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Dallas, Lessons from San Quentin: A Book Review


Well the idea is good.  Let's tell the story of a high flying real estate entrepeneur who gets into legal trouble and by an unfortunate grilfriend related accident gets sent to the wrong prison and instead of serving his time with all the other white collar criminals ends up in maximum security San Quentin with all the bad boys.  Add a spirtual awakening and a life turn around and surely nothing can go wrong?  John Ortberg even says from the back cover, "Read Bill's story only if you want to risk a changed life."  And Chuck Colson, who wrote the excellent Born Again - a similar story of jailhouse redemption, also endorses with, "A riveting story."  

Bill Dallas definately does have an amazing story, unfortunately the book does not convey it well.  Rather than tell his story the book gives short installments of his story followed by tedious teaching sections where he extrapolates and explicates the life principles he picked up in San Quentin.  Yes, the story of transformation gets totally overwhelmed by the self help book.  The result is that everything is so neat and tidy and so focussed on teaching us "principles" that what should be a riveting story is actually lost and somewhat distorted by smug "do this and you/God will make your life better" type advice.  In the end Dallas' time in San Quentin ends up sounding like a spiritual retreat rather than a traumatic spell in a high security prison.

The book is not without its insights and Dallas' story really is amazing, but overall I would have liked to have the story told better and in more detail and leave the "life lessons" for the reader to figure out on their own.  I didn't like the book, but to show I'm not bitter I'll leave you with a quote I did like:
 San Quentin dislodged my perception of the church as an institution and redefined it as a unified group of sinners who were so thrilled to be accepted by God that they accepted anyone who wanted to join them on the journey.  Their emphasis was on love, not rules; character, not attendence; spiritual fruit, not information retention.  (p60)

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