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Prison Baby: A Memoir

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A deeply personal and inspiring memoir recounting one woman’s struggles—beginning with her birth in prison—to find self-acceptance Prison Babyis a revised and substantially expanded version of Deborah Jiang Stein’s self-published memoir,Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. Even at twelve years old, Deborah, the adopted daughter of a progressive Jewish couple in Seattle, felt like A deeply personal and inspiring memoir recounting one woman’s struggles—beginning with her birth in prison—to find self-acceptance   Prison Baby is a revised and substantially expanded version of Deborah Jiang Stein’s self-published memoir, Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. Even at twelve years old, Deborah, the adopted daughter of a progressive Jewish couple in Seattle, felt like an outsider. Her mixed Asian features set her apart from her white, well-intentioned parents who evaded questions about her past. But when she discovered a letter revealing the truth of her prison birth to a heroin-addicted mother—and that she spent the first year of life in prison—Deborah spiraled into emotional lockdown. For years she turned to drugs, violence, and crime as a way to cope with her grief. Ultimately, Deborah overcame the stigma, shame, and secrecy of her birth, and found peace by helping others—proving that redemption and acceptance are possible even from the darkest corners.


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A deeply personal and inspiring memoir recounting one woman’s struggles—beginning with her birth in prison—to find self-acceptance Prison Babyis a revised and substantially expanded version of Deborah Jiang Stein’s self-published memoir,Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. Even at twelve years old, Deborah, the adopted daughter of a progressive Jewish couple in Seattle, felt like A deeply personal and inspiring memoir recounting one woman’s struggles—beginning with her birth in prison—to find self-acceptance   Prison Baby is a revised and substantially expanded version of Deborah Jiang Stein’s self-published memoir, Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. Even at twelve years old, Deborah, the adopted daughter of a progressive Jewish couple in Seattle, felt like an outsider. Her mixed Asian features set her apart from her white, well-intentioned parents who evaded questions about her past. But when she discovered a letter revealing the truth of her prison birth to a heroin-addicted mother—and that she spent the first year of life in prison—Deborah spiraled into emotional lockdown. For years she turned to drugs, violence, and crime as a way to cope with her grief. Ultimately, Deborah overcame the stigma, shame, and secrecy of her birth, and found peace by helping others—proving that redemption and acceptance are possible even from the darkest corners.

