Angels with Dirty Faces is no romanticized tale of crime and punishment. The three lives in this creative nonfiction account are united by the presence of actual harm—sometimes horrific violence. Imarisha, dealing with the complexities of her own experience with sexual assault and accountability, brings us behind prison walls to visit her adopted brother Kakamia and his fellow inmate Jimmy “Mac” McElroy, a member of the brutal Irish gang the Westies. Together they explore the questions: People can do unimaginable things to one another—and then what? What do we as a society do? What might redemption look like?
Imarisha doesn’t flinch as she guides us through the difficulties and contradictions, eschewing theory for a much messier reality. The result is a nuanced and deeply personal analysis that connects readers emotionally with the lives of people caught up within, and often destroyed by, our criminal justice system.