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Product Description

Acclaimed journalist Ted Conover sets a new standard for bold, in-depth reporting in this first-hand account of life inside the penal system at Sing Sing.

When Ted Conover’s request to shadow a recruit at the New York State Corrections Officer Academy was denied, he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer himself. The result is an unprecedented work of eyewitness journalism: the account of Conover''s year-long passage into storied Sing Sing prison as a rookie guard, or "newjack."

As he struggles to become a good officer, Conover angers inmates, dodges blows, and attempts, in the face of overwhelming odds, to balance decency with toughness. Through his insights into the harsh culture of prison, the grueling and demeaning working conditions of the officers, and the unexpected ways the job encroaches on his own family life, we begin to see how our burgeoning prison system brutalizes everyone connected with it. An intimate portrait of a world few readers have ever experienced, Newjack is a haunting journey into a dark undercurrent of American life.

Review

“An amazing book…. The stories are spellbinding and the telling is clear and cold.”– The Washington Post Book World

“[Conover] has made us fully part of his experience…. It is hard to imagine any journalist doing this more daringly or effectively.”– The New York Times

“A timely, troubling, important book.”– The Baltimore Sun

Newjack is a graphic and troubling window into society’s scrapheap. Conover is to be commended for having the chops to venture where few others would dare go.... An important cautionary tale.”– Los Angeles Times Book Review

Newjack tells the straight skinny on a guard’s life inside prison without being overly judgmental or cloyingly sentimental. It’s experimental journalism at its best.”– The Denver Post

“A devastating chronicle of the toll prison takes on the prisoners and the keepers of the keys.”– Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An incisive and indelible look at the life of a corrections officer and the dark life of the penal system.”– The Dallas Morning News

“A fascinating story.... Prison books crowd the shelves, but few tell the story from the point of view of the officers who spend eight hours a day doing time, hoping and praying that they make it home that night, hoping and praying that the job allows them to remain human.”– The San Diego Union-Tribune

From the Inside Flap

Acclaimed journalist Ted Conover sets a new standard for bold, in-depth reporting in this first-hand account of life inside the penal system.

When Conover?s request to shadow a recruit at the New York State Corrections Officer Academy was denied, he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer. So begins his odyssey at Sing Sing, once a model prison but now the state?s most troubled maximum-security facility. The result of his year there is this remarkable look at one of America?s most dangerous prisons, where drugs, gang wars, and sex are rampant, and where the line between violator and violated is often unclear. As sobering as it is suspenseful, Newjack is an indispensable contribution to the urgent debate about our country?s criminal justice system, and a consistently fascinating read.

From the Back Cover

Acclaimed journalist Ted Conover sets a new standard for bold, in-depth reporting in this first-hand account of life inside the penal system.
When Conover''s request to shadow a recruit at the New York State Corrections Officer Academy was denied, he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer. So begins his odyssey at Sing Sing, once a model prison but now the state''s most troubled maximum-security facility. The result of his year there is this remarkable look at one of America''s most dangerous prisons, where drugs, gang wars, and sex are rampant, and where the line between violator and violated is often unclear. As sobering as it is suspenseful, Newjack is an indispensable contribution to the urgent debate about our country''s criminal justice system, and a consistently fascinating read.

About the Author

Ted Conover is the author of several books including  Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing(winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and  Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes. His writing has appeared in  The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker,and  National Geographic. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

AUTHOR''S NOTE

This is a work of nonfiction, describing events that I witnessed and participated in. No scenes are imaginary or made up, though some dialogue was, of necessity, re-created. Like all officers, I kept a small spiral notebook in my breast pocket for note-taking; unlike most of them, I took many notes. Most of the individuals in the book are identified by their real names. But to protect the privacy of certain officers and inmates, I have made up the following names for real people:

Aragon , Rufino, Van Essen, Antonelli, Hawkins, Gaines, Foster, Wickersham, Perch, Arno, Chilmark, Pacheco, Dobbins, Duncan, Scarff, Bella, St. George, Saline, McCorkle , Birch, Pitkin, Popish, Massey, Lopez, Dieter , Phelan, De Los Santos, Di Carlo, Perlstein, Garces, DiPaols, Billings, Riordan, Speros, Mendez, Delacruz, Malaver, Larson, Perez, Fay, Blaine, Addison, L''Esperance, Sims, Blaine, Michaels, Astacio.


