Mullane chronicles the lives of the five parolees as they leave prison, reunite with long-suffering families, get overwhelmed ordering from menus, and struggle to find work and forge new relationships. The devastation their crimes left behind, not to mention the void in themselves, can’t be easily remedied. (One of the five is the father of two boys who were two and eight years old when he shot the drug dealer who stole his wife; by the time he gets out, they’re in their twenties—and in prison.) Mullane is there to observe many of the events she recounts, in contrast to Kunerth’s more conventional true-crime technique, which involves dramatizing scenes culled from interviews with the participants—a tricky business when the sources’ stories don’t agree. Mullane’s radio-reporter approach seems more intimate at first, but I soon became too conscious of her as a chatty presence in the story, dropping in on the men in the hope of gaining some revelatory bit of action and even inviting the whole crew to Thanksgiving dinner in order to provide a parting scene. The tightwire that parolees must walk isn’t empty of drama, but a successful re-entry doesn’t have a tidy ending, just a slow settling in to something like normalcy.
Still, it’s encouraging to learn that none of Mullane’s subjects had violated parole by the time she completed her research. Her account manages to put human faces on people who are too often demonized by the media—and then forgotten. As its title suggests, Life After Murder makes a strong argument that a sane sentencing policy should address the reality that, long after even the most terrible sins of youth, people can change.
Sadly, the change isn’t always for the better. Some teen offenders become inured to prison life. Willie Bosket escaped from a youth facility and was sent to an adult prison. He committed other crimes during his brief periods of freedom, was sentenced as a habitual criminal, then was convicted of assaults on staff while housed in a maximum-security prison. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2062, when he’s 99 years old.