Man claims prison saved his life.

Robin LaBarbera, PhD, DSW
Prison saved my life(Shutterstock)

An evaluation professional looks at the book, Prison Saved my Life: I Recommend it For Everyone (Dooley, 2018).

Prison Saved My Life is a moving and powerful memoir. In the prologue, Dooley asks you, the reader, if you’ve ever been at the end of your rope, felt the bottom of your life fall out, felt completely and utterly hopeless, felt totally alone, or felt rejected by the world and even some of the people who are supposed to love you? Louis Dooley, just a teenager at the time, was sentenced to life plus 100 years in prison. He knows a thing or two about being at the end of his rope.

“What if I told you that you, too, can find the hope, peace, forgiveness and purpose you so desperately want? Would you think it’s too good to be true? I would. So instead of convincing you with arguments or theories, I’d like to share my story with you and allow you to judge for yourself. My story will resonate with you, make you uncomfortable, shock you, make you laugh and cry, but in the end it will give you hope. Ultimately, however, this story is about someone far greater than myself. Allow me to introduce you to—the Answer,” Dooley said. He’s talking about Jesus.

In his book, Dooley chronicles in 130 pages the life of crime that led him to a lengthy prison sentence (two life sentences plus 100 years) and how his time in County Jail and later in a maximum-security prison for “lifers” helped him turn his life around.

In many ways I resonate with much of Dooley’s childhood experiences and his ultimate resilience. But the lens through which I write this review is not one of shared trauma and redemption, but rather I will approach my discussion from my perspective as a professional program evaluator.

In my work as an evaluator, I come alongside non-profit leaders who are doing the work of social justice, with the goal of gathering data that can provide professional level evidence that they are doing what they set out to do to their stakeholders. In many cases their stated outcomes involve “changing lives” in some way. Dooley’s book is evidence of a changed life.

The typical program evaluation, particularly one that is outcomes-based, measures the impact of a program. It uses questions about program activities to evaluate changes in client behavior, actions, and attitudes, and intermediate and long-term changes in community values. “What do we expect to change in the population we are serving as a result of what we are doing” is a common question in program evaluation.

Hypothetically, let’s say we are evaluating a correctional education program where Dooley was imprisoned. The Rand Corporation tells us that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower change of recidivating than those who did not. Changes in behavior while in prison and after release seem like a good thing to evaluate among incarcerated individuals. It potentially impacts the prison community and the communities into which former prisoners get released.

Dooley said, “ Life in prison was rough from day one. Incredibly rough. My enthusiasm for God did not make me immune to the many challenges, pit falls, temptations and heartbreak that would be waiting for me in the days and years to come. What my new faith in God did give me was a way to handle it and work through even the most difficult times.” This seems to be evidence of a changed life.

What should have been two life sentences plus 100 years, through a miraculous turn of events lead to his early release after only 15 years. An unheard-of release for someone in his position. In another surprise, despite that his parole term was approximately 67 years, the state ended his parole 65 years early.

“God had already done some amazing things for me by releasing me from prison early. He allowed me to go into two maximum security prisons while still on parole. Then to top it off, He released me from parole. God is good, and I don’t know why He loves me so much. I am truly humbled and in awe of His grace, power, and love. I am confident that God loves us all and wants to be as big a part of our lives as we allow Him. As weak and frail a man as I am and God blessed me too, how much more so He wants to bless those who are faithful and diligently seek Him.”

It seems that the prison theological training Dooley received was responsible for changing his life.

Louis Dooley was a young man who imprisoned with over two life sentences for theft and attempted murder. Through a miraculous turn of events, Louis received Jesus Christ in prison and recognized he had new life in Christ. Today, Louis is a free man providing pastoral counsel to current inmates, in hopes of the gospel setting them free. Despite a small setback (he smoked marijuana with a fellow inmate and failed a random drug test), Dooley’s behavior in prison certainly changed.

This memoir is a story of criminal behavior, imprisonment, and redemption. It gives us a glimpse into a life that most of us will never know. It is an inspiring story of one man’s ability to change his future with the power of Jesus. The author’s gift for crafting his story in such an engaging way propels this book to the top of my list of favorite memoirs.

Comments / 0

Published by

Dr. LaBarbera is a researcher, educator, and social work advocate who is passionate about sharing content that informs, inspires, and empowers individuals to achieve their greatest potential.

Seal Beach, CA

More from Robin LaBarbera, PhD, DSW

Comments / 0