The Huffington Post and AARP held a nationwide memoir contest, in partnership with Simon & Schuster, which was open to any American born before Dec. 31, 1964 with a story to tell. They received thousands and thousands of responses, which the judges, including the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington, Huff/Post 50 editor at large Rita Wilson and AARP editorial director Myrna Blyth, narrowed down to 10 finalists, and finally just one grand prize winner. PRISONER IN THE KITCHEN (Simon & Schuster; March 29, 2016) is that outstanding story in full, available to the public for the first time.
The year is 1973, and recent Montana transplant William Bonham desperately needs a job. Hoping to take advantage of his background working in restaurants and diners, he comes across a listing for a position offering great money and benefits—at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Out of money and options, he takes it.
As a food service supervisor in the kitchen of the maximum-security prison, Bonham oversees a kitchen crew of convicts as restless and unreliable as the prison population they serve. Among his staff are Earl, a homely baker; Aldrich, a timid young dishwasher; Smoky Boy, the prison’s most feared and respected convict; Mackey, who claims to have cooked at Seattle’s prestigious Olympic Hotel in his pre-incarceration life; and Reed, whose calm, witty demeanor quickly wins over Bonham, but also disguises a dark past.
The prison is its own tiny universe, with rules and patterns Bonham must master, and fast, if he is to survive on the “inside.” Over the course of a year, he bears witness to meltdowns, misbehavior by convicts and guards, violence, tragedy—and even small moments of joy. And he comes to care for his crew. Although he knows that these men have committed unforgiveable crimes, Bonham forms camaraderie with them that borders on friendship—until one late-night incident calls his judgment into question.
An intimate look inside the U.S. prison system and the damaged but nonetheless human characters that inhabit it, Bonham writes with humor and empathy, illuminating a world often ignored and forgotten by the population at large. A PRISONER IN THE KITCHEN tells the redemptive tale of Bonham’s transformation from a bright-eyed optimist who sees the good in everyone to a man with a deep understanding and respect for the complexities of human nature.
About the Author
Born and raised in Seattle, William Bonham spent the first fifteen years of his working life as a professional cook. One of those years was as a cook, on staff, at Montana State Prison. At the age of thirty-one, while working in a restaurant in San Francisco, he almost literally stumbled into doing voiceovers for radio and TV commercials. The pay was much better than cooking, the hours kinder, and he packed away his knives. Now semi-retired, and still in San Francisco, he lives with his wife, Louise, and has one son, Christopher.
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