CHAPTER 1

INSIDE PASSAGE



Six-twenty a.m. and the sun rises over a dark place. Across the Hudson River from Sing Sing prison, on the opposite bank, the hills turn pink; I spot the treeless gap in the ridgeline where, another officer has told me, inmates quarried marble for the first cellblock. Nobody could believe it back in 1826: a work crew of convicts, camping on the riverbank, actually induced to build their own prison. They had been sent down from Auburn, New York State''s famous second prison, to construct Sing Sing, its third. How would that feel, building your own prison?

That 1826 cellblock still stands, on the other side of the high wall I park against; the prison has continued to grow all around it. In 1984, the roof burned down. At the time, the prison was using the building as a shop to manufacture plastic garbage bags, but as late as 1943, it still housed inmates. Sometimes now when inmates complain about their six-by-nine cells, I tell them how it used to be: two men sharing a three-and-a-half-by-seven-foot cell, one of them probably with TB, no central heating or plumbing, open sewer channels inside, little light. They look unimpressed.

I park next to my friend Aragon, of the Bronx, who always puts The Club on his steering wheel; I see it through his tinted glass. This interests me, because, with a wall tower just a few yards away, this has got to be one of the safest places to leave your car in Westchester County. Nobody''s going to steal it here. But Aragon is a little lock-crazy: He has screwed a tiny hasp onto his plastic lunch box and hangs a combination lock there, because of the sodas he''s lost to pilfering officers, he says. Between the Bronx and prison, a person could grow a bit lock-obsessed.

There''s no one else around. Most people park in the lots up the hill, nearer the big locker room in the Administration Building. But it''s almost impossible for a new officer to get a locker in there, so I park down here by the river and the lower locker room. The light is dim. Gravel crunches under my boots as I head into the abandoned heating plant.

This six-story brick structure is one of those piles of slag that give Sing Sing its particular feel. Massive, tan, and almost windowless, it looks like a hangar for a short, fat rocket. The whole thing is sealed off, except for a repair garage around the corner and a part of the first floor containing men''s and women''s locker rooms and rest rooms.

The men''s locker room-I''ve never seen the women''s-is itself nearly abandoned; though it''s stuffed with a hodgepodge of some two hundred lockers of inmate manufacture, fewer than twenty are actively used. The rest have locks on them, some very ancient indeed, belonging to officers who quit or transferred or died or who knows what. Nobody keeps track. An old wall phone hangs upside down by its wires on the left as you enter, the receiver dangling by its curly cord, a symbol of Sing Sing''s chronically broken phone system.

Cobwebs, in here, find a way onto your boots. For a few weeks following my arrival, on Aragon''s advice I checked the room for lockers that might have opened up. None ever did. All those unused lockers needlessly tied up. This might not be a problem for the officers who drive to work from the north, but down south in the Bronx (I live there, too) you don''t want to advertise that you''re a correction officer: Too many people around you have been in prison. Officers tend not to stick the big badge decals they pass out at the Academy on their car windows (because they like their windows), and most, like me, don''t want to walk the street wearing a uniform. It''s just awkward. A locker lets you leave your uniform at work.

My second month, I found one old lock that was so flimsy I could almost twist it off with my hands, but not quite. I brought in a small tire iron and it came off easily. Inside were plastic cups, magazine pictures of women in bikinis, and newspapers from 1983. I''ve since heard of a locker coming available in the Administration Building, but I''m not pursuing it. I''ve come to prefer it down here. The feel of neglect is somehow truer to the spirit of Sing Sing.

It''s barely fifteen minutes till lineup. I throw on my gray polyester uniform, making sure I''ve got all the things I need on my belt: radio holder, latex-glove packet, two key-ring clips, baton ring. I put pen and pad, inmate rulebook, and blue union diary in my breast pockets, slide my baton through the ring, lock the padlock, and slam the locker door. I walk past a pile of old office desks and, by necessity, into the men''s room. It smells like an outhouse. I sit down, for the second time this morning. Every morning is like this, and it is for the other new guys, too: Your stomach lets you know, just before the shift starts, what it thinks of this job.

A decrepit footbridge takes me over the tracks of the Metro North railroad-Sing Sing may be the only prison anywhere with a commuter railroad running through it-and other officers start to appear. My climb continues, up a wooden staircase that''s been built atop a crumbling concrete one.

Here is the Administration Building parking lot, and the main entrance to the prison. Parked in the middle is the "roach coach," purveyor of coffee and rolls. To the right is the entrance to the Visit Room, not yet open. To the left, officers are lined up, waiting to deposit their handguns at the outside window of the Arsenal. For reasons lost to time, New York State correction officers are allowed to own and carry concealed weapons, and most seem to enjoy doing so. However, they can''t bring the guns inside with them (nobody is allowed to carry inside)-and few of us have any doubt that prison is the safer for it. I take the last steps to the main gate and flash the badge and I.D. card I carry in a special wallet that I picked up at the Academy. The officer takes a cursory peek inside my lunch bag-the contraband check. I punch my time card and proceed to the morning''s worst moment, getting my assignment.

