Lately I’ve craved stories that are different. I periodically feel the need to leave my comfort zone. Thus I decided to read this romance between a prison employee and an inmate. I am so glad I did as I found an engaging story that was difficult to put down.
Inmate number 802267 catches the eye of Anne Goodhouse immediately. Anne is the newest staff member of the Cousins Correctional Facility, a librarian assisting inmates with reading and other skills as part of an outreach program. She’s attracted to and intrigued by the dark-haired man with the piercing blue gaze, even as she finds him unnerving.
Her discomfort only intensifies when he appears in her afternoon sessions. She discovers that he likely has dysgraphia, a condition similar to dyslexia that causes a person to have difficulty forming letters when writing. Number 802267 becomes a regular pupil of Anne’s and the mutual, forbidden attraction grows as he writes deep, personal letters to her.
As it turns out 802267’s real name is Eric Collier and he has been sentenced to Cousins for a violent crime. Let’s be clear: This is not a case of mistaken identity or wrongful imprisonment. Eric never denies his guilt, though he is tight lipped regarding the circumstances of his conviction since there are other people for him to consider. Being the victim of past domestic violence, Anne is understandably concerned about what latent violent tendencies might lurk beneath Eric’s gentle surface. She knows that pretty words on paper are one thing and reality can be an entirely different matter.
The tension is ratcheted up when Anne receives news of Eric’s impending parole. She is suddenly confronted with the actuality of meeting him on the outside. She must decide whether to pursue contact with someone she knows only through letters and the limited, highly supervised contact they’ve had in the correctional facility. I appreciated that she plays it smart and doesn’t immediately jump into a relationship with him.
I also liked the socioeconomic disparity between them. Anne’s privileged middle-class upbringing contrasts sharply with Eric’s hardscrabble working-class existence. He has plans for his future though and is earnest in his desire to become the man he believes is worthy of Anne. She never looks down on him even as she goes home with him for the holidays and meets his family members who are radically different from her own. She sees that they share a bond of love and loyalty though, and she’s able to relate to them in that they all care for Eric.
On the down side, the sections of the book about two-thirds of the way through where Anne kept asking Eric if he would make the same decision again that landed him in prison became somewhat redundant. I really wanted her to accept Eric’s answer as I felt like his actions were intrinsically linked to his character. But then again, most people in a long-term relationship have had the experience of having the same fight repeatedly, so this rings true.
The ending is more of a happy for now, which works well in context as they are still navigating their way through being a couple. Eric has not had the chance to interact with Anne’s family yet, including her father, a law enforcement veteran. But I finished the book with a hopeful feeling for this couple who are growing and learning together.