30 review for Prison Baby: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Reading this memoir I felt charmed, saddened, angered and charmed all over again. It is not meant to be self-help and Deborah Jiang Stein resists being some kind of poster child for those born in prison or other dire circumstances. But still, when I finished it I wanted to do something better with my life and time. While I cannot relate to being born in a prison or transracially-adopted, I feel connected to her story in other ways: as a recovering alcoholic who has it in the genes; as the sister Reading this memoir I felt charmed, saddened, angered and charmed all over again. It is not meant to be self-help and Deborah Jiang Stein resists being some kind of poster child for those born in prison or other dire circumstances. But still, when I finished it I wanted to do something better with my life and time. While I cannot relate to being born in a prison or transracially-adopted, I feel connected to her story in other ways: as a recovering alcoholic who has it in the genes; as the sister of an transracially adopted brother who struggled, growing up with attachment, identity, addiction; and most compellingly, as the mother of transracially-adopted children. This book should be read by those who think incarceration is the right response to addiction. OK it might not change their minds. It also should be read by those who think love and privilege is enough for a child removed from their parents but it probably won't change their minds, either. But those of us who are already in the choir can feel stronger for reading of Deborah's survival and recovery. It also has a bit of intrigue and suspense but it is not structured to be entertaining and I am often suspicious of memoirs that are structured to be page turners. You might even get a little bored if you are looking for entertainment. Also you might be tempted not to believe her story. But as she travels to women's prisons, Deborah Jiang Stein finds many women who have had the experiences her first mother had of being forced to give birth in prison for crimes related to addiction. This shit happens. As an adoptive parent and as a recovering addict, the most pain I felt--the places I cried--were in Deborah's description of how sorry she felt was as her adoptive mother was dying. The timeline is a bit hazy but it appeared that they had reconciled already. Yet in her generous care of her mother in her dying days, Deborah just could not express enough regret. As a mother, I wanted to forgive her myself as no doubt her mother did. I already forgive my kids for a lot of attachment-related rejections because I know that they didn't choose their circumstances, nor were their circumstances just. However, as a recovering addict, I do not fully forgive myself for my clueless, heartless behaviors when I had my emotions and empathy buried under an ocean of alcohol and I thank God I didn't have kids at the time, but I did have parents and I did hurt them and I do feel tremendous remorse about that. So I get how hard self-forgiveness can be. But I also found myself wishing that her mother had tried harder to understand Deborah's needs and especially had not kept the secrets from Deborah or tried to smother all questions with her love and her parental competence. At the same time, her parents adopted Deborah without any benefit of generational hindsight Adoption research surveys indicate that not until the 1970's did more than a thousand white families include adopted children of color. My pioneering parents stretched beyond the margins to adopt me. But whenever I asked my mother about my caramel-colored skin and button nose, about the hint of an almond shape to my eyes, she'd tell me she loved me and that I was one of the family. I was too scared to eke out even one word to her in response, to tell her I didn't feel part of anything.-DJS My parents adopted my mixed-race (considered black) brother at almost the same time in US history as Deborah was adopted, the 1960's. It was a time when being color blind was considered a virtue by those who disagreed that racism should be the standard way to sort humanity. It was, in fact, a radical stance in opposition to legally-sanctioned segregation. Sadly for them, the children who were and still are transracially adopted in the US are the guinea pigs in a social experiment with unquantified results. Those of us with hindsight, who want to dig deeper, have learned that color blindness is actually a sanitized form of racism. If we say we do not see the color of others' skin (which we literally cannot ignore), then we are saying we do not see their differences; therefore, we do not see them. Rendering someone invisible will result in a failure of empathy that Deborah experienced from her loving, privileged parents. That failure of empathy can lead to the diminishing response that transracial adoptees who express mixed feelings are bitter, ungrateful and unwelcome in any conversation about it. Because of my personal experience and reflection, I was aware of these dynamics when we began our adoption journey but I really wanted to be a parent. It was a fundamentally selfish impulse which is why I brush aside any kudos directed my way. I tried to get pregnant a few times but I was at an age when fertility was not something to pursue at any length. When I announced (because I am the announcer) that my husband and I would attempt to adopt locally and seek same-race adoption, I ran into a world of problems that I won't go into for this review. When I decided by default that transracial adoption would be acceptable, it felt a bit like making a deal with the devil. I rationalized that I live in a new era, that I had learned lessons from my brother's and others' adoptions, that I am not ideologically color-blind and that I am willing to tell my children the truth as I know it (the "as I know it" part being a major obstacle). However, the results of the social experiment in which we attempt to reverse the wrongs done by previous adoption policies without reversing the actual policies is still pending results. Maybe there is no way to get it right. I really cannot know in the long term if my kids will be OK. I read memoirs and to be honest, sometimes my greatest fear is that my kids will write memoirs that indicate my cluelessness. Yes, the love will come through, but privileged cluelessness is impossible to completely eradicate. As soon as we white adoptive parents think we have it figured out, we are guilty of hubris. Perhaps the best we can hope for, embrace, accept is Deborah's conclusion about sorrowjoy, which really needs to be a word. Yes, I'm happy today, and for no specific reason at all I'm filled with joy. If I'm sad and sorrowful at times for whatever comes about, in the same moments I can feel contentment and find humor and joy. Sorrowjoy, because if we sit still inside and let it in, they live together and we thrive. -DJS Preach it sistah!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In a system that treats drug addicts as criminals---that incarcerates people struggling with addiction, instead of recognizing addiction as a complex disease and providing treatment--- injustice piles upon injustice. The war on drugs has destroyed families, tearing parents and children apart. To what end? Prison Baby is the memoir of Deborah Jiang Stein, a woman born in prison. Her mother was an incarcerated heroin addict. Jiang Stein's memoir documents a difficult journey. She begins with her In a system that treats drug addicts as criminals---that incarcerates people struggling with addiction, instead of recognizing addiction as a complex disease and providing treatment--- injustice piles upon injustice. The war on drugs has destroyed families, tearing parents and children apart. To what end? Prison Baby is the memoir of Deborah Jiang Stein, a woman born in prison. Her mother was an incarcerated heroin addict. Jiang Stein's memoir documents a difficult journey. She begins with her childhood discovery of the circumstances of her birth---a dark secret she was never meant to know. She then details the devastation and trauma that stemmed from her early, state-imposed separation from her mother---which was compounded by the insufficient resources available to her and her well-meaning adoptive family during her childhood. Discovering the secret of her birthplace sent Jiang Stein into a near-deadly cycle of self-abuse that is painful to read about but important to understand. We are often so quick to judge and condemn others when we don't understanding the context for another person's actions---but context is everything. The context Jiang Stein offers helps the reader make sense of her early life's senselessness---the terrible decisions and choices she made, despite the love and support of her adoptive family, all painful reactions to her circumstances; her feelings of being an outsider, an "other" in our society in so many ways; and the weight of her secret about her prison system origins upon her young psyche, stunting her psychological and emotional development. Ultimately, however, Jiang Stein's story is one of hope. Her research into her history, her recovery from self-abuse, her peacemaking with herself and her family, her service to others, and her personal healing all prove to matter very much. They show that whatever our beginnings---whatever our flaws and our burdens---we can find contentment in life. We can give up the "If onlys" and "What ifs" that break our hearts and crush our souls, instead coming to terms with our pasts and forging a new future. Even for those who are so-called hopeless cases, Jiang Stein implies, hope is possible. Prison Baby is also a call for change. Although much has improved about our penitentiary system since Jiang Stein spent her infancy within prison walls and was wrenched away from her devastated mother, there is still much work to be done. It is heartening to see that Jiang Stein herself is engaged in crucial work with incarcerated women and girls. But this work doesn't fix the system, either. As such, her story shines a light on the fact that we still need better solutions to our society's problems with drug addiction and better ways of serving incarcerated women and girls.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This book started out good, then just got boring. It's very short, and I still had to struggle to keep my attention on it. The stories just sort of jump around and don't delve very deep, or ever get interesting before they just end and jump to something else. You never really get invested in the characters or actions that are happening. The end was so boring and lame that I had to fight to not just abandon it. Some of it is just very unbelievable - there's no way a baby under a year old is going This book started out good, then just got boring. It's very short, and I still had to struggle to keep my attention on it. The stories just sort of jump around and don't delve very deep, or ever get interesting before they just end and jump to something else. You never really get invested in the characters or actions that are happening. The end was so boring and lame that I had to fight to not just abandon it. Some of it is just very unbelievable - there's no way a baby under a year old is going to have memories and feelings from when she was in prison. I mean, come on. You expect me to believe you remember being in a crib in a prison? Yeah, right.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This book was just Ok for me. While I am very sympathetic to her issues from birth to age 3, I am inclined to say "get over it" to a lot of what she has "gone through" There are a few things that may be disheartening for sure. I did feel her pain when she did not know what race she was (and truly doesn't know with absolute certainty to this day) That is unfortunate, but I am sure many adoptive children go through this. It was a semi interesting story, but unfortunately, I did not feel like it had This book was just Ok for me. While I am very sympathetic to her issues from birth to age 3, I am inclined to say "get over it" to a lot of what she has "gone through" There are a few things that may be disheartening for sure. I did feel her pain when she did not know what race she was (and truly doesn't know with absolute certainty to this day) That is unfortunate, but I am sure many adoptive children go through this. It was a semi interesting story, but unfortunately, I did not feel like it had enough substance fill up the number of pages that were in this book. This book was given to me through a goodreads giveaway.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dacia

