Newjack

Guarding Sing Sing

From the book jacket: Ted Conover, the intrepid author of Coyotes, about the world of illegal Mexican immigrants, spent a year as a prison guard at Sing Sing. Newjack, his account of that experience, is a milestone in American journalism: a book that casts new and unexpected light on this nation’s prison crisis and sets a new standard for courageous, in-depth reporting.

At the infamous Sing Sing, once a model prison but now New York State’s most troubled maximum-security facility,

Along the way, we meet a cast of characters that includes a tough but appealing supervisor named Mama Cradle; a range of mentally ill prisoners, or “bugs”; some of the jail’s more flamboyant transvestites; and a philosophical, charismatic inmate who points out to Conover that the United States is building new prisons for future felons who are now only four and five years old. Conover also gives us a history of Sing Sing (it was built by inmates, and for decades was the nation’s capital of capital punishment) in a chapter that serves as a brilliant short course in America’s penal system.

With empathy and insight, Newjack tells the story of a harsh, hidden world and dramatizes the conflict between the necessity to isolate criminals and the dehumanization–of guards as well as inmates–that almost inevitably takes place behind bars. Read more »

  • Arriving at work.

  • Near wallpost, north side of prison. Photo by Jennifer Klein.

  • TC’s graduating class, corrections academy in Albany.

  • Photo by Jennifer Klein

  • Outside sally port, south side of Sing Sing. Photo by Jennifer Klein.