Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Fast-Lane Living Takes Dallas to San Quentin

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • 2009 14 Apr
Fast-Lane Living Takes Dallas to <i>San Quentin</i>

Authors:  Bill Dallas with George Barna
Title:  Lessons from San Quentin:  Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned in Prison
Publisher:  Tyndale House

Bill Dallas had it all.  An undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, a high-flying career as a San Francisco investment entrepreneur, am expensive penthouse, a flashy sports car, vacations in Paradise and women, women and more women.  He enjoyed it all, too, drinking and drugging and partaking of all the fleshly delights of the social circuit.  Until it all came crashing down.

Following a couple of years of legal wrangling, Dallas was shocked when he was actually convicted of grand theft embezzlement—a felony.  He had been scamming customers by co-mingling funds, apparently, but was unaware that this was a crime, much less how serious the offense actually was.  When Dallas was sentenced to several years at San Quentin, one of the country’s most notorious prisons, he was even more dumbfounded—so much so that he could barely rise from the ground of the prison yard, which held him hostage.  Every day, Dallas would curl up in the fetal position, whimpering, while fellow inmates hurled insults.  He grew a ZZ Top beard, gained weight, got out of shape and lost all desire to live.

Then one of the inmates, a “lifer,” dragged Dallas over to the prison’s ramshackle video studio.  The prisoner insisted that his producer friend put Dallas to work, and despite initial objections, he finally did.  At first, Dallas swept floors and filed papers.  Soon, however, he was sticking a mic into fellow inmates’ faces, asking for their opinions about issues like the Top 100 Films of All Time (“The Godfather” took top honors) and filming their reactions.  Everyone got their 15 minutes of proverbial fame, and Dallas became proficient at video-making and editing, and the importance of good communication.

More significant, however, was his interaction with the other lifers.  For reasons still unbeknownst to him, they took Dallas under their wing and began mentoring him in the ways of prison life.  And, as a result, he began to understand that the worst prison of all is that of our own making.  The short-timers never understood that.  They were focused exclusively on grumbling then getting out—much like Dallas, at first.  As a result, they didn’t form lasting relationships, didn’t learn from their mistakes and usually ended up right back in prison, months or years later.

The lifers, on the other hand, didn’t have hope for freedom—with the unlikely possibility of parole.  So they were forced to accept their situation and live in the moment.  Many turned to Christ for strength.  And thanks to them, so did Dallas.

Dallas is now the CEO of the Church Communications Network, a satellite and Internet communications company that serves thousands of churches across North America.  He also hosts Solutions, a weekly satellite program with Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. Bill Townsend. Dallas lives in northern California with his wife and two children.

Co-author George Barna is the founder and director of The Barna Group, Ltd., a California-based company that offers primary research and strategic assistance related to cultural assessment and transformation, faith dynamics and leadership development. He writes the popular biweekly Barna Update, which offers his most recent research on faith and cultural dynamics.

Together, they’ve penned a book that is part memoir, part teaching tool.  It’s straightforward and well written, and Dallas’ story unfolds in a way that is engaging.  He’s honest about his past, too, although he doesn’t go into detail, which would have made for a far more compelling story.  I would have also liked to have heard more about his fellow inmates.  Dallas relates a few—including a moving one about the difficulty, and the power, of unconditional forgiveness.  These are few and far between, however.  And the ones Dallas does relate are told in the third person, in summary format, without direct quotes from the subject of the story.  This creates a distance between his readers and the points he is trying to make through those stories.

Never fear, however, because in case you didn’t get the point of those stories, Dallas goes into teaching mode at the end of each chapter.  His lessons are pretty basic, and won’t enlighten many believers about things they haven’t already heard.  However, for some audiences, such as new Christians, nominal Christians and ex- or current cons, they could hit the mark quite well.  For the rest of us, Dallas’ memoir will serve as an enjoyable, inspirational read.

 **This review first published on April 14, 2009.