    If you like a Memoir book: This would be a definite read, I am not all into them myself but I have to say this was probably one of the best I have ever read, you feel connected to the author and the story does not have a long drawn out boring story line like some I have read, In this story the things that Deborah goes through may somehow relate to some peoples lives or someone they know or have known.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Benedict

    This is an absolutely riveting story. I'm surprised that anyone can be unmoved by it. I'm dazzled by the author's candor, grit, insight, fierceness, and just about everything else. In addition to having written a memoir about her remarkable journey, having been born in prison and raised by adopted parents who didn't know how to talk to her about her past, she is a speaker in prisons and to law enforcement and social work people who deal with the prison population, through her non-profit This is an absolutely riveting story. I'm surprised that anyone can be unmoved by it. I'm dazzled by the author's candor, grit, insight, fierceness, and just about everything else. In addition to having written a memoir about her remarkable journey, having been born in prison and raised by adopted parents who didn't know how to talk to her about her past, she is a speaker in prisons and to law enforcement and social work people who deal with the prison population, through her non-profit organization, UnPrison. Deborah Jiang Stein is an incredibly courageous, tough, smart, ferocious woman, who regularly deals with a group of people - prisoners, and women prisoners - whom most of us have the luxury to ignore. I am filled with admiration for what she does, and for what she's done with her life - and with the story she's had the dedication to craft and share with us. And grateful she has opened my eyes to all of this.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This review is based on a copy I received through a Goodreads giveaway. Prison Baby is the memoir of Deborah Jiang Stein, who was born in prison to a mother who struggled with drug addiction. She was subsequently adopted by a couple and accidentally discovered the circumstances of her birth during her childhood. The book details many of the author's complex emotions and struggles that she experienced over the following years. This book starts out very strong. The author's writing style helped me This review is based on a copy I received through a Goodreads giveaway. Prison Baby is the memoir of Deborah Jiang Stein, who was born in prison to a mother who struggled with drug addiction. She was subsequently adopted by a couple and accidentally discovered the circumstances of her birth during her childhood. The book details many of the author's complex emotions and struggles that she experienced over the following years. This book starts out very strong. The author's writing style helped me to really empathize with her emotions as a child. She shares very honest, painful memories of her childhood. The middle portion of the book was the weakest for me. The author engages in many risky behaviors while dealing with her emotional pain, but I was left feeling like something was missing, or was glossed over, in this part of the book. It just wasn't as complete for me as the chapters dealing with her childhood years. The final portion of the book deals with the author's adult life and how she has learned to live with her personal challenges. Overall, a good read. I admire the author for her frankness in discussing many deeply personal feelings she has experienced. Her openness allows the reader a greater understanding of her struggles. I wish the pace and tone of the entire book could have matched the beginning of the book. If it had, I think it would appeal to a broader range of readers.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tori Miller

