Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, by Ted Conover, is one of my rare nonfiction reads. My job prompted me to get this out of the library: I have a lot of cases brought by prisoners, and while I’ve learned a lot about the working of prisons in the last few months, I thought it couldn’t hurt to get some more information. This was written by a journalist who spent a year undercover as a corrections officer, going through the academy and then working in Sing Sing.
This was a good book, though it didn’t tell me much more than I already knew. If I’d read it earlier, I would have found it more helpful: it does a nice job explaining how the popular conception of prison life is considerably different than the reality. (That popular conception, by the way, can make defending corrections officers rather tricky.) Well, okay, it told me that Sing Sing is a damn difficult prison to run, since it’s so old. I’m more familiar with the newer medium and maximum security facilities, which are much less chaotic.
I skipped a few chapters here and there, because this needed to go back to the library, but what I did read was well-written and interesting. One lunch during trial, I asked our defendants (six corrections officers) what they thought of it. Interestingly, not all of them had read it, but they’d all heard good things about it. This doesn’t surprise me, as my impression of it was that it was trying hard to be an honest and balanced look at the author’s experiences, both internal and external. It’s not a deep philosophical look at the problems of the corrections system, but it’s quite good at what it does. Recommended.