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I've received a number of messages from readers about how reminiscent current events are to my novel, ALL INVOLVED...
 
"One of our most gifted novelists." MICHAEL CONNELLY, author of the Harry Bosch series

Hello Everyone,

Recent days have been difficult in the U.S. & you don't need me to tell you that. I've received a number of messages from readers about how reminiscent current events are to my novel, All Involved: A Novel of the 1992 L.A. Riots. I've given many interviews since the book came out 5 years ago, & I was always asked: "Can it happen again?" My answer often shocked folks: since the underlying issues have not been fixed, it not only can—it will.

Still, I take absolutely no solace in the fact that it has. Again. I'm just heart-sick. My hope is that these moments of struggle will lead to genuine systemic improvements, & perhaps a very important downpayment on our national promise of "justice for all." I'll leave it at that.

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A quick hello to new subscribers from the recent Booksweeps “Crime Fiction & Thrillers” contest. Congratulations to Grand Prize Winner Elizabeth.

For those new to the list: I’ve done research & background work in South Central L.A. for a decade. The bulk of it has been spent meeting with real people who have done the things I describe in my books—former gang members, law enforcement, lawyers, & more. As an ongoing series only available to newsletter subscribers, I share stories from my 6 years of research on The System. This is the latest installment that 70% of voters (thanks for voting!) chose last month: my first visit to the only super-max jail in America...



The Text

The deputy’s text came after 10 p.m.

I’m onshift, it read. If you can get here before I’m off, I’ll take you through.

           
I gaped at the phone. I’d been trying to get inside NCCF for nearly 2 years.

           
I texted her back and we were set. I’d arrive before 6 a.m.

           
And she’d give me a tour of the only super-max jail in America just as the inmates were being served their breakfast.


Some context: if you’ll allow me, it’s important to establish the difference between U.S. jails & prisons. Jails are for holding prisoners in custody awaiting trial (those who cannot afford bail, or have had bail denied), or, in some cases, to serve out short sentences—usually of one year or fewer. Prisons are for those found guilty and—generally, at least in California—given sentences of more than one year. Within these two types of facilities, super-max is a designated security level. It is the highest possible custody priority, & mainly involves extreme isolation (23 hours a day) in a single cell in a specialized block for prisoners deemed extremely dangerous, ongoing security threats. ADX Florence, in my home state of Colorado, is the only super-max prison in the United States of America. This is relatively common knowledge.
           
Now, the reason I tell you all this, is because there is a super-max jail in the USA that few know even exists. Not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain, the North County Correctional Facility was unusually opened by a sitting U.S. President: George H.W. Bush in 1991.

           
The jail is part of the old Wayside Honor Rancho, which has its own fascinating history: once a working rancho, it eventually ended up in the hands of Hollywood, & many Westerns were shot on its land. I’ve been told (though this is likely the simplified version), that once the studio no longer made Westerns, they sold it off to the County, which turned it into a jail complex—one complete with its own power plant, rolling hills, & sniper towers atop those hills.


Not only is it essentially impossible to get out of, it’s roughly the same to get in.

I tried for two years through various law enforcement contacts. Extensive e-mail chains led nowhere. Personal phone numbers would go out of service. Text messages would go unanswered.

And it got to the point where I simply had to start writing the novel. And I did. Though in a somewhat skeleton form. As I left chapters set in the L.A. County jails empty & pushed on, the pressure mounted. I’d already been working on the project for years and felt I couldn’t write clearly & skillfully regarding incarceration if I hadn’t been inside these facilities & felt their obstacles, if only briefly.

           
(The problem with me, as my wife so often tells me, is that I feel I need to do such things in order to write them. But being able to describe how something feels is one of the core components of my fiction, & my responsibility, I feel, when I am lucky enough to have access to so many inaccessible spaces. I have to get them right. I owe it to the folks who’ve been locked up there & helped with research & background, as well as to the folks who work there, & to myself as well. This jail, I thought, was just one more.)

           
And in all honesty, I was not far from giving up hope when that text came at 10 p.m.

           
I slept fitfully & was on the road by 4 a.m. I passed the first gate at 05:30. I was nervous & excited. I took nothing for granted. I’ve had tours set up at previous institutions that fell through last-minute. You never know when a lockdown will occur. But the luck was with me that day. I met the deputy, signed in, & stepped through the last door of the sallyport (a secure, controlled entrance consisting of 2 doors that can never be open at the same time) well before 6 a.m. & I could feel The System forming right before my eyes.

           
First, we walked the visiting area. I could immediately envision the conversation that would need to happen there between the accused & his friend working to get him freed. Next came the barbershop with its orderly row of newspapers, freshly set out by a trustee. The voc shop (vocation training; in this case, printing glossy fliers for the county, as well as sewing uniforms) came afterward, & it was massive in scale: easily the size of two large warehouses, one for each skill. In L.A. County, jails are truly their own cities.

           
After that, we headed to the pods, where inmates are kept 66 to a large cell—with triple-decker bunk beds in rows of 22. I spoke with some deputies. I was handed a fish kit. (What new inmates receive when first transferred in. A small kit in a plastic bag that includes a comb, tooth brush, tooth paste, and not much else.) Trustees delivered breakfasts (a sandwich & an apple) through the bars in the 600 block—specifically the 617 pod—& I knew, instantly, that this is where two of my characters would be housed during trial.


When I left, overwhelmed & overloaded, I thanked the deputy wholeheartedly. After we parted, I sat in the lobby for some time taking notes, & jotting observations as the day shift arrived & dawn broke. Little did I know that a few short weeks later, I’d be back again, & this time, on an extended tour with the Gang Unit deputies I'd been trying to contact for months.


Preorder The System USA // Preorder The System UK
Research Story Next Month: NCCF, Part 2 — The Gang Unit


New: USA Advanced Reading Copies for The System Are Available

Some good news for those who wish to review The System on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere, you can get it sooner: NetGalley U.S. has proofs available now. Even if you've never reviewed before, fear not. My understanding is you can qualify so long as you promise to review honestly, & I'm told it's a simple process.


Contest: Signed, Stamped, 1st Editions of Safe (USA Only)

Near the end of this month, we'll run a newsletter subscribers-only contest for (2) signed & stamped, 1st edition U.S. copies of Safe from MCD Books. The stamp is of an original work of art designed for the book: the main character's tattoo. It was done by Mr. Chris Brand. So, if you're in the USA & you subscribe to The Ryan Gattis Newsletter (which you do), you are automatically entered. For international folks: fear not, we'll run a contest for you as well, but down the line, when it's easier to ship safely & reliably internationally.


All best wishes, & please do take care of you & yours,
Ryan

 
 
 
 

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