    I really enjoy reading memoirs, but I would have enjoyed this more if it also provided a little information from experts on the impact of trauma in the early years and on Hep C. I have seen memoirs that were able to include some of that information while still feeling like a memoir. I had a really hard time with the parts at the end about Hep C. There are so many misconceptions about it, and I felt like the sections on that will just add to the problem. I think speaking out usually helps stigma, I really enjoy reading memoirs, but I would have enjoyed this more if it also provided a little information from experts on the impact of trauma in the early years and on Hep C. I have seen memoirs that were able to include some of that information while still feeling like a memoir. I had a really hard time with the parts at the end about Hep C. There are so many misconceptions about it, and I felt like the sections on that will just add to the problem. I think speaking out usually helps stigma, but I am not sure it will in this case. I loved this quote on grief.....I had no idea how loss and pain, if grieved, could lead to contentment, even if it took twenty years to mourn. I can’t identify the exact moment it happened, when a vastness opened inside me like a torrent of warm summer rain and cleansed any doubts I held whether I could go on living with the sorrow. Yes, I’m happy today, and for no specific reason at all I’m filled with joy. If I’m sad and sorrowful at times for whatever comes about, in the same moments I can feel contentment and find humor and joy. Sorrowjoy, because if we sit still inside and let it in, they live together and we thrive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carlamcgov

    A Powerful, Messy, yet warm Memoir. Deborah holds nothing back, as an adopted child she finds herself seeking for information about her birth Mother after she Finds a letter showing that she was born in Prison. Sinking into years of crime and drugs, alienation from her loving adoptive Parents. Finding information of her birth and of her mother seems to finally give her insight on her birth Mother, her adoptive parents and herself A beautiful story of transformation into a Woman with strength, A Powerful, Messy, yet warm Memoir. Deborah holds nothing back, as an adopted child she finds herself seeking for information about her birth Mother after she Finds a letter showing that she was born in Prison. Sinking into years of crime and drugs, alienation from her loving adoptive Parents.  Finding information of her birth and of her mother seems to finally give her insight on her birth Mother, her adoptive parents and herself A beautiful story of transformation into a Woman with strength, courage and grace.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    Ms. Jiang Stein's story engrossed me from the moment I picked it up until the end. I ready it in one sitting. Deborah and her 'brother' (also adopted), were adopted in the 1960's when there weren't many caucasian families with mixed race adopted children, and even fewer resources. I felt her emptiness, her sadness, and later, her ever-growing distance and anger from her adoptive parents, especially her mother after she found the letter. I found myself internally yelling at her mother in the book Ms. Jiang Stein's story engrossed me from the moment I picked it up until the end. I ready it in one sitting. Deborah and her 'brother' (also adopted), were adopted in the 1960's when there weren't many caucasian families with mixed race adopted children, and even fewer resources. I felt her emptiness, her sadness, and later, her ever-growing distance and anger from her adoptive parents, especially her mother after she found the letter. I found myself internally yelling at her mother in the book to talk to her, explain what you can about her history, about who she is. I know her adoptive mother felt she was protecting her then, but Deborah was fully aware of the physical differences between her and her family. Ignoring them and pretending they didn't exist would only lead to more angst for her. One particular incident that nearly set me off was when one of her classmates called her a "nigger" on the school bus. The problem was, Deborah had no inkling what race she had in her at all. She doesn't respond, but shoves the anger deeper inside herself. When she gets home and her adoptive mother presses her about how her first day was, she finally tells her; she still doesn't get it: 'I yearn for her arms around me so I can fall apart against her chest, but I don't want to break down before my mother reaches out first. I wish I could melt into her. Into someone. Anyone. But I can't, don't know how. She heaves a sigh like I've forced her to talk about my race again. All I want is a hug. Also, all I want is to shove her into the wall. "But you're one of us, dear, and we love you," she says... ...I gave up on the idea of ever having a mother. I was on my own. She's one of them, I thought. White, and she won't understand. (pg. 38) --Deborah Jiang-Stein The older she gets, the more Deborah rebels. She causes trouble in school, is confrontational with her mother and delves into the world of drugs and alcohol. She leaves home for college at 18 and quickly gets herself involved in toxic relationships, drug crimes and more heavy usage. It's not long before the school asks her to leave and she disappears for a few years into her own dysfunctional world. She comes back a few years later, after a harrowing incident, and stays with her uncle Peretz while she cleans up. From here Deborah began picking up the pieces of her shattered life and commits to find out everything she could about her birth mother, and herself. Her ability to finally reconcile with her adoptive family and find redemption makes this all the more powerful. I would recommend this book to anyone to read. It is powerfully written and the author is brutally honest and holds nothing back. Even if you aren't into memoirs, this is one you might want to consider. *****FIVE STARS***** I happened to win a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and I consider it a blessing that I did.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sleepless Dreamer

