Ivy Seidel dreams of becoming a writer, a great American novelist. But running low on money and concerned that her writing might lack a depth and darkness, she takes a job teaching creative writing -- at a maximum-security prison. It is a world she has never experienced before, one ruled by enigmatic codes of honor, ceaseless aggression and absolutely savage violence.
But one of the prisoners there is unlike any of the others, and unlike any man she has ever met before. Vance Harrow is unique. He is soft-spoken, charismatic and brilliantly talented. Two things trouble Ivy deeply. First, she suspects that Harrow shouldn't be in prison at all. He possesses an intellect that separates him from the other inmates and a selflessness that might just get him killed. Second, he has at the same time deep reservoirs of rage and brutality that seem perfectly in line with the other prisoners -- a dichotomy Ivy finds difficult to reconcile.
Trying to understand the complex picture, perhaps even get some recognition for a writer as gifted as Harrow seems to be, Ivy begins to ask questions. How did such a man end up in prison in the first place? Is he truly guilty? If not, who could have been responsible for putting him there, and why hasn't he tried harder to free himself? But the more questions Ivy asks to free a man she believes to be innocent, the more attention she draws to herself. Soon other people begin to ask questions -- about Ivy Seidel.
In the span of just a few days, Ivy's life will be completely turned upside down. What begins as an inquiry into one man's innocence may explode into a love affair, and what begins as an obsession to save one man's life might just end up costing Ivy her own.