The desk of Sergeant Ed Holmes is the focal point of the lineup room. It''s on a raised platform, in front of a window. From up there, Holmes can see everybody in the room and most of those ascending the front steps. His eyes are constantly scanning, never settling on any person or object for more than an instant, moving from an officer to the printout in front of him and back again. The printout tells him what jobs he''ll need to fill-who''s on his day off, who''s got vacation, who''s out sick, who''s on suspension. He checks off old-timers as he sees them-they''ve chosen their jobs and know where they''re going. It''s the new guys, like me, who are at his mercy.

Holmes is one of the tough black officers who have been here forever, a big man who seems to enjoy his distance from the rank and file. Several white-shirts spoke to us during orientation, mostly about how the institution runs. Holmes was different. He came only to warn: Don''t fuck with me, he said, glancing at the back wall of the room. I''m gonna give you your job assignment, and if you complain, I''ll give you a worse one tomorrow. I have no "Okay, it''s been pretty quiet. They had one guy cut in the leg, in the tunnel from A-block yard. No weapon, no perp, the usual. Then we found three shanks buried in the dirt there in B-block yard, two of ''em metal, that we found with metal detectors. You think they''re just sitting around out there, but these crooks are always conniving." In other words: one inmate stabbed, assailant unknown, knife not found; three homemade knives found; no officers hurt. A fairly typical day. Then a new sergeant steps forward:

"Remember, there''s no double clothing allowed during rec, for the obvious reasons. Inmates with two shirts on or two sets of pants should be sent back to their cells and not allowed in the yard or gym." Double clothing is understood to be both a defense against getting "stuck" and a way of quickly changing your appearance if you stick someone else.

Often we''ll hear a moral message at lineup, too: a warning that we''re not stepping up to the inmates enough or a caution that we need to watch one another''s backs better and know the names of the people we''re working with or a reminder that our job is "to get out of here in one piece at three PM-as if that needed saying. No such message today. There''s the schedule of driver''s-Ed courses, for anyone interested, and a reminder of next week''s blood drive, and the announcements are over.

"Officers, a-ten-shun!" yells a sergeant. Everyone is quiet. "Posts!" And we''re off, not exactly at a run, through the long, rough corridors and up the hill to begin the day.

Sing Sing sprawls over fifty-five acres, most of it rocky hillside. It''s flat down where I parked, near the river-the old cellblock and the railroad tracks. The former Death House, site of the electric chair that killed 614 inmates between 1891 and 1963, is down there too. (It''s now a vocational-training building.) And so is Tappan, the medium-security unit of Sing Sing, with some 550 inmates housed in three 1970s-vintage shoe box-shaped buildings.

But most of Sing Sing is on the hill, and from the lineup room, we climb there. Getting to B-block is the longest walk; it''s the remotest part of the "max" jail. There are a couple of ways to go; both involve a lot of stairs. Officers sip from coffee cups and swing lunch bags as we make the slow march up to work. We are black and white and Latino, male and female. Members of the skeleton night crew pass us in the hall and wave wanly; most have that gray night-shift look. They trade normal diurnal rhythms for the perk of having very little inmate contact-at night, all the inmates are locked in their cells. If I didn''t have a family, I might put in for night duty.

The corridors and stairways are old, often in disrepair. When it rains, we skirt puddles from leaking roofs. When it''s cold, we have reason to remember that these passages are unheated. The tile-roofed tunnels snake around Sing Sing, joining the various buildings, and at the beginning and end of each-sometimes even in the middle-there is a locked gate. Most of the officers posted to these gates have big, thick keys, but at one gate the guard pushes buttons instead, as they do in modern prisons. By the time I pass through the heavy front door of B-block, there are ten locked gates between me and freedom.

A-block and B-block are the most impressive buildings in Sing Sing, and in a totally negative sense. A large cathedral will inspire awe; a large cellblock, in my experience, will mainly horrify.

