“I am unacquainted with evil, there being no mirrors here,” begins the testimony of Ethan Harms, hero of Harms' Way, Thomas Rayfiel's dark depiction of prisoners and prison life. Harms' Way takes us into the chilling world of a super-max detention facility where America's most psychotic killers are kept in solitary confinement. Yet as we get to know Ethan and explore this world through his wry humor and tragic sense of destiny, we find ourselves uncomfortably at home. We meet Cooney, serial murderer and successful author; Stanley, whose “Halloween-mask features…slack lips and holes-for-eyes” conceal a cunning sadist; Crow, a mute Native American who can spin a man's head 180 degrees so that one hears “minute bones snapping like breadsticks”; and Littlejohn, the dazzlingly handsome new arrival whose victims' mouths were found sealed shut with superglue. These “monsters” become as familiar to us as the numbing routine and casual violence of a life lived without hope. While Ethan negotiates this perilous landscape—trying to find redemption, trying to understand his actions—we begin to wonder how much of a difference there is between a prison of steel bars and razor tape and a prison erected by the nature of the human soul itself. In either instance, if one escapes, what lies beyond?
In Harms' Way, Thomas Rayfiel delivers a gripping listen that also poses disturbing questions about our fundamental qualities as moral beings, about the inherent vices and virtues of our much-vaunted “humanity.”
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