Life Sentence

Life Sentence by Mark Bowden

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Life Sentence:

“The Wire” is more realistic than we want to admit.

Quick synopsis:

The life and crimes of Montana “Tana” Barronette in Baltimore.

Fact for Non-History People:

In 2015 Sandtown, Baltimore, there were 64 murders and only 18 people ended up being charged. Yes, that’s a very bad rate.

Fact for History Nerds:

Baltimore crime was so bad, the police department was taken over by the federal government in 2017.

My Take on Life Sentence:

If you have ever been to Baltimore, nothing in Life Sentence by Mark Bowden will shock you. This also happens to be Bowden’s point. A searing look at a crime infested area of Baltimore called Sandtown, Bowden is more than telling a story of a gang. He is indicting the society which created Sandtown and refuses to do anything about it or at least anything successful so far. He’s also depicting gang life and how murder could be so commonplace.

A book like this can easily spin too far into blaming a tragic story on only one source. If you place all the blame on a racist society then the gang member murdering innocent people isn’t guilty at all. If you blame crime purely on criminals, then you are ignoring the world they grew up in and probably could never leave. I felt Bowden managed all these viewpoints. In telling the story of Montana “Tana” Barronette and his gang “TTG”, Bowden doesn’t give Tana a pass. He is a murderer and the circumstances of his life do not absolve him from destroying lives. However, Bowden points out that locking up Tana didn’t solve Sandtown’s problems, either.

I loved this book. Bowden humanizes everyone involved from gang leaders to police officers. He never paints anyone as all good or all bad and highlights the blind spots people have. It’s a powerful narrative by someone who clearly knows what he’s doing.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Grove Atlantic.)


A great but depressing read. Read it! Buy it here!

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