The size of the buildings catches the first-time visitor by surprise, and that''s largely because there''s no preamble. Instead of approaching them from a wide staircase or through an arched gate, you pass from an enclosed corridor through a solid-metal door that''s not much bigger than your front door at home. And enter into a stupefying vastness. A-block, probably the largest freestanding cellblock in the world, is 588 feet long, twelve feet shy of the length of two football fields. It houses some 684 inmates, more than the entire population of many prisons. You can hear the man encompassing, overwhelming cacophony of radios, of heavy gates slamming, of shouts and whistles and running footsteps but, oddly, at first you can''t see a single incarcerated soul. All you see are the bars that form the narrow fronts of their cells, extending four stories up and so far into the distance on the left and right that they melt into an illusion of solidity. And when you start walking down the gallery, eighty-eight cells long, and begin to make eye contact with inmates, one after another after another, some glaring, some dozing, some sitting bored on the toilet, a sense grows of the human dimensions of this colony. Ahead of you may be a half-dozen small mirrors held through the bars by dark arms; these retract as you draw even, and you and the inmate get a brief but direct look at each other.

A-block and B-block are aligned with each other, end to end, and span the top of Sing Sing; between them sits the mess-hall building. Both were completed in 1929, and they''re very similar in structure, except B-block is twenty cells shorter (sixty-eight), and one story taller (five). Though few civilians have seen anything like them, there is nothing architecturally innovative about the design. It plainly derives from the 1826 cellblock, which was the prototype for most American cell-house construction: tiny cells back to back on five tiers, with a stairway at either end and one at the center of the very long range.

From the ground floor, which in both buildings is known as the flats, you can look up and see how each structure is made up of two almost separate components. One is the all-metal interior, containing the inmates; it''s painted gray and looks as though it could have been welded in a shipyard. The other is comprised of the exterior walls and roof, a brick-and-concrete shell that fits over the cells like a dish over a stick of butter. One does not touch the other: Should an inmate somehow escape from his cell, he''s still trapped inside the building. A series of tall, barred windows runs down either side of the shell. They would let in twice as much light if they were washed. As it is, they let pass a diffuse, smog-colored glow, which crosses about fifteen feet of open space on each side before it reaches the metal, which it does not warm. There is a flat, leaky roof, which does not touch the top of the metal cellblock but leaves a gap of maybe ten feet. If the whole structure were radically shrunk, the uninitiated might perceive a vaguely agricultural purpose; the cages might be thought to contain chickens, or mink.

The blocks are loud because they are hard. There is nothing inside them to absorb sound except the inmates'' thin mattresses and their bodies. Every other surface is of metal or concrete or brick.

A crowd of officers is milling around a cell near the front gate of B-block when I get there; this cell is the office of the officer in charge, or OIC. Rooms for staff were not included in B-block''s plan, so a few cells near the front gate have been converted for that purpose. Next to the OIC''s office, an identical, tiny cell houses the sergeants; two of them are squeezed in there. Next to that is the coat room, which contains a barely functioning microwave oven and a refrigerator that won''t stay closed. There''s an office for paperwork and filling out forms, and one for a toilet-the only staff toilet on these five floors.

For many years, the day-shift OIC has been Hattie "Mama" Cradle, a fifty-something woman five feet tall and just about as big around. She''s got a clipboard in her hand and horn-rimmed reading specs on a chain around her thick neck. Officers give her their names and job numbers; she tells them where they''re posted. I hang back a little, but then there''s no more stalling: "Conover, two fifty-four," I say. She gets the spelling off the tag on my shirt, then, already poised to jot down the next name, says, "R-and-W"

My heart sinks. It''s as bad as it could be. I am the first officer on the second-floor galleries, known by the letters R and W I''ve worked there a few times before, including my very first-horrifying-day of on-the-job training, when I accompanied a novice officer, or "newjack," who barely knew what he was doing. Today I''m that newjack, going it alone.

I crowd into Cradle''s office and look for my keys-four separate rings of the big, heavy "bit" keys, which work cell doors, with center-gate, end-gate, and fire-alarm keys thrown on for good measure. I attach these to my belt, and feel the weight. My heart is pounding, but there''s nothing for it. I find a fresh battery for the floor''s portable communications radio and grab a sheaf of forms that I have to fill out during my shift. Last is the list of "keeplocks." I copy mine from Cradle''s bulletin board, noting that there are two new ones in the past twenty-four hours. Keeplocks are inmates on disciplinary restriction. In the old days there were few such inmates, and often they would be sent to solitary confinement, known as the Special Housing Unit or the Box. But now their numbers overwhelm the Box, so they stay put, mixed in with the general population-except they can''t come out of their cells. One of our main responsibilities as gallery officers is to keep the keeplocks locked up. Because we''re always in a hurry and often don''t know the inmates, this is harder than it sounds. It''s easy to unlock the wrong door.

