Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lessons from San Quentin by Bill Dallas (review)

Lessons from San Quentin by Bill Dallas
Copyright 2009
Barna/Tyndale - Personal Growth/Memoir - Christian
203 pp., incl. brief notes

When the tough times strike, start your defense by recognizing and accepting your God-given ability to persevere. That is not easy. When we face giants, we focus on the giants, not the slingshot and the stones in our pockets. But your ability to triumph begins with the mental certainty that you have what it takes to overcome your obstacles. This is not because of anything you have done; it is because God made you strong and resilient. He wants to shape you, not torture you. Many of His great followers--Job, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, John, Peter and Paul---experienced hardship as a way of life for a season and a reason. In every case, God used the difficulties in meaningful ways. As Joseph told his brothers, who had thrown him in a pit and sold him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

-- Excerpt from Advance Review Copy, some changes may have been made before final printing

I added "memoir" to the book's description because this book is partly about Bill Dallas, the circumstances that led to his arrest and imprisonment in San Quentin and what he learned. There's a great deal of advice, but it's also his personal story as a hot-shot real estate agent who didn't bother checking the legalities of how he ran his business and then was arrested after the real estate crash in the early 1990s.

Apart from a bit of repetition, I thought Lessons from San Quentin was a gripping, fascinating tale. He does share the circumstances that led to his incarceration. Most of the book, however, is about lessons learned while in prison. At first depressed and hopeless, Dallas eventually acquired a job within the prison and discovered that he could once again become fulfilled, even when everything had been taken away from him and while living life at a much slower pace than he imagined possible. His focus is particularly on the "Lifers", those with life prison sentences who have found their peace in God.

Bill Dallas is a Christian and some might consider this book preachy. I found it absorbing and often surprising. What I really wanted to know, as I turned the pages, was how the author applied those lessons to his life after being released from prison -- how he got along in the world after being incarcerated. I was not disappointed.

The true story of Bill's best friend in prison (a "Lifer" named Vy Le) is also absolutely amazing -- how solitary confinement led an angry man to find God and forgiveness. I think Vy Le's story is one of my favorite portions of the book.

Apart from a bit of repetition, this is a very good book that I definitely recommend. I think it's worth reading just to see how far a person can sink but still manage to pick himself up and move on to a completely new and successful career. There are no foul words or offensive graphic descriptions. The author refers to the kind of horrors that occur in prisons generally, but it appears he escaped any brutality and the book is clean, not nightmare- or cringe-inducing.

You can read a chapter of Lessons from San Quentin in the sneak peek post, below.

Remember, tomorrow is Drawing Day for the Big Box of History Rocks! Leave me a comment including your email if you forgot to do so, please!!

Up next will be a sneak peek chapter from When God and Grief Meet by Lynn Eib, but probably not a review (yet) -- it just depends on how much reading I accomplish, today. Then, a review of A Lovely Little War by Angus Lorenzen, which you will probably find a little gushy because it was so hard to put down.

Happy Thursday!


  1. Oh I love the sounds of this book. I'm weirdly obsessed with prison life (just watched Lockdown last night on one of those learning channels).

  2. Andi,

    Really? That's unexpected! It's a good book and I particularly liked the fact that it isn't sordid or horrifying. You get a feel for what the author went through, but it's more about what he learned from Lifers than about prison life and I was relieved that nothing nasty apparently happened to him (if so, it wasn't mentioned).

  3. Oh my gosh! That does sound good. Thanks for the review.

  4. Kathy,

    It's really good. I zipped through it, yesterday.

  5. I'd probably find this a little too preachy for my taste but I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  6. I am liking this book so far. I am not done yet so my review will be up tomorrow. I know one thing I will be focusing on books better this weekend. I have three books to review next week I need to read and I seem to do better on the weekends when I can read all the way through. The weekdays I do better with shorter books or YA. This is a new thing for me and I find it quite disturbing. I need to work on it. :)

  7. Tink,

    It's definitely a very Christian book. I loved reading about his experience. It's hard to fathom sinking quite that low and still managing to become a success.


    It's a really quick read. You'll get through it in no time. I'm the opposite -- weekends are killers. I have the family around to annoy me, marathon training to attend (too early!!). It's easier to squeeze in the reading during the weekdays, but that's because I'm home and everyone else leaves but the cat. She's an excellent reading buddy. If I were you, I'd just go with the flow. Sometimes if you push yourself to read more, it backfires. At least, that happens to me!

  8. What an interesting concept for a book! Another one that needs to go on my TBR list. Great review once again :)

  9. Samantha,

    Thank you! I liked his story a lot. It's surprising, in many ways.


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