    This was okay, I guess. I read it quickly and in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. I'm sorry. It wasn't an emotional ride for me because I am so preoccupied. It made me reflect about how important for us our roots are. As someone who isn't adopted, there is so much I take for granted and I shouldn't. I'm so grateful for my life. She's so brave and I admire her for pushing forward, for redefining herself. It was exciting for me to read. As a Jew, the idea of heritage is important. This was okay, I guess. I read it quickly and in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. I'm sorry. It wasn't an emotional ride for me because I am so preoccupied. It made me reflect about how important for us our roots are. As someone who isn't adopted, there is so much I take for granted and I shouldn't. I'm so grateful for my life. She's so brave and I admire her for pushing forward, for redefining herself. It was exciting for me to read. As a Jew, the idea of heritage is important. There's something about knowing my people are such a long line in history, that we've been around for so long. I've never considered how much comfort this gives me. I've always thought being mixed race shouldn't play such a part in a person's identity but this made me realize how it can. I do think it shouldn't be like that. I'm also wondering what her adoptive parents could have done better since obviously there were problems there. Maybe they should have told her sooner, maybe they should have read more about what she was going through or I don't know, the story shouldn't have looked like that. I'm not blaming them because I have absolutely no right to do that. I'm just wondering for the future how could this be avoided. I support adoption so much. I am positive I don't want to be pregnant and the closest I will ever come to having kids is foster care. I believe in this so much. Anyway, this is a good book. I recommend it and I do feel I enjoyed it, even if I payed less attention than I should. what I'm taking with me • Again, the prison system needs to change immediately. • This is such a feminist masterpiece once you think about it. • We build ourselves and decide what's important.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gayle

    I was interested in this book long before it was released. I had been online friends with the author for quite a while and supported her projects, but had no idea of what her writing style would be. PRISON BABY touched my heart. When Deborah was twelve-years-old, she discovered, while snooping through her adoptive mother's dresser drawers, that her birth mother was a heroin addict and was in prison when Deborah was born. Since she was very young, she had fleeting memories of people viewing her I was interested in this book long before it was released. I had been online friends with the author for quite a while and supported her projects, but had no idea of what her writing style would be. PRISON BABY touched my heart. When Deborah was twelve-years-old, she discovered, while snooping through her adoptive mother's dresser drawers, that her birth mother was a heroin addict and was in prison when Deborah was born. Since she was very young, she had fleeting memories of people viewing her through bars. It was easy to dismiss these flashes as the dowels on the side of her crib. Now, they had another possible meaning. She holds nothing back, owning her years of crime and drugs and separation from the wonderful Jewish couple who adopted her. She wanted information about her birth mother to find a key to her unknown mixed ancestry. She did not fit any mold. This is an amazing book of love, hope, forgiveness, and worthwhile ways of giving back. Deborah's writing style is superb; how could it not be? Her adoptive parents were well known in the literary circle, and the guest lists for their dinner parties included some big names. Five stars from me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Lindsay

    What a harrowing story! Deborah Jiang Stein tells the story of her prison birth in an amazingly powerful telling of not just her prison momma, but the author's slips through adolecence and adulthood. Born to an incarcerated heroine addict, Deborah is adopted by loving--yet strict--Jewish parents living in suburban Seattle. At a time when adoption and multiracial skin tones were not the "unusual," Deborah has questions. She finds the beginnings of answers tucked into a top drawer of her mother's What a harrowing story! Deborah Jiang Stein tells the story of her prison birth in an amazingly powerful telling of not just her prison momma, but the author's slips through adolecence and adulthood. Born to an incarcerated heroine addict, Deborah is adopted by loving--yet strict--Jewish parents living in suburban Seattle. At a time when adoption and multiracial skin tones were not the "unusual," Deborah has questions. She finds the beginnings of answers tucked into a top drawer of her mother's dresser, on a slip of paper which she keeps the details to herself. Her life spins out of control with drugs, sex, crime, an impulsivity she craves and yet cannot control. Filled with renderings of her life on the street, her call home, the visit to prison where she began her life, and through the cycle of addiction, Deborah comes to an understanding and reconcilliation. Today, she's a national speaker, writer, and founder of the unPrison Project where she builds awareness of women in prison, and offers mentoring and writing programs for inmates. PRISON BABY is a definite read for anyone who has questioned their identity, their bond with their mother, and perhaps even reaching a bit--the definition of what it means to be an American.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein is a free Goodreads FirstReads advance reader copy of a paperback book I began reading after Easter. I was really looking forward to reading this book after coming across the tail-end of an audio interview on MPR one morning (transcribed here - http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/03/...) and thinking, "Yay, I was just mailed that book! It's in my reading pile!" and then, "Wow, she sounds really put together..." Little did I know that Ms. Jiang Stein had a history Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein is a free Goodreads FirstReads advance reader copy of a paperback book I began reading after Easter. I was really looking forward to reading this book after coming across the tail-end of an audio interview on MPR one morning (transcribed here - http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/03/...) and thinking, "Yay, I was just mailed that book! It's in my reading pile!" and then, "Wow, she sounds really put together..." Little did I know that Ms. Jiang Stein had a history of intense stress, ulcers, drug and alcohol use, possession with intent to distribute, and a lotta lot of held tension and anxiety. She weaves a tale of a childhood that is firm, artistic, and dignified, then an early adulthood that is loose, defensive, hallucinatory and frantic. Her words fly out of the book in a flurry but with such vulnerability that a reader wants to reach in and hold her. Where the flurry tames, though, is during her recovery, both physically and mentally. She heals herself with public service and honoring her mothers. It is beautiful and soothing to read and a fitting ending for a life still being lived.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Susan Spann