I pass through two more gates on my way upstairs and relieve the night officer on R-and-W Since the galleries are all locked down at night, mainly her job is to check, every hour or so, that every inmate is still breathing. It''s not a bad job, and if an inmate does die, it''s no problem-unless he''s found with rigor mortis. In that case, she will lose her job, because of the cold, hard proof that she wasn''t really checking. The night officer hands me the radio and some other keys. Does she know what the new keeplocks are in for? I ask.

"I don''t know, I don''t care, they''re not my friends, and I don''t like them," she says with a suddenness and finality that I find kind of funny. She hands me the radio, which I attach to my belt. She''s left some wrappers and tissues around the desktop, but I don''t mention it; she looks tired. I envy her as she puts on her coat: She''s going home and doesn''t have to deal with the inmates any longer. "The cells are all deadlocked," she adds before leaving, which means that not only is the huge bar, or "brake", in place which locks them all at once but that the cells are locked individually. Inmates are not at large at night, swarming around you on their way to chow, arguing with you when it''s time to "lock in," calling you names, stressing you out. Pandora''s box is closed. My first job of the day, with breakfast less than an hour away, will be to open it.

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Top reviews from the United States

R. Marten
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Kind of pointless diary of a journalist posing as a prison guard.
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2019
Since this country has an incredible problem with committing people to jails and prisons, and this author has a PHD in Anthropology, I thought he would make some intelligent conclusions of our prisons or criminal justice system. Wrong. The book starts out interesting, with... See more
Since this country has an incredible problem with committing people to jails and prisons, and this author has a PHD in Anthropology, I thought he would make some intelligent conclusions of our prisons or criminal justice system. Wrong. The book starts out interesting, with him training to be a guard, then spending a year on the job in order to write this book, but it bogs down in the daily boredom of dealing with homicidal, suicidal, or just crazy inmates. Then there are human foibles of supervisors and co-workers to deal with. There are a few interesting occasions, but not enough to keep the readers'' interest. Maybe the author never had an end game in mind, a purpose to his endeavor, classic “never saw the forest for the trees”. But I expected much more than a spectators view.

Maybe the problem is that this is a maximum security prison and most (if not all) prisoners there deserve to be locked up away from society. I think other prisons would show that there are a lot of people behind bars that are no danger to others or themselves, locked up strictly for punishment, wasting years of their lives with no benefit to themselves or society. Zero tolerance policies and minimum sentencing guidelines are almost never fair, fill prisons with non-violent people, ruin lives and waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

I wish the author would have made an effort to make some judgments on the condition of our penal system, it is in dire need of changing because it is a huge drain on resources and getting worse instead of better. Instead, he publishes little more than a diary of his year spent in the system, somewhat interesting, but mostly unremarkable and beneath his educational level. This book leaves me bored and disappointed.
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DACHokie
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Zookeeping 101 …
Reviewed in the United States on March 2, 2014
Most of the books about prison are written by current/former inmates, authors focusing on sensational events (riots) or academia types ripping the US prison system in general. They are (generally) one-sided and somewhat depressing. Ted Conover’s NEWJACK provides a... See more
Most of the books about prison are written by current/former inmates, authors focusing on sensational events (riots) or academia types ripping the US prison system in general. They are (generally) one-sided and somewhat depressing. Ted Conover’s NEWJACK provides a refreshingly different perspective of prison life … that of the prison guard. While not an overly exciting read, it certainly fills a void.

Ted Conover was so determined to provide a prison guard’s point-of-view, he enlisted in the academy to become one himself. Unbeknownst to the State of New York, they provided all the material for this book: the training and Conover’s short-term stint guarding Sing Sing, the state’s historic maximum security penitentiary. Even though the author had ulterior motives behind his employment at Sing Sing, he clearly reveals that he was dedicated to taking the dangerous job seriously.

