The Siege ISBN: 9781937818005, Sand Hill Review Press, a Psychological Thriller in e-book by James Hanna.
Plot: Tom Hemmings was the middle-age son of a former State Department Employee whose early life was spent abroad. He had been one of the ‘rebels without a cause’ developing during the ‘60’s – a ‘Hippie’, war resister living in Australia, ex-short-term felon, two years army service as atonement, following which he had acquired a Bachelor and Master Degree (Criminology) through the G-I Bill. Presently he is a twenty year prison employee (Dormitory Counselor) in the 86-year-old medium security Indiana Penal Farm that produces furniture and brooms for state-wide consumption. It sits in 20,000 acres of farmland with an adjacent town peopled by prison employees, their families and those servicing the town’s requirements. Unrest gradually builds within the prison population until the inmates riot. Ostensibly, one of the prominent reasons is because the Colonial Concessions Company, the multi-state Commissary from which the inmates purchase their personal supplies, provides substandard items at greatly inflated prices, but even worse, does not do so in a timely fashion. This trivial sounding action is highly inflammatory because the inmates cannot pay their internal gambling debts causing animosity with deadly results. The story gradually evolves as Tom, the designated intermediary, must play a huge and dangerous game in the ensuing devastating action. Additional important protagonists are: Chester Mahoney, Tom’s most reliable ‘snitch’ (informer), who is a child molester and former lay minister with a gifted tongue acting somewhat as “…leader of an insurgent nation.” Henry Yoakum, a war veteran, petty grafter and black marketer who is a prison guard and Tom’s ‘roadie’ (back-up on patrol). Captain Hawkins, a fat, ‘Charlie Chaplin like’ excitable emergency squad commander. The entire situation is exacerbated by the distrust, deceit, deception and politically over reactive situation that exists among the prison personnel as well as among the prison inmates. The prisoners are split into warring gangs including Muslims, Nation of Islam (largely blacks associated with the religion), Aryan Brotherhood (white supremacists), Devils Disciples (drug dealing, violence) and some professing American Gospel Party affiliation (pseudo-religious organization advocating racial separation and maintaining governmental distrust). The prison officials and guards are seriously split among the politically warring unions represented by highly contentious individual members of the United Auto Workers, Teamster International Brotherhood, both having a number of former auto plant employees who had lost their jobs, and the AFSMCE (American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees). The resulting action is vicious and the ensuing results are as one might expect considering the psychological components of the characters involved.
Discussion: The author has set forth an intriguing and thought producing story about a modern penal institution and the individuals involved. The inmates and their ‘causes’, petty and otherwise; their ‘keepers’ with their myriad ‘hang-ups’; the interrelationships between the two factions all are boldly set forth. Tom, true to his youthful thoughts/beliefs/activity, continues drifting through life taking the path of least resistance. He lives in a trailer, goes hunting/fishing at will, finds companionship and/or sex at the most convenient bar when moved to do so, and never gives a thought to ‘living up to his potential’. His thoughts still reflect much of those of his youth: “Tom Hemmings did not feel alarmed when the riot finally began, not even after the laundry dorm – the dormitory he was assigned to – had been taken over by the inmates. He instead felt a sense of vindication, a sentiment reminiscent of the antiwar marches of the sixties, but he knew his nostalgia was presumptuous since it was difficult to determine the purpose of the uprising.” And the supporting characters of this boy/man equally are exposed in their often pathetic ambiguity. This is a story presented by an author who apparently has closely witnessed these individuals functioning in their seemingly hopeless ‘bottom-of-the-world’ position and has fictionalized them at their worst. A glossary of ‘slang’ used is provided at the book’s end and may be helpful if perused before beginning to read the text.
Summary: A most interesting novel about people involved in a way of life far removed from that encountered by the usual individual.
4* Most interesting story of people seldom encountered in one’s lifetime.