October 12, 2016

Letters from Readers

I medically retired at age 37 in 1988 after 14 years at San Quentin Prison. Started there as a youngster, and ended up bailing out on a stress retirement. Your writings reminded me a lot of how I approached the contradictions of the prison experience as a 23 year old WASP from the suburbs. In my first years, I wrote a lot about the place, maybe as a way to makes sense of it and explain why I was even there, but by the time I left, 14 years later, it was too late – the prison had consumed me! (I was the crime scene photographer for five years, and saw more blood and guts that I wanted too – talk about having shitty dreams!)



After ’88, it took me two divorces and several years to ‘come back’ to Society. It was reassuring to know that there was someone else out there who had seen it the way I had. An old Sgt. once told me that it was ‘easier to be an asshole, that way the place won’t get to ya’. Guess I found it hard to be an asshole , and paid for it in the end!

Ted, I’m sure the reason DOCS mgmt. might be critical of your book is because it’s exposing problems that have been very difficult to deal with.My husband is a supt. upstate and I personally believe he is one of the best – he happens to be extremely good at what he does (running a prison) eventhough it may not have been what he would have chosen to do. He commands the respect (sometimes grudging) of many people, especially officers, even ifthey don’t like him, because he’s been there and he understands their job.

I think he’s tried to work to improve a system that is affected by theeffectiveness of our justice system, politics and the basic philosophy ofhow “we” the people deal with crime and punishment in the U.S. Only in timewill people reread your book and examine the deeper layers you expose, suchas how human beings treat each other and the psychological cost of “good”people locking up “bad” people. I personally could never do what my husbanddoes.

And when I say he’s my hero I mean it. He’s one tough guy but i knowhe’s never laid a hand on anyone in anger or with the intent to harm and heis extremely compassionate. But he knows who the “bad” guys are and he’snever been a fool. You should write a book about him! Anyway, gotta gobut just remember, better that your readers get mad your book, rather thantoss it aside, half read with indifference. Thanks for writing a great book!

[name withheld by request]  

One thing you touched on, but didn’t really talk about, was getting overtime. Maybe it was something that didn’t come up much in your facility. But in mine, lots of mandatory OT due to understaffing was a real burden, one of the main reasons I left. It’s bad enough to spend 8 hours in that kind of stressful environment where you have to be “alert” every moment, but when they start taking away your home time, that’s where I drew the line. I thought that was one of the biggest problems facing the profession. They burn you out, making you work all the mandatory OT, which keeps you from being able to recharge and blow off steam at home. And then they wonder why they can’t keep anybody, and have so much turnover and staff shortages, which makes the OT levels rise, and creates the vicious cycle.


Dave Bornus

As I read Newjack, I flashback to so many individuals, incidents and emotions. … I only did it for 8 years and it will be 5 years in April that I have been away from it. And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it or instinctively act like I am still there. I could go back to that tomorrow and it would probably be like I never left. But I don’t miss it one bit.


I lost my job in 1996 due to alcoholism. I just couldn’t stand the job anymore. It happened so very fast. I have worked for the City School District here, doing campus safety for 3 years now. I got lucky because it has State Retirement and the 8 years I spent in the state rolled into it. So it wasn’t a total waste. It doesn’t pay as well but the peace of mind is worth it and the benefits are good. I am a happier man.

I wanted to extend my gratitude to you for your courage and will to provide an account to the world what our brothers have to go through on a daily basis. The work you did could easily be compared to a journalist in a combat zone.

One of the guys I worked with … is waiting for an appointment for DOCS. I am trying to talk him out of it. He is only 24. He is also on lists for Police jobs. I told him to hold out for one of them.

The worst thing about the job was that there were no rewards. In 8 years, I may have left work on 2 occasions where I felt like I accomplished something good. One being talking an inmate out of hanging himself. But the downside of that was no pat on the back. No “hey good job”. They sure would let you know when you screwed up though. And we had a Sgt. at “The Whack” that was just like your buddy Wickersham. I guess there is one like that everywhere.

Roger Tiberio

I read Newjack when it first came out and it follows me around. I will have to re-read it soon.


I am the 48 year old daughter of a retired “prison guard” —- we didn’t call them CO’s back then. My father was a guard from the 1950’s till he retired in the early 80’s. His first year he was at Dannemora and all the rest at Comstock.

Your book rings so true that it rocked me to my very core. And while it was emotionally very difficult for me to read, it validated so much of what I grew up with.

My brother, sister and I (I’m the oldest) were very simply more inmates. Everything we said, the way we dressed, the way we talked, the music we liked….. we were just like the cons. In the mid 60’s, I can remember my father going into a rage (an almost daily event) because I, like a lot of other girls my age, wore my shirttails out. My father forbade it because it was “just like the cons”.

