Book Review: Held Hostage
Ken Cooper’s dramatic life story will not break new ground for the genre of second-chance transformation stories. It is a well-told account of a fascinating life. But this autobiography does do something other books have not—help pry us away from some societal views that have held people’s minds hostage concerning causes for crime and their ultimate solution.
Before I get too far, I must get some personal history on the table in the interest of full disclosure. I first met Ken Cooper in 2001 while on a business trip to Florida. I had just finished an interview with an ex-prisoner in Gainesville for a Prison Fellowship publication and was on my way to Jacksonville, where Ken works. I came down with a nasty sinus infection and in my misery took some cough medication that caused me to be extremely drowsy. I conducted the interview with Ken while I was half asleep, but through my fog I recognized this was a story my 1,500 word limit could not pretend to cover.
I recommended he write a book about his life. A few years later he sent his first draft and asked for my comments. I felt I owed him my best feedback. So I gave it a lot of red ink. To Ken’s credit, he took the manuscript and found Baker Publishing Group, which gave him a lot of additional resources to produce the work of which he should be justifiably proud. Now let me tell you why.
First, as someone who has written about a lot of people with sordid pasts, I never take for granted the fact that displaying your crimes and the messy fallout to victims and family for all the world to read takes a great deal of humility. Ken does this without glorifying his crimes and in the process reveals the darkness of his motives.
Held Hostage does deliver on the excitement scale. As with most similar stories, taking hostages by robbing banks is not the only high drama. There is much that leads up to these crimes, as well as a disturbingly blunt portrayal of life behind bars. This is not for young readers. Again, Ken’s point is not salacious copy, but an effort to show just how depraved things can get, and how he faced some extreme threats to his life and dignity.
Finally, the real triumph of this book is the evidence Ken presents against commonly held tropes for crime—“If we only reduce poverty…,” “a good education will prevent…,” “his lack of opportunities contributed to…,” “he came from a dysfunctional home, what can you expect…”
These problems are well worth addressing, and they do aid in alleviating a host of ills. But they do not answer the principle cause of crime. Ken strips all these arguments bare. The beneficiary of loving parents, a middle-class upbringing, and a college education with plenty of job opportunities Ken possessed all he needed to be successful—except one thing: a transformed heart.
As you read his account, you will watch unfold the desires of a darkened heart. Similarly, you’ll be amazed at what happens when Ken discovers the source of his problems and begins a journey that rightly makes him an inspiring object lesson in faith and redemption. Maybe someone will make his story into a movie next. I’ll definitely buy a ticket to that.