The author's descriptions of life in prison, were so detailed and so vividly depicted, I felt I wasn't reading the book, I felt I'd stepped into Leavenworth Penidentiary and was seeing Luke's life and sufferings unfold in front of my very eyes. I felt his pain, his yearning for his beloved Darlina, and I was touched by his concern and love he carried deep down his heart for his parents and his children. And then... who would have thought, Luke, the tough guy, the rebel,would practice rituals of sacred American Indian ways, or carry the Apache Tear with him, in the hope that this would save him from sinking into depression, repel his negativity and become positive and productive. He needed to work hard on his leather craft making, to earn money that would help his struggling parents. A brilliant book! I would highly recommend it!.
There exists a stratum in America society where respect is the ultimate requirement. Being disrespected or ‘dissed’ cannot be tolerated. The problem, then, is that for many who live angry violent lives, disrespect is often seen where none was intended and the response is often visceral, immediate and brutal. Luke Stone lived in this world and inevitably ended up in prison.
But prison is a world where anger and force are spirit-destroying and futile. He could perhaps earn a fearful respect from inmates but, rail and roar as he might, he could not beat down loneliness, could not conquer the loss of control over his life, could not scream away the long hours, weeks, years of mind-numbing incarceration.
But Luke Stone was not without intelligence and that, allied to an insurmountable love for Darlina, engendered in him a spark of self-awareness. He could never change prison and its confinement and rules but maybe he could change himself.
The Convict and the Rose is the true and heart-warming story of Luke’s inner growth, his determination to show that something good could come out of the deadness of prison life and his hope-against-hope that somehow he would one day be reunited with his beloved Darlina.
Jan Sikes writes with heart, with compassion, and with great psychological insight. Her writing flows with ease, helping the reader race through the pages. She encapsulates the utter depression of prison life with great skill and yet, as Luke’s spirit grows, the darkness lightens and a wonderful story emerges. I read the book initially as a book-club member, dreading the angst and ennui that I feared was inevitable but I found instead a book that I could not put down. No review will explain why this should have been so. You’ll just have to experience Sike’s literary magic for yourself. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially to all of my fellow RRBC members.
The Convict and the Rose is a simple and straightforward story of everlasting love which is so rare these days. The problem is that he is in prison.
Darlina and Luke fall in love way back in the sixties when they are very young. They are wild and carefree—living life as they should—but maybe a little more dependent upon drugs and alcohol than is wise. Luke finds trouble, or it finds him, which lands him in prison with concurrent sentences that could keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.
He is a wild animal in a cage and wild animals don’t do well locked up, but what happens in prison, and out with Darlina, is what makes this story so special. What is it? I’m not going to tell you. You have to read the story yourself. But I’ll tell you this, the story is well worth the read.
The Convict and the Rose is also quite the eye-opener about the prison system and makes this a good read for young adults. It just might keep a few young and naïve kids out of trouble.
There are a few hardly noticeable errors, but they in no way deter from the quality of the story. I give this book an easy five stars despite the typos.
Luther Martin Stone and Tommy “Red” Johnson have been sentenced to 25 years in the federal penitentiary for armed bank robbery – to run concurrently with the fifty year State of Texas sentence they already have. I didn’t know when I began reading it that this was a “true” story: biography and autobiography clad in a “fiction” coat. The focus of the book is not on the crime itself – we’re given no details in the opening chapters, other than his assertion that he didn’t do what he’d been convicted of, or on the terrors of prison life, though those are alluded to. The writer is far more interested in the character of Luke himself – a man who cares about the love of his life - Darlina Flowers - his four kids and a music career on the outside, who protects his friend Red and won’t stand for the bullying of any other vulnerable prisoners – but who nevertheless has a character flaw that has (a) got him into the mess he’s in and (b) goes on making things worse for him. He learns his lessons the hard way, but is intelligent enough to know that the very thing that protects him – his dislike of authority, and his unwillingness to take any crap from anybody – is also what’s destroying him: “He didn’t have any control over much of anything right now other than his own mind.” And he really needs his freedom. THAT’s what makes the book interesting… Jan Sikes writes well – simply, but with apposite turns of phrase - as does her main character. While recovering from his operation for perforated stomach ulcers the words flow from Luke’s stubby yellow pencil: “…all the sad songs I’ve ever sung gather around to see me cry…” She also is the mistress of arresting simile: “…my left leg is throbbin’ like a robin’s ass.” Sheer poetry! The lack of characterisation in the usual sense, or the more normal layering of descriptive and explanatory detail gives the narrative a curiously allegorical feel. We’re told what the character does or says or thinks and the moral message gathers steam. A month can go by between paragraphs. It’s an unusual narrative technique, and I found myself reading on as much to discover how the writer went on handling it as to find out what actually happened. It was quite a jolt when almost as an aside towards the end of Chapter 10 Darlina tells us that Luke is still married to Joyce. Joyce?! We found out the names of his four kids early on, and we know that Luke’s parents have been helping to look after them, and we sure as hell knew about sweet Darlina, but this was the first we’d heard of a wife named Joyce (I don’t think I missed it…). This is a pilgrim’s progress: a flawed man who has had to be taken to the depths of despair and hopelessness to discover his inner talents, which he can then develop using the power of his indomitable spirit. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in the man as he is painted: it’s the message you’re grappling with. It’s a long, episodic story but stick with it. A key event in chapter 13 highlights for Luke the key fact that though his body is captured his mind and soul are not. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…” From then on he strives to be “positive in a negative place”. Gradually the irony emerges: that Luke had to be imprisoned to find his freedom, whereas Darlina IS free, only to find that she is imprisoned “behind invisible bars of loss and loneliness”. They both learn that there is more than one way to be strong. Great literature it ain’t, and doesn’t claim to be. Great and painfully honest – and in the end deeply moving - story it most certainly is.
This is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read. I read it twice because I knew that I must have missed bits the first time, so caught up was I in this enthralling account. The second time was like golddust because I began to understand properly what true love can mean. Jan Sikes is a magician, a wordsmith extraordinaire. In Luke Stone and Darlina Flowers she gave me the essence of love, but not the Mills and Boon variety. No, this is a love against impossible odds.
The more of The Convict and the Rose I read the more the words of the great Richard Lovelace kept crossing my mind.
“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage .... If I have freedom in my love And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above, Enjoy such liberty.”
Beg, borrow, buy or steal - whichever of these you do, get this book!
“The massive doors groaned open, ready to swallow his life as he passed through.” That’s an early sentence from The Convict and the Rose by Jan Sikes. I think it encapsulates both the essence of the book and the author’s ability to make her readers lend her their consciousness as she takes them through a compelling, shocking, yet absorbing story. As an Englishman with no experience (gratefully) of the American penal system, this gritty novel brought to mind the atmosphere evoked by Johnny Cash when I saw the recording of his Folsom appearance: We are able to empathize with men who have been removed to another existence where the environment is high walls, watch towers, stone-faced guards, unwelcome company, threats, guns, dark secrets and utter despair. Somehow it’s all moderated by a grim kind of cheerfulness, perhaps arising out of the fact that everybody around is in the same boat, whether they’re inmate or warden. We see it (no, we go there), through the eyes of Luke, who faces fifty years behind bars. The “rose” of the title is Darlina, left behind in Texas at an address Luke does not even know. What’s more, events are taking place in her life that are not to do with Luke. Can they ever come together? Well, you get that answer if you read the book and I recommend that you do.