As a teenager, Davin Douma was tried as an adult and convicted of murdering someone who – we would find out much later – had abused him. He would spend over a quarter century in prison before finally being paroled.
This is his story. This is his family’s story.
Told primarily from the perspective of his mother, Bonnie Jane Hall, and interspersed with letters between the two of them (and between Davin and his brother James and sister Deborah) and a few of Davin’s several essays, the book is a family memoir... and much more.
Davin’s journey is a study in resilience, hardiness, and self-actualization. Placed in a setting that often destroys people’s lives, he had a choice – in the words of one his fellow inmates – between merely surviving and living. He chose the latter, and the book convincingly demonstrates that he succeeded.
Despite the pervasive dysfunction around him, he becomes a writer, martial arts master, and teacher. He earns a paralegal certification and helps other inmates – and even prison staff – with their own legal matters. He finds his parole packages repeatedly turned down, but this never seems to break his spirit. He forges a legacy of improving other peoples' lives.
In Davin’s story, we hear echoes of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl tells us that while we cannot always chose our circumstances, we can chose how we react to them. As his sister writes in the epilogue, Davin chose “a path ... for self-improvement and helping others.” It is a stark and compelling illustration of Frankl’s belief that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
If existentialism isn’t your normal reading fare, fear not. This isn’t written in the voice of a philosopher; rather, it’s written in the voice of a mother. Ms. Hall’s narrative is clear and strong, yet captures the breadth and depth of her emotions through her son’s journey. You’re drawn into the emotional highs and lows of the family’s saga – the despair, the hope, the anger, and the love. Parts are heartbreaking, but at the same time, you feel privileged to be able to read it.
I sincerely hope the process of writing the book helped bring Ms. Hall and her family some measure of peace and healing; it cannot possibly have been easy to write. Yet I’m glad she did; Davin’s story deserves to be told.