Prisons divide families. When Eric, a young man whose native language is violence, is prematurely moved to an adult jail - 'starred up' - he enters an environment where a glance or a word can lead to murder. When Eric goes on the attack, the prison kingpin assigns an older man to watch over him. It is the father who abandoned him a dozen years before. Behind bars, Nev has created a new kind of family in the narrow world of the prison wings.
As Eric battles to assert himself against warders, other inmates, obscure territorial conflicts, and unfamiliar paternal authority, he learns that there is an alternative to hidden blades and blunt force. A lone prison psychologist turns a mirror on Eric's anger and exposes its origins in the shame of abandonment. But has Oliver any hope of saving a boy who society deems beyond redemption, and can Eric complete his journey of transformation through the rivalries and hatreds, visible and invisible barriers, that dominate the prison? Can he survive at all?