    I found this book via #LitChat (on Twitter) because the author was a guest host several months ago. I bought the book on the strength of the #LitChat experience, and I wasn't disappointed. Although I found the present-tense voice a bit distracting in places (especially because it sometimes seemed to switch between present and past) on the whole I found this a compelling memoir. Even on the occasions (by no means many) when the voice distracted me slightly, Stein's narration pulled me right back I found this book via #LitChat (on Twitter) because the author was a guest host several months ago. I bought the book on the strength of the #LitChat experience, and I wasn't disappointed. Although I found the present-tense voice a bit distracting in places (especially because it sometimes seemed to switch between present and past) on the whole I found this a compelling memoir. Even on the occasions (by no means many) when the voice distracted me slightly, Stein's narration pulled me right back into her experience. This is a book I would never have found but for #LitChat, and I am very glad I discovered it. I enjoy narrative nonfiction about a wide range of experiences, particularly those of people whose lives are very different from my own. This was an interesting and well written book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    I received this book in the mail on Friday as part of Goodreads, first reads. This book is memoir of mystery enveloped sadness that gets spearheaded by the discovery of a twelve year old girl. Learning that she was born in a prison opens a chasm in her soul. Obviously this story is intriguing. It is well told with wisps of poetry and profound reflection. The author is very honest about her feelings, what she went through, and her ideas at the time she was living them. This doesn't always happen I received this book in the mail on Friday as part of Goodreads, first reads. This book is memoir of mystery enveloped sadness that gets spearheaded by the discovery of a twelve year old girl. Learning that she was born in a prison opens a chasm in her soul. Obviously this story is intriguing. It is well told with wisps of poetry and profound reflection. The author is very honest about her feelings, what she went through, and her ideas at the time she was living them. This doesn't always happen in memoirs since the author is looking to maintain their "goodness" in the eyes of the reader. It did seem at times that there were pieces missing, like the author was hiding pieces of her experience on purpose. This happens in memoir but I could actually see it in this case. I also appreciated the part that speaks about her work and advocacy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JC

    Interesting look into the life of a young girl who can't figure out how to deal with the revelation of who her birth mother was. I wonder what would have happened had her adoptive parents been more open about where she was from. It's highly likely that she could have been saved from a lot of heartache and troubles later on. Who knows for sure though. It brings to light some interesting questions though about pregnant women in jail. This one was free and a quick read. Enjoyed it pretty well.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kalli Taub

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Her last 2 chapters should've been meshed with the introductory paragraphs and preface! Her hepatitis status is also a topic that should have been introduced in the beginning. I also think that her mothers records should be unsealed (I thought death overrules censorship). I think that this narrative adds to the recent surge in female prison books (thanks "Orange is the New Black"/Piper Kermit/"Oz"?).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Page

