When Brant Gilmour is turned down by the Peace Corps, he's forced to answer a question: How can an English major from Indiana make the world a better place?
On the surface, Mike Tyson Slept Here would seem to anecdotally pull from author Chris Huntington's almost ten years working in the Indiana Correctional Facility in Plainfield. Gilmour, his leading protagonist, teaches inmates working to pass the GED. Any illusions are quickly dispelled in the opening chapter when one of Gilmour's co-workers, a corrections officers named Englehart, tells him what the difference is between the inmates and the officers: "We just do our sentences eight hours at a time."
As the book deals with the romance between Gilmour and another prison teacher, Isa Boone, Huntington intertwines the perspectives of nurses, corrections officers, an Indianapolis lawyer, even a man waiting for his lover's freedom, in short vignettes which serve to study the rippling effects of the legal system, ripples that stretch far beyond the fences the inmates are afraid to climb.
One chapter, "All Along the Watchtower," talks about a fifty-eight year old female guard whom many prisoners view as a grandmother figure. Two young prisoners attempt escape, thinking "she wouldn't shoot them if they weren't hurting anybody, just trying to get home to their families." Johnny Winston, her replacement, never has to shoot anybody off the fence and "because of Betty Gaston [the grandmotherly guard], he didn't think he ever would."
Another chapter, "The Great Escape," talks about an inmate taking the GED class at the prison in order to shorten his sentence. When it's discovered that he has a GED, they are challenged with how to punish him. "Hell, let's call it 'attempted escape,'" and they do - a charge that adds another five years to his sentence.
Mike Tyson Slept Here is firmly rooted in Indianapolis, and local readers will recognize references to Lockerbie, Circle Centre, the Star, among others; however, the dark humor and stark perspective feel like they're pulled from a war novel. Above all else, this novel is about growing disillusioned. Growing realistic. Growing up. Huntington's approaches it matter-of-factly, sometimes tongue in cheek. And his capacity to shrewdly weave together perspectives from multiple characters makes this novel a smart, funny, heartbreaking, eye-opening success.