Discussion Questions

Chapter 1: Language of the Unheard

How has the landscape of drug law changed in the United States over the last two decades since the Talladega prison riots took place in 1995?

Examine what stigmas and common conceptions of drugs you have: are they tied to race, economic status, gender, or sexual preference?

Chapter 2: Con Air

What do you learn about Joel’s crime and the criminal process in this chapter?

Chapter 3: Guardian Angel

What tone was set for USP Marion before Joel’s arrival?

What emotion did this chapter evoke? Why?

Chapter 4: The Good Life

What contrasts are presented here in comparison to previous chapters?

Chapter 5: Not so Innocent

What values are presented in this chapter?

What traits are developed in Joel’s character?

Chapter 6: Playing in the "Sandbox"

What differences between county, state, and federal facilities did you discover in this chapter?

Chapter 7: Dead Ahead

How does the setting shape this chapter?

Why do you think Joel pursued touring with the Grateful Dead?


What realizations does Joel make in this chapter? What realizations did you have?

Chapter 9: Joy Riding

What did you learn about LSD in this chapter? How does it interface with the culture surrounding the Grateful Dead?

Chapter 10: Convict Code

What are some of the “rules” that Joel learns in this chapter? How does this shape his relationships?

Chapter 11: All In on a Draw

What parallels are drawn between prison and real estate in this chapter?

How would the story change if it were set in a city that wasn’t Milwaukee?

Chapter 12: He's Gone

What were some of the motivations that would have caused Joel to take the risks he did in this chapter?

Chapter 13: Poker and The Pop in the Housing Bubble

How did the economic landscape of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s shape and interact with Joel’s story?

Chapter 14: Black Box

What does the green duffel bag symbolize in this chapter?

Chapter 15: Acceptance

How did character development contribute to this chapter?

Chapter 16: Crime School and the Single Cell Organism

What tone was set for Marion before this chapter? How did it live up to the tone set? How did it differ?

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