The Town That Shot Itself in the Foot
by Judy Gail Krasnow

book review by Mari Carlson

“Everyone has a story. Even the monsters and there is no place one can learn more about the human condition than in prison.”

When Miami becomes too expensive for the single, almost-retired performance artist, Rachel, an old penitentiary in Michigan being turned into an artists’ residence, The Hatchery, seems the perfect affordable housing option. Artists are promised studio space and support in turning their crafts into businesses. For Rachel, the prison itself becomes a source of revenue. She turns stories of ghosts of prisoners past, ex-prison workers, and living ex-cons into tours through the complex, as well as through a working prison. As her venture grows, however, so does the town officials’ animosity against her and other artists. The home that was once the answer to Rachel’s prayers becomes her own prison.

Starting with Rachel’s ideal life in Miami, surrounded by friends, fair weather, and ample work, the book sells The Hatchery with matching descriptions of the other artists, the beautiful landscape, and the possibilities laid out for artists. The Hatchery’s allure sets the stage for Rachel’s disappointment as the place’s prospects fall away and, worse yet, they are replaced by restrictive and punishing setbacks. Revenue and amenities are taken from artists. Factions form, dividing artists against each other and against Hatchery personnel. Conflicts are explored through vitriolic exchanges in litigious and exacting writing, including emails and letters exchanged between artists and Hatchery management. Driven by a pursuit of promises kept, the narrative builds a convincing case against those at fault.

However, conversations between residents lighten the mood, showing that vengeance is not the novel’s point. The residents are quirky. One is slovenly and swears a lot. Another misuses words. Others have infectious accents. Rachel’s vivaciousness comes across in her stories and extroverted exchanges. She brings people together over martinis. Overcoming difficult conditions, like the lack of heat and space, the artists make murals and put on a drag show and gallery exhibits that depict their creative, can-do energies. Songs, books quoted, and descriptions of natural beauty infuse the text with inspiration. Besides a prison, other analogies made by various characters, such as the one comparing The Hatchery to a roller coaster ride or a symphony, make the point that Rachel and friends work to keep positive in the face of condemnation. Like amusement park attendees or concertgoers, they move through turmoil toward levity and personal satisfaction.

While the book’s determined pacing is marked by a chronology of Rachel’s successes and defeats, spirituality also pervades the text. A different character narrates each chapter. Most are from Rachel’s perspective, but some are from her colleagues, enemies, and even the ghost of an ex-prisoner. These perspectives add reverence and activism to the story in the light they shed on prison conditions, life in the small Michigan town, and Rachel herself. The result is a compassionate feedback loop. As Rachel tells stories from the prison, some of the prisoner-narrators get to tell her story, giving back to the one who really heard them. The book then pays the kindness forward by celebrating stories. Krasnow has produced a unique novel, a work filled with relatable human drama and, more importantly, uplifting hope in the power of one’s own story.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The title of this book describes, with humor, the culmination of a series of events that take place in a town whose primary claim to fame is having two prisons located there! When the author, a professional storyteller, hears that one prison, the old historic one, has now been converted to workshops and apartments meant to attract artists of all kinds, she is intrigued, and moves there, hoping for a new start. Her story of the following happenings is sometimes told as though witnessed by other of the book’s characters, including the spirit of a prisoner held in the old prison in a previous century! We learn of the author’s creation and development of tours of the old prison, complete with tales of its history. A tour of one now-empty cell block in the newer still-functioning prison is begun as well. However, the success of her enterprises, though bringing in busloads of tourists, is not viewed favorably by the town’s elite, and they conspire to take over, and remove her from the tours she created. Do read this intriguing story—It is full of history as well as contemporary intrigue, and will inspire you to keep turning the pages to see what is going to happen next!
Jean Walsh
This story, inspired by true events both historical and present, had to be told; and only talented storyteller, writer and historian Judy Gail Krasnow could properly tell it. At last, these nearly 200-year-old walls can finally talk, and they have a lot to say. Read it and enjoy the magic!
Mary Jean Westerlund
“The Town That Shot Itself In The Foot” is entertaining, relevant and historically interesting. Author Judy Gail Krasnow has a definite gift for storytelling and unique characters. You want to keep reading on. Don’t miss out. Read this book!
Louis Cubille
The book’s title tells it all: given a golden opportunity to reap fame and fortune on a piece of its history, the town wants this history to be forgotten (or at least relegated to a back burner); the powers to be apparently win. And at what cost? An outsider arrives and takes residence in a historic building that was the city’s first prison. It has been turned into lofts for artists and they forge a wonderful creative bond. And then the storyteller among the group realizes the potential of arranging tours through part of the building. Those become so popular she gets permission to include a tour of an unused part of the current prison. Busloads of delighted tour groups arrive and that generates jealousy among the “higher ups” in town. Written in flowing narrative, readers are introduced to various characters who provide laughter as well as sadness as things fall apart.
Monetta Harr