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So I just finished up Newjack by Ted Conover, a book I heard about through Meditations on Violence that I read last year. Mr. Conover was working for the New York Times when he wanted to do a story about corrections officers. Turned down flat by the state, Mr. Conover decided to go undercover. He applied for, and was accepted as, a new corrections officer. The book covers his training and his first year on the job where he worked Sing Sing prison.
Mr. Conover mostly focuses on the COs because that's who he's working with and the job he wanted to profile, but obviously, his interactions with the prisoners also play a large part of the story he's telling. He paints very human portraits of everyone he interacts with and how a prison environment (whether you're behind bars or not) affects you. Even with the best of intentions there are issues of chaos and control and Sing Sing (at the time of writing) was suffering from a fair amount of neglect. It acts as a sort of finishing school for new COs (newjacks). Most of them live in upstate New York and hope to transfer to new positions closer to home. Aside from improving their commute, these upstate prisons are newer and their populations are more constant. So the officer staff is constantly turning over and often inexperienced while the prison population is also shifting more frequently than usual. All of this change destroys any sense of continuity and makes it difficult to form working relationships that might ease tensions and improve everyone's situation.
The book is also over 10 years old so Mr. Conover is seeing the leading edge of some very big incarceration trends. He notes that prison populations are soaring and because of mandatory sentencing and anti-drug legislation, most people are coming into prison for non-violent offenses for longer periods of time. He also notes the rise of for-profit prisons and the economic lure of having a prison in your economically depressed town.
All in all, an engaging read about prisons and how you deal with being there.