    Deborah Jiang Stein recounts her story of being adopted in Prison Baby. It’s not what you might expect; we don’t start in prison, but in a nice home with loving Jewish parents who are university professors. Jiang Stein accidentally finds out from a cousin that she’s adopted, which explains her mixed ethnicity that does not match that of her white family. But it is when she is twelve and snooping in her mother’s dresser drawer that she finds a letter Mother wrote a lawyer asking to keep Jiang Deborah Jiang Stein recounts her story of being adopted in Prison Baby. It’s not what you might expect; we don’t start in prison, but in a nice home with loving Jewish parents who are university professors. Jiang Stein accidentally finds out from a cousin that she’s adopted, which explains her mixed ethnicity that does not match that of her white family. But it is when she is twelve and snooping in her mother’s dresser drawer that she finds a letter Mother wrote a lawyer asking to keep Jiang Stein’s origins — born in prison to a drug-addicted mother — a secret. Unable to process, Jiang Stein keeps what she learned a secret until she’s in her thirties. Like many others, Jiang Stein struggled with behavior issues as a child that are likely the result of being born addicted to heroin. She finds herself behaving both badly and recklessly, even as a small girl. Despite Mother’s love and support, little Jiang Stein hates Mother every time Mother says she’s just like them and she belongs with them. Her parents seem to miss the point, at times, but this is an issue of lack of education, not willful ignorance. Jiang Stein was adopted in the 1960s when there were still Jim Crow laws. Her multiracial features look somewhat Asian, somewhat African. She pulls away from her family. At seventeen she leaves home, and Jiang Stein becomes a drug user, dealer, and mule. More reckless, more angry, more addicted. Eventually, she returns to the place of her origins after writing numerous letters to the warden of the prison at which her biological mother was imprisoned. The memoir explains how the author created a relationship with Mother, got to know her biological mother and her family, and became an activist and spokesperson for incarcerated women.Everyone had hoped all along that we’d one day love each other as daughter and mother, and at last we’d made it. I never let Mother close to me, either physically or emotionally. She didn’t stand a chance against my fierce loyalty to my biological mother. No one did. But Mother was the one with the stamina to wait for me. Some things just take time. Decades even. I’ve never met another person with my mother’s patience.One problem I find with memoirs written by people who were addicted for a number of years is that that time frame is often fuzzy, causing the dangerous lifestyle to read like words instead of feel like danger. Perhaps the author didn’t want to “wallow” in her addiction, or maybe she doesn’t remember, but to me it reads more shallowly that I would prefer. The emotional connected must be created by the reader. I did appreciate that Jiang Stein wanted to keep her story for herself as she processed the emotions and information she gained as an adult. News got out about how she lived in prison after her birth, and how her biological mom refused sign over custody of her. Thus, media wanted Jiang Stein to tell her story, but she knew it wasn’t ready for the public because she wasn’t ready. Birth in prison, foster care, adoption. She doesn’t remember it all. Or does she? The psychology presented — do we remember out time as infants? — is fascinating. Such moments highlight the author’s maturity as she went to counseling and researched her personal history.I listen more than talk and answer her intake questions with one-word replies. The counselor suggests that my behavior and escapades have been my way to return to the place I first felt safe: prison. “You’ve taunted the world to send you back where you first felt love,” she says.One issue that I often have with personal growth memoirs is that they can quickly turn into wide sweeping pronouncements about what it means to feel love, to be alive, and to discover then shape one’s identity. Quite a chunk is devoted at the end to how wonderful and mysterious life can be, and it read like Jiang Stein wasn’t sure how to end. I wanted to know more about her relationship with her biological mother’s family, about the work she does as an activist, and what she’s learned by talking to other women who are incarcerated and have delivered infants in prison. Such a deeply personal history needs to be revealed fully on the page after serious introspection and clear descriptions of how that process happened. Overall, if you’re interested in adoption, incarceration, and addiction you’ll enjoy this memoir. Also, I’m providing information about Jiang Stein’s work through the UnPrison Project, helping women and children affected by incarceration. This review was originally published at Grab the Lapels.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Prison Baby: a memoir by Deborah Jiang Stein is a very interesting book. It tells the story of Deborah, a woman who was born in prison and spent a good portion of their life trying to process the information. This book explains her struggle to find self acceptance, and through a hard life of drug addiction and trade. The main problem I had with this book was that I felt like some statements were repeated throughout the story. It also felt like there was just a bit too much filler and that some Prison Baby: a memoir by Deborah Jiang Stein is a very interesting book. It tells the story of Deborah, a woman who was born in prison and spent a good portion of their life trying to process the information. This book explains her struggle to find self acceptance, and through a hard life of drug addiction and trade. The main problem I had with this book was that I felt like some statements were repeated throughout the story. It also felt like there was just a bit too much filler and that some parts were not as meaningful as others. But despite these issues, I thought that Prison Baby was a very interesting book that goes deep into the aspects of life that not many people pay attention to. Overall, I give Prison Baby: a Memoir a 3/5.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Law

    I really wanted to know more about how Stein began speaking in prisons. She goes into great detail about her first 30 years, sometimes lyrical detail, but after she visits the prison in Alderson (where she was born), that kind of detail stops. I can understand her desire to protect her daughters' privacy by sharing as little as possible about them, but I wish she'd included more about what made her decide to start speaking in women's prisons, what steps she had to take to secure permission from I really wanted to know more about how Stein began speaking in prisons. She goes into great detail about her first 30 years, sometimes lyrical detail, but after she visits the prison in Alderson (where she was born), that kind of detail stops. I can understand her desire to protect her daughters' privacy by sharing as little as possible about them, but I wish she'd included more about what made her decide to start speaking in women's prisons, what steps she had to take to secure permission from prison administrators, how she overcame bureaucratic obstacles (of which prisons have many), etc.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Braunstein

    Well written, but the author's obnoxious obsession and cloying self-pity throughout the book over learning the identity of her biological mother is annoying. Worse still, her expressed total lack of gratitude to her adoptive mother is dismaying. Delete her mother-fixations and there is not much left to the book, which I nevertheless endured reading because I was interested in the phenomenon of her being born a heroin addict. A more accurate book title would be Mother Baby or Cry Baby, not Prison Well written, but the author's obnoxious obsession and cloying self-pity throughout the book over learning the identity of her biological mother is annoying. Worse still, her expressed total lack of gratitude to her adoptive mother is dismaying. Delete her mother-fixations and there is not much left to the book, which I nevertheless endured reading because I was interested in the phenomenon of her being born a heroin addict. A more accurate book title would be Mother Baby or Cry Baby, not Prison Baby.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    The struggles Deborah faces throughout the book makes the reader feel sympathetic towards her, and the feeling of being lost within herself really takes a look at how she feels. While she grows up, it takes the reader on a journey, and it isn't one you would expect, since you were watching her since the moment she found those adoptive papers, and she felt that shock. Overall, this book was very intriguing, and I did not get bored of it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Perry

    Not worth the time. I made it through half of this book, but I just can't bring myself to put any more time into it. This "memoir" is more of a laundry list of all of the bad decisions that the author has made. There seems to be very little reflection or narration to accompany her list.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Cherne

