The Many Lives of Mama Love

The Many Lives of Mama Love
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Year: 2023
ISBN: 9781668069608

Lara Love Hardin hit rock bottom when she was arrested and convicted of 32 felonies. Behind her picture-perfect life, she had a secret: she was addicted to drugs and stealing her neighbors’ credit cards. Jail is foreign, but also familiar, in many ways, to the PTA politics she knew. She wrestles with recovery and soon becomes “Mama Love” to the young and lost behind bars, navigating the invisible rules and power structures among both inmates and jail personnel. After her release, she desperately navigates the impossible probation system, trying to keep custody of her son and make a life for them. She joins a small publishing company and becomes a ghostwriter, inventing a new life for herself while adopting the personas of others to write their stories.

Hardin’s journey is hopeful–she deals with a lot and comes out better on the other side. But it’s also revealing and discouraging, mostly because the journey to success feels unavailable to most of her fellow inmates. Though she struggled financially, her relative privilege as a white, educated, former upper-middle-class woman helped her navigate the roadblocks that seemed purpose-designed for her failure. Most of the others–poor, young, women of color–would not have the wherewithal or resources to do the same. While her personal journey is inspiring, what sticks with me is how it indicts the system as a whole.

About the Book

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Publisher’s Description

No one expects the police to knock on the door of the million-dollar two-story home of the perfect cul-de-sac housewife. But soccer mom Lara Love Hardin has been hiding a shady secret: she is funding her heroin addiction by stealing her neighbors’ credit cards.

Lara is convicted of thirty-two felonies and becomes inmate S32179. She finds that jail is a class system with a power structure that is somewhere between an adolescent sleepover party and Lord of the Flies. Furniture is made from tampon boxes, and Snickers bars are currency. But Lara quickly learns the rules and brings love and healing to her fellow inmates as she climbs the social ladder and acquires the nickname “Mama Love,” showing that jailhouse politics aren’t that different from the PTA meetings she used to attend.

When she’s released, she reinvents herself as a ghostwriter. Now, she’s legally co-opting other people’s identities and getting to meet Oprah, meditate with the Dalai Lama, and have dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But the shadow of her past follows her. Shame is a poison worse than heroin–there is no way to detox. Lara must learn how to forgive herself and others, navigate life as a felon on probation, and prove to herself that she is more good than bad, among other essential lessons.

The Many Lives of Mama Love is a heartbreaking and tender journey from shame to redemption, despite a system that makes it almost impossible for us to move beyond the worst thing we have ever done.

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