Stephen Travis is a prison chaplain who is approached by inmates with evidence of criminality by the prison’s staff—which has a direct affect on the inmates and their families. The problem is, no one in the “chain of command” within the system wants to know about the wrongdoing. Travis finds himself not only being reprimanded for reporting the crimes to his superiors, but ultimately having to go outside the system in order to see justice done. He finds support in two colleagues, as well as in the woman with whom he is romantically involved. But the search for justice also becomes a matter of life and death.
A criminal enterprise being run out of a prison? Chaplain Stephen Travis is back investigating a crime ring that’s important enough to cause the death of an inmate to ensure his silence in Criminal Justice, a follow-up to author Jack Lawson’s first novel, Doing Time.
Set in a men’s transitional facility in Raleigh, North Carolina where inmates are prepared for their return to society, Chaplain Travis is one of the good guys, trying to find truth in a system that lacks much justice. Some of his fellow employees are corrupt, some are incompetent and some just burned out. But Travis knows that the life of an inmate matters—to his family, his friends inside and out, and to God. And he’s determined to find that justice for inmate Walter Jackson, who was just days away from release before his murder.
Like any good character, Stephen Travis has a real human side, here represented by the interaction with his new girlfriend Emily, a grad student at N.C. State University. She helps him work out several elements of his investigation, but mostly keeps him centered when things start going south. She also has a surprise in her own personal history that helps connect her to the chaplain. The scenes between Stephen and Emily reflect a happy warmth that provides a welcome contrast to the problems happening inside the prison. And the chaplain’s Jewish psychologist friend provides several instances of comic relief.
Criminal Justice feels real. The characters are real people trying to expose a crime of greed and manipulation. The relationships between characters black and white, good and bad, are real.
Long-time writer and newspaper editor in North Carolina