NEWJACK sheds light on the people and the systems designed to house and “rehabilitate” society’s most dangerous souls. More than anything, the book reveals that a fragile balance exists inside the walls of prisons and at any given moment, an explosive situation can escalate and hand control to the inmates. While television and movies often depict prison guards as being stupid, lazy, corrupt and putty in the hands of savvy inmates, Conover provides contradictory evidence. Sure, he details a few stereotypical guards going through the motions just to collect a paycheck, but the bulk of the book depicts most of the individuals Conover worked with are competent and take their jobs seriously (knowing that not doing so could prove to be harmful, if not fatal). If you’re expecting the book to be an action-filled digest chock full of daily assaults, shankings and prison break attempts, you’ll be disappointed; in no way does Sing Sing resemble the gladiator-like arena portrayed by Hollywood (HBO’s “Oz”, for example). While there are a few blood-letting incidents Conover describes, most of the books “action” comes from Conover’s sometimes irritable relationships with senior co-workers who seem to relish testing the mettle of new guards. During his brief tenure in Sing Sing, Conover is able to provide a fairly thorough perspective of most every facet of being a guard (he even gets a stint in the guard tower which is described as reading room with an arsenal at one’s disposal). What we discover is that the life of a prison guard is centered on completing mundane processes day-in/day out all while under the watchful eyes of bored inmates looking for opportunities to exploit any/every mistake. One of the primary lessons learned by Conover was to never reveal personal information to any of the inmates as even the most insignificant, seemingly innocent/inane tidbit could be a powerful tool in the hands of an inmate. I found myself continually thinking of the dread these guards must feel going to work each day; Conover even questions his ability to complete his desired stretch of employment at Sing Sing throughout the book. The author dedicates one highly detailed chapter to recapping the colorful history of Sing Sing; I found this to be the best, most interesting part of the book.

NEWJACK was a decent, educational read, just not terribly exciting (I seemed to have fallen into the trap set by Hollywood). While it may not be action-filled, it covers new ground by exposing a more secretive side of the prison system (so much in fact, that the book was once considered contraband inside the prison). I give Conover credit for having the guts to do what he did in order to write this book (becoming an actual guard). If anything, readers should have a new-found respect for those who choose this career path as prison proves to be a miserable environment for everyone inside the walls … the only difference is that the guards have the opportunity of leaving at shift’s end.
16 people found this helpful
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SelfConfidentVelma
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not as ''Revolutionary'' as it is Touted to Be...
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2019
Conover''s job is essentially exploitation of alternative groups who are not themselves given voice, credit, or profit from these texts. This novel in particular point out nothing about the prison system or profession of prison guarding that could not have been easily... See more
Conover''s job is essentially exploitation of alternative groups who are not themselves given voice, credit, or profit from these texts. This novel in particular point out nothing about the prison system or profession of prison guarding that could not have been easily inferred already. What makes it worse, there is almost no critical reflection on his experiences as a guard or the system he is employed under. I am regretful of supporting this author with a purchase.
2 people found this helpful
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Karinka
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Absolutely REAL! A must read!
Reviewed in the United States on July 21, 2019
Ted Conover is a great author. I''ve read another book he wrote "Rolling Nowhere" and I could not put it down. This book "Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing" is even more so. He actually causes you to feel you are there. His descriptions are so real and I appreciate his... See more
Ted Conover is a great author. I''ve read another book he wrote "Rolling Nowhere" and I could not put it down. This book "Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing" is even more so. He actually causes you to feel you are there. His descriptions are so real and I appreciate his honesty. I am almost done reading this one and am anticipating the next one by him...haven''t chosen one yet...but I know I will absolutely be enthralled by his writing. Because its real!
One person found this helpful
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J. E. Nelson
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant Concept - Decent Execution
Reviewed in the United States on February 23, 2009
I have always been fascinated by prison life. I have no intent of experiencing it first hand and I know that I could not rely on Hollywood to accurately portray anything. While looking for a book, I saw this one and thought it would offer a unique perspective on prison... See more
I have always been fascinated by prison life. I have no intent of experiencing it first hand and I know that I could not rely on Hollywood to accurately portray anything. While looking for a book, I saw this one and thought it would offer a unique perspective on prison life.

The concept behind "Newjack" was very simple yet ingenious. Author Ted Conover requested the State of New York access to the Correctional Officer training program and the COs to write a story. After what looked like a promising response from the state of New York, Mr. Conover was denied access. So Mr. Conover did the next best thing, he took the civil service exam and two years later, was accepted into the Correctional Officer training program. Upon graduating, Mr. Conover was assigned to Sing Sing Prison. Mr. Conover spent a year "undercover" as a Correctional Officer in the New York penal system.

I do not want unjustly portray the book in a negative light, so I will begin with he positives. I have not been to jail, but based on stories of LEOs and correctional officers I have spoken with personally, this book seems to be a pretty fair representation of life as a correctional guard in prison. The writing in this book is easy to read, much like opening a person''s diary. The author also does a magnificent job describing details of his day to the point where you feel his frustration when inmates won''t get into their cell or feel the electricity in the air when the author works the yard or mess line.

