Free by Lauren Kessler

Published: April 19, 2022


Pages: 293

Genre: Nonfiction

KKECReads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily.

Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and narrative nonfiction writer who combines lively storytelling with deep research to explore everything from the hidden world of a maximum-security prison (A Grip of Time: When prison is your life) to the seemingly romantic but oh-go-gritty world of ballet (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker) to the surprisingly vibrant world of those with Alzheimer’s (Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s). She has dived into the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement (Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Antiaging) and weathered the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship (My Teenage Werewolf).

Her books have been Washington Post and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, Wall Street Journal “best” selections, Pacific Northwest Book Award winners, and Oregon Book Award winners. She is a national speaker and workshop leader who has twice been a guest on the late/great David Letterman Show.

Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, Woman’s Day, Utne Reader, The Nation,, and

She is a Pacific Northwesterner (by choice, not birth), a blogger, a back-country hiker, a long-distance bike rider, and — as her long-suffering family knows well — a quadruple Aries.

“It was not always like this.”

This book was exceptionally well researched and had a lot of vital statistics. Lauren is passionate about helping prisoners reenter the world and helping them in whatever way she can as a mentor and friend.

My feelings about this topic are complicated. I want to believe that people can change. And that if you commit a crime at 14, you can grow and better yourself by 40.

But I also really can’t fathom expecting the victims’ families to be supportive of early release. I’ve lost two loved ones to violence. And if the offender ever asked me to forgive them or tried telling me about the things accomplished in prison, it would not change the facts.

Murder, regardless of age, background, etc., is never alright. And just because the crime happened while the offender was a minor does not mean they should be given a second chance.

My aunt will never get a second chance. My childhood friend, who was days away from turning 18, will never get a second chance. She will never get to graduate college, fall in love, or have babies. She will never get to find a passion and explore her possibilities.

Because someone took that from her. Took her from us. So, while the writing was good and the research well done, I cannot say I agree with this very biased book.

It is apparent that Lauren has developed feelings for these people. Not romantic at all. But she is willing to defend what they have done and has argued for their release.

It took me a pretty long time to finish this book. I had to take several breaks because I would get so upset by the content. I needed space. I don’t think I will be reading anything by Ms. Kessler in the future.

I can respect her views, and I tried to see her side. But I cannot imagine looking the parents of a murder victim in the face and advocating for the person responsible for being released from prison early.

Perhaps it is because I know what sitting on the victim’s family side of the table feels like, but I am not quite as ready to see what positive things have been accomplished behind bars.

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