Dead Weight chronicles the improbable turnaround of a drug smuggler who, after being sentenced to eight years in state prison, returned to society to earn a PhD in creative writing and become the only tenured professor in the United States with seven felony convictions. Horton’s visceral essays highlight the difficulties of trying to change one’s life for the better, how the weight of felony convictions never dissipates.
The memoir begins with a conversation between Horton and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man statue in New York City. Their imagined dialogue examines the psychological impact of racism on Black men and boys, including Horton’s separation from his mother, immediately after his birth, in a segregated Alabama hospital. From his current life as a professor and prison reformer, Horton looks back on his experiences as a drug smuggler and trafficker during the 1980s–1990s as well as the many obstacles he faced after his release. He also examines the lasting impact of his drug activity on those around him, reflecting on the allure of economic freedom and the mental escapism that cocaine provided, an allure so strong that both sellers and users were willing to risk prison. Horton shares historical context and vivid details about people caught in the war on drugs who became unsuspecting protagonists in somebody else’s melodrama.
Lyrical and gripping, Dead Weight reveals the lifelong effects of one man’s incarceration on his psyche, his memories, and his daily experience of American society.
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