However, I feel the book could have greatly benefited from a better layout and altering the content. The book reminds me of an over hyped Hollywood movie. The tension is built and built, but nothing ever really happens. The initial writing in the book gives the feeling that something bad in prison happens at every turn. Initially, the book is filled with talk of inmate on guard violence, bodily fluids being thrown at guards, and prison riots. When the author is assigned to be an officer at Sing Sing, there is an expectation of bad things happening, but nothing really serious ever does. Also, the whole "history of Sing Sing" in the "Scrap Heap" chapter seemed horribly misplaced in my opinion. It seemed to bog the story way down.

Overall, I think this was an excellent representation on life as a correctional officer (basically hours of boredom with seconds of sheer terror). I think the author had a novel idea and executed it quite well. While I think the book could have benefited from some better editing, this in no way takes away from the story being told. If you want to read what life as a correctional officer is like, this is the book for you. If you are more interested in prison life from an inmate''s perspective, this is still a good book, but there may be better ones available. I did not regret reading this book at all.
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HyperReviewer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
If I were in lockdown, this is the book I''d want.
Reviewed in the United States on February 5, 2010
Ted Conover''s "Newjack" is simply great. After being denied access to the CO (Corrections Officer) training facility for a story, and with the tight lipped attitude of the DOC (Dept of Corrections in NY State), Ted Conover didn''t give up. He went undercover so to speak,... See more
Ted Conover''s "Newjack" is simply great. After being denied access to the CO (Corrections Officer) training facility for a story, and with the tight lipped attitude of the DOC (Dept of Corrections in NY State), Ted Conover didn''t give up. He went undercover so to speak, applied for, graduated the academy and became a corrections officer himself...guarding inmates at Sing Sing, one of the toughest maximum security prisons in the world.

The story moves at a good fast pace, he delivers some background about the prison, the town and the department of corrections, along with early prison policy and reformers in the US. What he doesn''t do when taking these historical pauses... is bore you. Instead, it''s all relevant and elegantly told.

I assume the favorite parts of the book for most readers will be those passages that relate to his direct contact with prisoners, and these he gives in ample detail. I couldn''t put it down.

Do you know what a ''porter'' is in prison, what an OIC log is, what is supposed to happen when an inmate ignore''s a command from a CO, what New Year''s Eve is like on B Block, what''s considered ''contraband'' in prison (ironically this book was), how easy or difficult a shift in the lunchroom can be, why you are not happy about "Waffle Day" if your a CO at Sing Sing... these and many other lessons await inside this candid look at life ''inside''.

Buy the book or you might find yourself in the ''Box'' as a ''Keeplock''. =)

torpedo@garlic.com
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Bucherwurm
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Who''s In Charge Here?
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2000
Ted Conover is a reporter who, without the knowledge of his employer, went through the training academy, and then spent close to a year as a guard at Sing Sing - but please don''t call them guards to their faces; they are Corrections Officers (CO). In our every day... See more
Ted Conover is a reporter who, without the knowledge of his employer, went through the training academy, and then spent close to a year as a guard at Sing Sing - but please don''t call them guards to their faces; they are Corrections Officers (CO).
In our every day society we meet all types of people. Human psychology is such that we all have to have someone to look down on. We simply have to be better than many of the other folks in our world. We look down on liberals, or conservatives. We feel superior to our bosses, or gays, minorities, atheists, or trailer trash. Surely somebody doesn''t cut it as well as we do. In prison there are only two classes of people: guards and those who are guarded. And each class finds the other group inferior. Wait a minute. I should have said there are three classes. Senior COs also look down on junior officers.
Prisoner abuse? That doesn''t appear to happen too often. What about guard abuse? Surprisingly the COs seem to be the subject of nearly constant harassment by the prisoners. The prisoners, having time on their hands, love to confront COs, and shower them with epithets. And, as I mentioned earlier, Senior COs harass guards who are one step lower than they are.
What are the rewards of such a job? As far as I can determine there are none whatsoever. The pay is not good. Most of those around you hate you, or at best tolerate you, and never expect someone to say that you are doing good work. The rules are applied so ambiguously and inconsistently that you are constantly frustrated. The fear also never seems to go away. Sometimes the pent up stress is relieved in physical contact between prisoners and their keepers (generally initiated by the prisoners). Maybe even that''s not all bad. Better, perhaps than going home and beating up the wife, and kicking the dog.
This is a very interesting book, and while the author does not really get into the heads of the COs and the felons, it is a tale not often heard.
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Gerald Brennan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great public service...
Reviewed in the United States on July 3, 2005
Walter Cronkite once said that the citizens of a country have a right to know what''s being done in their name. It''s a simple enough premise: public institutions, spending public money, should be subject to public scrutiny. And yet, the nation''s prisons and jails remain... See more
Walter Cronkite once said that the citizens of a country have a right to know what''s being done in their name. It''s a simple enough premise: public institutions, spending public money, should be subject to public scrutiny. And yet, the nation''s prisons and jails remain practically invisible to the public eye, thanks to both their media-shy temperament and a relatively incurious media. Newspapers and television may flock to chronicle shocking crimes and sensational trials, but when the sentences have been handed down and the headlines are fading, the public mentality seems to be "out of sight, out of mind."

