Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration


  • By: Christine Montross, M.D.
  • 2021 | Paperback
  • ISBN is 9780143110668 / 0143110667
  • Publisher: Penguin Books

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*L.A. Times Book Prize Finalist* *New York Times Books to Watch for in July* *Time Best New Books July 2020* . Galvanized by her work in our nation’s jails, psychiatrist Christine Montross illuminates the human cost of mass incarceration and mental illness. Dr. Christine Montross has spent her career treating the most severely ill psychiatric patients. Several years ago, she set out to investigate why so many of her patients got caught up in the legal system when discharged from her care–and what happened to them therein. Waiting for an Echo is a riveting, rarely seen glimpse into American incarceration. It is also a damning account of policies that have criminalized mental illness, shifting large numbers of people who belong in therapeutic settings into punitive ones. The stark world of American prisons is shocking for all who enter it. But Dr. Montross’s expertise–the mind in crisis–allowed her to reckon with the human stories behind the bars. A father attempting to weigh the impossible calculus of a plea bargain. A bright young woman whose life is derailed by addiction. Boys in a juvenile detention facility who, desperate for human connection, invent a way to communicate with one another from cell to cell. Overextended doctors and correctional officers who strive to provide care and security in environments riddled with danger. In these encounters, Montross finds that while our system of correction routinely makes people with mental illness worse, just as routinely it renders mentally stable people psychiatrically unwell. The system is quite literally maddening. Our methods of incarceration take away not only freedom but also selfhood and soundness of mind. In a nation where 95 percent of all inmates are released from prison and return to our communities, this is a practice that punishes us all.


About the Author:

Christine Montross, M.D.

Dr. Christine Montross, a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in General Nonfiction, is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a practicing inpatient psychiatrist. She is an award-winning poet and the author of Body of Work and Falling into the Fire.


Waiting for an Echo by Christine Montross, read by Christine Montross


Waiting for an Echo by Dr. Christine Montross Reviews:

“‘What the eye does not see the heart cannot feel,’ the saying goes. In this vivid account, Dr. Montross takes us to see close-up her encounters with a tiny percent of the 350,000 mentally ill people in U.S. prisons and jails. What are these anguished souls doing there? They need healing help and a place of safety, not a punishing environment, quick to maintain order with tear gas, beatings, solitary confinement…or with unconscionable neglect. In my 30 plus years of prison work, I’ve met all too many of these trapped, suffering souls. Let us trust in the goodness of our citizens, that moved by Dr. Montross’s vivid witness, eyes will see and hearts will feel to shoulder the urgent reform of a system long in need of radical change.”—Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

“Waiting for an Echo is an amazing and accurate account of what our criminal legal system has evolved into. Capturing both problems and solutions, Dr. Montross takes us all around the globe to give examples of what works, what doesn’t work, and why. This book should be should be required reading for all judges, district attorneys and correctional officers.”—Susan Burton, Founder and Executive Director of A New Way of Life Reentry Project and author of Becoming Ms. Burton


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