Title: On a Cold Day in Hell
Author: Stephen Parkes
Genre: Non-fiction / Memoir / Legal Thriller
On a Cold Day in Hell opens with Parkes committing a crime for which he is arrested and sent to jail. The majority of this book takes place there with Parkes awaiting sentencing and the impending threat of his transfer to prison.
Parkes delivers a frank account of life in jail, focusing primarily on his inner journey told through stories of daily life behind bars. We meet his cellmates, hear about the daily routine, the food, and the clothes. But mostly, we watch as Parkes contemplate his case, his future, and those of his new friends.
Law is a central theme all throughout the book. Parkes skillfully depicts the extent to which the accused–and also those defending them-don’t understand the subtleties of the laws that affect their cases. Parkes himself has a background in law, and we see him researching his own case and advising other prisoners on theirs. Parkes finds dispensing legal advice rewarding, if he can help them, but potentially dangerous if he can only impart bad news.
Between addiction, depression, and questions of competency, mental health issues play a large part in the book. Parkes considers the successes and failures of the prison mental health system as he experienced them on a personal level, and also, as he understands them on a larger scale.
The book similarly examines the Florida state prison system systemically, pointing out specific facts about the prison industrial complex that readers may not be familiar with. While it is not simply an indictment of the current system, Parkes does enumerate many problems. He also highlights those counties in Florida with successful prison programs.
Shorter chapters with clearer headings would ease reading comprehension, but for the most part the information in On a Cold Day in Hell is laid out plainly, and it is a captivating read. There is a good mix of factual and statistical information and action-driven stories and anecdotes to keep readers engaged.
While Parkes admits to numerous faults over the course of the book, he is still cast in a sympathetic light, and readers will find it easy to root for him. Vicariously experiencing Parkes’s triumphs and defeats is the most compelling part of the reading experience.
Race relations come up in a few different ways, both concerning life in jail and treatment in the courtroom. Parkes points out his race several times, although more discussion on what that means to him would have strengthened the narrative as a whole and added a new dimension to the way we view Parkes’s character.
Dramatic moments make this a page turner, and readers who enjoy suspense and legal drama are in for a treat. Parkes tackles tough subjects with boldness and compassion that ring true. On a Cold Day in Hell covers a wide enough array of subjects within the Florida justice and corrections systems that every reader is bound to learn something new reading this.
This Editorial Review was written by the Book Review Directory staff. To receive a similarly honest, professional review for one of your own books, click here.