    An honest reflection on choices we make the impacts our choices have on others.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Vulnerable, honest, well-reflected.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

    A very compelling memoir about loss, addiction and reconciliation. It touches on so many things...race, economic status, self image and how intertwined these are in American society.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julene

    I don not know the author, but I am connected to her on Facebook, so have been reading of her journeys into the prisons where she speaks to women prisoners and how transforming this is for the women. In the book she writes, "I return to prisons, my birthplace, and address the inmates there. My story is a natural fit for the women, and I share what I've learned, how life is less about what happens and more about what we do with what happens." I've admired her work and had been meaning to read her I don not know the author, but I am connected to her on Facebook, so have been reading of her journeys into the prisons where she speaks to women prisoners and how transforming this is for the women. In the book she writes, "I return to prisons, my birthplace, and address the inmates there. My story is a natural fit for the women, and I share what I've learned, how life is less about what happens and more about what we do with what happens." I've admired her work and had been meaning to read her book, so when she announced that Amazon had a one day only offer: for every book bought they would donate a book to a woman in prison, I finally purchased her book. It is a very compelling read. She was adopted, and learned her birth mother was in prison by snooping in her adopted mother and father's bedroom where she found a letter. She felt different all her life, through her quest she found answers to her many questions: she spent a year living in prison, she finds her brother who did not know she existed, she finds a letter a foster mother wrote to her birth mother in prison. She eventually is able to get her records from the state prison. She learns her mother tried despertly to keep her. In her quest she is clear about the psychology from her birth experience, how she had RAD Reactive Attachment Disorder (stated as untreatable to her by a psychologist) through her life, but she does not take on the label. She felt these affects due to the separation from her mother through her nervous system. And she explains all this beautifully because she is a skilled writer. This is a book that explores how our life is emeshed with our mother at a core biological level. A couple of quotes from the book I love: "As for Attachment disorder and other diagnostic labels related to trauma, today I don't link myself to any of them. I don't claim them, even though I might struggle with the symptoms. I shun labels. Even prison baby. Whatever I am, I am—and I continue to grow and evolve because sometimes where we've been broken is where we free ourselves the most." "We have no maps for loss. Mentors, coaches, teachers, neighbors, family, friends, partners, all who walk the path with us, they help shape our lives when there's no algorithm to follow. I'm the only one, though, to decide if I listen to others and work and push forward—to learn, to forgive, to flourish." This book grows compassion and understanding for this population of women who are locked away out of sight. The ramifications on society are huge and it is time to make changes in our prison system. Near the end of the book she informs us that eleven states now house nurseries on their prison compounds. The pain of separation is huge, how can we make society a better place for these women and their children so they have a chance to thrive?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Stickann

    Memoirs are a bit different to read. I find the author is often so emotionally involved in the beginning of the book, that they forget the reader. Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein’s is just that type of memoir. I won this book on Goodread’s First Reads Giveaway program. The cadence of the book noticeably changes in the last quarter of the book. It is at this point that I find the real value of this story. Though I enjoyed the first part of the book, I did find it somewhat tedious. Memoirs are Memoirs are a bit different to read. I find the author is often so emotionally involved in the beginning of the book, that they forget the reader. Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein’s is just that type of memoir. I won this book on Goodread’s First Reads Giveaway program. The cadence of the book noticeably changes in the last quarter of the book. It is at this point that I find the real value of this story. Though I enjoyed the first part of the book, I did find it somewhat tedious. Memoirs are so personal, so difficult for both the reader and the writer. This book drew me in from the beginning and yet I struggled with the read. At the end, when the author had worked through the turmoil of her past, as a reader, I was able to enjoy her journey. This is a story so important, so eye opening that it should not be missed. At the finish of the book, I found myself wanting to know more about the mothers of babies born in prison. Perhaps we are not, as a society, looking at our problems from the right direction. This book has moved me to delve a bit deeper into this issue. Four stars from this reader.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    I started to read this book directly after reading a story about a child from Honduras whose mother left them with their elderly grandmother so she could make her way to America. The grandmother died and at 10 the child was left to feed her little brother and live alone in a shack raising a 6 year old. Feeding themselves by rummaging in the dump for food or anything she could trade for food. So to begin to read this book following that story, i simply couldn't find sympathy for someone who was I started to read this book directly after reading a story about a child from Honduras whose mother left them with their elderly grandmother so she could make her way to America. The grandmother died and at 10 the child was left to feed her little brother and live alone in a shack raising a 6 year old. Feeding themselves by rummaging in the dump for food or anything she could trade for food. So to begin to read this book following that story, i simply couldn't find sympathy for someone who was born with bad luck but was afforded so much opportunity. I also found a theme here with two other adopted children i know that are now adults. I agree with another reviewer here and wanted to yell, "get over it". These kids were saved from a life of trouble and hardship and afforded so much more opportunity and all they do is make life miserable for the people who gave up so much to give them a good life. I might put it on my try again shelf, but I'm not sure if I will.

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