Journalist Ted Conover sought to redress this problem, to understand the corrections system in New York State and, in particular, the corrections officers who, on behalf of the public, guard those deemed unfit for society. Towards that end, he wanted to follow a rookie C.O. through training and into an initial posting, but was repeatedly denied permission to do so. Rebuffed by the powers-that-be, stymied by the system, he settled on an even better and more original solution: to become that rookie C.O. himself.

Many journalists aspire to be (or pretend to be) completely objective--dispassionate chroniclers of the world, separate from the people and situations they write about. The brilliance of Conover''s book is that he took a completely opposite tack, enmeshing himself in the system rather than trying to observe it at arm''s length. And in doing so, he has created an excellent, compelling, and thoroughly informative book, one that dismantles many stereotypes about prisons and guards, stripping away the lumpy old layers of paint and showing the true shape and color of things.

Many of his most insightful observations deal with a very poorly understood subject--the effects of incarceration on the guards. At the outset of his experiences, Conover wonders whether guards truly are the brutal people depicted so often in prison movies and, if so, whether they are drawn to the work because they are insensitive, mean people or whether they become that way because of the work. By the end of his time guarding Sing Sing, he seems convinced that the latter is often the case, that warehousing people can end up dehumanizing both the people being warehoused and the people doing the warehousing. The stress and strain of prison, it seems, seeps into the lives of C.O.s, resulting in higher rates of alcoholism and divorce. (Those who pick this book up expecting an overly-sensitive, "Cool Hand Luke"-ish rant about cruel C.O.s and maltreated prisoners will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the author''s fairness and empathy towards his fellow guards.)

Prison sex, too, appears far differently on the inside than it does in popular culture. While prison rape is a staple of movies and shows about incarceration ("The Shawshank Redemption", "Oz"), Conover concludes that most prison sex is, in fact, consensual. Such observations may seem like voyeurism, but they are not; given the lower availability of condoms, the higher rates of infection for sexually transmitted diseases (particularly HIV) and the fact that many of these men will eventually leave prison (possibly to rejoin thier families), prison sex is a factor that fundamentally alters the incarceration equation.

Despite its overall excellence and its willingness to take on such edgy topics, the book isn''t a completely thorough or representative picture of New York State''s corrections system. The author readily admits that Sing Sing is an atypical prison, with a larger percentage of minority guards and unseasoned officers than the upstate facilities; it would have been interesting if he''d been willing or able to spend longer in the system and get a better look at those institutions.

Still, this complaint is insignificant when compared with the book''s overall virtues. "Newjack" is a great public service, a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the consequences of the nation''s get-tough-on-crime mentality. While many people affect a cavalier don''t-do-the-crime-if-you-can''t-do-the-time air, Conover''s book shows that this is a very myopic attitude--prisoners will do the time, and they will emerge, and the experiences they face on the inside will help determine whether they will do the crime again or instead find a place in society. Given that fact, society should try to better understand what life is like for them--and for the guards who do the public''s thankless bidding.
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Top reviews from other countries

NotSherlock
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting perspective, engagingly told
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2017
Certainly a very interesting book from a unique perspective. Conover writes about the contemporary state of the prison, while giving us the context of its history and the changes in society and law that govern it. However, his real focus is more immediately human; he...See more
Certainly a very interesting book from a unique perspective. Conover writes about the contemporary state of the prison, while giving us the context of its history and the changes in society and law that govern it. However, his real focus is more immediately human; he frankly shares his (and his colleagues) experiences and frustrations as a corrections officer, while also giving a voice to the inmates as much as he can, given his necessarily restrained relationship with them. Especially welcome in this this version are two afterword sections, written at seven months and ten years respectively following its original publication, discussing the book’s initial reception and how interest in it has endured.
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Macc Lass
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating, brutal, the inside story that they don''t want you to read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 11, 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...See more
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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Dean Ellis
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great insight to how American prisons operate from the inmates ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 26, 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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Ev
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Read first page, and is amazing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 12, 2021
Only read the first page and looks great already i would recommend
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Mr Christopher Pinkstone
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
... in but only in this manner would get this fantastic insight into the inner dealings of a prison
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 29, 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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