IPT Book Reviews

Title: Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing  Positive Review Positive Review Positive Review

Ted Conover

Publisher: Random House, 2000

Random House
1540 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
$24.95 (h); $14.00 (p)

Mr. Conover spent a year as a guard at Sing Sing, one of the oldest and most storied of American prisons.  This book is in the genre of a participant observer study.  It presents the experience of a guard in a powerful and cogent manner.  It is a fleshing out of the dramatic prison experimental study by Zimbardo which demonstrated the power of the role of guard and prisoner to affect behavior.

The strange, bizarre world of the prison comes alive with the emotion, anxiety, fear, and the strengths of both guards and prisoners making do in this hostile climate.  The reader can trace the dehumanization of the guards and staff through the training, initial probationary period, and on-the-job experience.  Some prisoners are shown to be both troublesome, dangerous, and in conflict with the guards at all times.  Others are subservient and some cooperate as best they can.  The impact of mental disorders, limited capacity, and early experience of prisoners is evident in the descriptions of them from the experience of a guard.  Prisoners, too, are dehumanized by the demands of the penal environment.

The harsh, surreal world of a prison comes through on every page.  Anyone who has a concern with the issue of prisons in this country would do well to read this book.  It is a powerful, moving, and authoritative presentation of the fundamental conundrum of the need to protect the broader society and the creation and imposition of a society that is the opposite of everything the general social structure of our society is and values.

Read this one!

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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