Monday, November 6, 2023

The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten Book Review

Published in 2001, The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten by Karlene Faith, is an examination of Leslie's life with Manson, in prison, through her retrials, and back into prison. Parts of the book were used as source material for the film Charlie Says. The book definitely stands on its own but is also a great companion read after watching the film. 

Karlene Faith wrote The Long Prison Journey out of her experiences working with Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel during their early days of incarceration, immediately after their capital sentences were overturned. The women were now facing sentences of life with the possibility of parole (there was no life without parole provision at the time), and the warden of the California Institution for Women asked Faith to put together a tutoring program, with an eye towards helping the women break away from Charlie's influence, and to enable them to reintegrate into the prison population, and eventually society. It should be noted that Faith became friends with the women, particularly Van Houten. 

The book is broken down into several parts, most of which deal with the psychology of the Manson Girls, Faith's interactions with them at the prison, Leslie's retrials, and a short section of excerpts from Leslie's letters to Faith. Anyone looking for any fresh details on the crimes or victims will not find it here: any aspects and details of the crimes are briefly touched upon in the various sections. 

Faith comes at her subjects from a definite feminist perspective. The girls are presented as victims, in a way, of Manson's physical, sexual, and emotional/mental abuse. This abuse is covered in depth. Faith was interested in re-educating and raising the consciousness of Leslie, Pat, and Susan, in order that they could begin to think for themselves and process what they had done. Faith lays out in detail her conclusions regarding what she feels was her success in doing so. 

The real value of the book is in the details it gives regarding the women during their incarceration. Most of the TLB related literature focuses on the crimes and the time leading up to it, as well as what life was like in the Family. Not many have decent coverage of what their lives were like in prison. Of interest as well is the analysis of where the women were at mentally and emotionally, before, during, and after Manson.

Is The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten worth reading? Mostly yes, but with a few caveats. If you do not have a decent amount of knowledge about TLB, the book will not be of much interest. It doesn't cover the crimes and trials in much depth. If you feel that the women cannot and will never change, the book is not likely to change your mind. For anyone looking for a glimpse into the women's lives and minds during incarceration, anyone interested in more information of Leslie and her subsequent trial, or anyone interested in the subject of reform or rehabilitation, it is definitely worth picking up. 

Karlene Faith passed away in 2017. You can read her obituary here.

Karlene Faith