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on 24 January 2004
The job as prison guard is about care, custody and control. The gray uniforms are the good guys, and the green uniforms are the bad guys. And in twentyfive years you will have a pension.
This is the core message journalist Ted Conover and his class mates receive when they enter the prison guards' boot camp in New York. Most of the recruits have applied for a job to gain job security, while Ted Conover has found this line of approach the only way he can do research on life in prison in New York State. It is fortunate for the rest of us that the Department of Correctional Services tried to get in Ted Conover' way, because his experience as prison guard - sorry; correctional officer - gives us a much broader view of life in prison than any book by an inmate.
This thorough and extraordinary book is full of ironies and cases of Orwellian newspeak, but what is most fascinating is Ted Connor's critical view of himself, his reactions and his fast dehumanization in Sing Sing, together with his description of the complex prison sociology. When you have read his detailed and vivid descriptions of his working days in Sing Sing you will find it easy to understand how even the most idealistic COs get fed up with inmates in general, lose their initiative and start to focus on how to survive each work day rather than on resocializing inmates.
This book is a must for anybody who takes an interest in prevention of crime or in hierarchial subcultures. It is a great pity that it is already hard to come by.
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on 24 June 2015
In the early 1990s anthropologist and journalist Ted Conover applied for access to visit Sing Sing maximum security prison in order to write about it and was turned down. Undeterred, Conover at once applied to become a Corrections Officer as a loophole to gain access, and in 1997 he finally got his chance to be a Newjack (a trainee CO).
He begins by relating his experience throughout the 7 week training camp where recruits had to go through all sorts of rituals, including being exposed to tear gas, in order to know what it will be like for the prisoners on their watch if they had to resort to force.
When it comes to actually starting his new job, Conover is frank about his fear and anticipation about working in one of America's most famous and largest prisons, about perhaps not being able to do the job, about the inmates, about his fellow officers.
The reader gets a definite sense that the author is appealing to those like himself who cannot see the logic and purpose in imprisoning more and more people. His belief is that a Corrections Officer is a misnomer, as the guards are in no way responsible for rehabilitation of the criminals they look after, and are not expected to try to interact with them. State money is not being spent in the right places, is another of his strong arguments.
I rate this book a 4.5- the subject matter is absolutely fascinating, and the author is sympathetic and at the same time at the correct amount of distance from the narration. I think the books suffers a tiny bit from being dated, although there is a very quick afterword written in 2011 (the book was published in 2001).
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on 13 May 2012
I can't think of a better way to do research for writing a book about prison than becoming a guard. That's exactly what Ted did, and he doesn't pull any punches. He writes fair and square about the good and bad guards and prisoners. A gripping insight into the brutal US prison system UK politicians are trying to import.
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on 11 February 2016
The recent release of Nick Yarris, incarcerated for 18 plus years for a crime he did not commit, convicted without forensic evidence, prompted me buy this book. I was moved by Nicks story and wanted to know what conditions he might have endured for eighteen long years. Ted Conover's book is quite dated now, although there is an epilogue added in the twenty first century, but one feels that little has changed since the first stones were laid in the construction of the beast which is Sing Sing Penitentiary. Vividly described with interesting detail and characters who will evoke feelings of pity, sadness, horror and shame.
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on 26 July 2016
Great insight to how American prisons operate from the inmates on edge to the Guards on tender hooks through inmate abuse to stress in and out of the prison regime. Well worth the a read an eye opener.
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on 29 November 2014
A unique piece of gonzo journalism with the danger he put himself in but only in this manner would get this fantastic insight into the inner dealings of a prison. Well worth a read.
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on 1 August 2014
I've not long started reading this, but I'm enjoying it, up to now.
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on 3 November 2012
Bought this thinking will be very interesting however was disaopointed. Very same same writing and gave up before the end, shame as could have been very interesting.
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