Stickney lost everything, including his marriage.

A string of arrests and a 2014 conviction for selling drugs to an undercover police officer sent him to prison. A raw and engaging narrative that lays bare the unvarnished truths behind both addiction and incarceration, the book retraces the episodes and experiences he endured while serving his sentence.

The thrust of the memoir, however, involves Stickney’s belief that he would not have survived without the intervention, assistance, and street-smart counsel of four inmates and a corrections officer, all of whom “kept [him] from going crazy.”

Stickney was immediately befriended by a part Native, part Italian inmate named Bear while “Pastor Mark,” who was serving time for having a sex-charged online conversation with a 14-year-old girl who turned out to be an undercover cop, encouraged and stoked the author’s faith with a stack of Bibles and some stern words of wisdom.

Gummy, one of his bunkmates, dispensed the kind of homespun wisdom that grounded Stickney when his behavior and his patience needed reining in. A convivial highway drifter named Gandhi delivered mystical guidance while Valefor, an uncommonly fair-minded, approachable corrections officer, offered protection and friendly control. Stickney refreshingly avoids sermonizing, accepting full responsibility for his wrongdoings, and his memoir rests on the gratitude he expresses for the five men who served as guideposts of hope and direction.

Amid the prison theatrics, the author also delivers eye-opening facts (“many inmates are homeless upon release”), well-considered personal reflection, and the kind of intensive growth that he acknowledges was sorely needed in his life. There’s plenty of pain and pleasure tucked within the details of this transcendent jailhouse memoir.

After years of hedonism in the literary life, journalist Brandon M. Stickney is caught in an opiate epidemic drug sting and sentenced to prison. Surrounded by society’s most troubled individuals and hostile guards, Stickney faces his addiction and mental illness behind the razor wire. Searching for answers, he befriends four inmates and a guard who help change his life. Haunted by severe cravings, nights of mania, and threatened by prison’s evils, he clings to hope, learning that recovery is possible, even in the darkest of places.

Startling yet humorous, The Five People You’ll Meet in Prison is part memoir, part exposé on the largest of America’s industries: prison. A memorable real-life rendering of the anti-hero’s journey.

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