You Got Nothing Coming

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275

Jimmy Lerner was living the American dream until the stress of corporate downsizing and rampant consumerism led to drinking, drugs, divorce, bad companions, and finally murder. He describes his evolution from a frightened new fish in a Nevada maximum-security prison into a “stand-up con” who identified with the hard-core convicts and realized that on the bottom rung of society “you got nothing coming.”

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Though well educated and accustomed to luxuries, Lerner was accepted because his crime (plea-bargained down to voluntary manslaughter) gave him prestige in the upside-down world of convicts. His writing style, a mixture of college-educated English, prison argot, and atrocious obscenities, is one of the book’s most interesting features. He dramatizes his memoir adroitly, using abundant dialogue to let the convicts express their cynicism, nihilism, and rage in their own language.

Lerner saves the details of his crime until the final section, where he describes how he became one of the many casualties of the corporate cannibalism and “productivity” mania dehumanizing American life. After losing his cushy job as a market executive with Pacific Bell, he had dreams of becoming a millionaire West Coast entrepreneur until that gaudy bubble burst and he went into an emotional spiral that led to a fatal brawl with a psychotic drinking buddy who keeps reappearing in his prison nightmares as “The Monster.” Now free on parole, Lerner is working on another book.

You Got Nothing Coming leaves a strong impression. It illustrates a truth most of us ignore: Skimping on funding for prisons is false economy. It creates hellholes that make convicts even more dangerous when they return to life outside the prison walls.

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