We were punished with the wide black leather guard uniform belt. I can hear it, I can feel it to this day. We lived in fear which worsened as the years went by and my father’s “madness” advanced. He was an ever increasing hypochondriac and eventually a prescription drug addict. And FYI, withdrawal with all its hallucinations takes months, not 24 hours, like on TV.

Now did the prison system create all this? I’m sure it did not. But it did magnify it, feed it, mold, fester and nurture this insanity which eventually took over our lives.

My father hated the cons. And yet, I can remember him sneaking in cigarettes at Christmas for his porters because “they really weren’t bad guys”.

I knew guards growing up. I knew their names, their nicknames, their uniforms, their jokes. My father and his guard friends usually didn’t talk about the prison, though. But it was a part of them anyway.

I remember Attica. My mother said my father would wake up screaming in the night. He would never talk about the dreams. I remember many times the threat of riots and wondering if he was going to come home. To a child, there is a surreal quality to all of it.

And as the child of a guard, I can say you are “right on.” Many thanks for a wonderful book. I recommend it to everyone.

Chris Corlew

When I came to prison my education was virtually nil. However, the “system” didn’t educate me. I received grants for correspondence courses…


I have just read your book, Newjack. Central office is giving inmates a hard time over it. It took them almost two months to rip out 8 pages of the book and then alow me to receive the remainder (as if I would not find out what was contained in those pages anyway). Nevertheless, I read it and thought you did a great, neutral job of portraying both sides.

As one of the “front-line troops,” your perspective encompassed only those elements. It would have taken another ten years … to delve into the machinations of the administrators running this show. I think that’s where the actual tragedy lies. Most C.O.’s don’t realize that “us,” as well as “them,” are both being manipulated to perpetuate a vicious cycle of recidivism, employment growth and job security.

[name withheld] Wende Correctional Facility
Alden, New York

I just finished Newjack. I’ve done 6 in Michigan, jacktown and Cassidy Lake, 9 in Minnesota at MSP at Stillwater and 14 at Lieber in SC. Also, a Fulbright Exchange to HMP Dartmoor for a year. Your book is right on the money. The only way to know your subject is to live it. I have never been able to convey to a civilian the realities of the joint. The media paint correctional workers as dim wits and client hostile; they hav’nt a clue. I don’t feel like your example of the guard who felt he was depriving men of their liberty for 33 years. Rather, i’ve helped to protect civilians from the reality of criminals.


Gary Cook

I too was a New York State C/O. I spent 13 years in Sing-Sing, Downstate, and Arthur Kill. I also was on the Inspector General’s absconder search unit, based out of Long Island City. Currently, I’m a NYS Parole Officer in the “JAWS” unit. {Joint Absconder Warrant Squad.}



I have had many interesting experiences while working “behind the walls”. One such experience remains with me till this day: I was working at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Staten Island, N.Y., on the 3-11 tour. After taking the 5:30 count, I left the unit and was talking with another C.O. who was on the adjoining unit next to me. As a general practice, the unit C/O’s would always meet and discuss the usual prison talk, can you do a swap, can you work for me if I get stuck? Etc… Anyhow, this one time, an inmate came up to the door of my unit, and banged on the door, getting my attention. Since I was on the outside of the unit, I went right in, and found one inmate a bloody mess. His face was covered in blood. I immediately sent him to the nurse, and called for a Sgt.I then called a count, with the hope I would find the other combatant. As all of this was going on, an inmate whom I had a good relationship with, started yelling.He was giving me a signal. He wanted to talk to me and give me some information. I then grabbed him and placed him on the wall outside the unit, so it appeared he was in trouble with me. In fact, he told me who cut the other inmate, and where the shank was. I waited for the Sgt. to arrive and told him I had a tip, and wanted to search #13 room- a four man room. I searched a couple of other rooms to make it look like I didn’t know where the contraband was. I then found an exacto knife that was used in the assault. The knife was under Inmate Rivera’s bed. I then handcuffed the inmate, and removed him from the unit. I was shocked because I knew Rivera was going home tomorrow.


I couldn’t understand why, he did it. He was always so quiet, and caused no problems. I had to ask,”Rivera why did you cut that man? You were going home tomorrow!” He looked me square in the eye and stated, “I have no where to go.”I was shocked, yet I understood. Arthurkill had heat, t.v. food, shelter, and structure. “Home” had nothing.

Michael Ruppert

I work as a therapist in the only psychiatric facility in the state for the aggressive mentally ill, the bottom 2% of the inmate population in the state of Texas. It really strikes me how similar the New York and Texas prison systems seem to be, right down to some of the slang. Except we call our new officers newboots. The prison I work in just added a high security building, making it the largest farm in the state with over 4000 beds. It is only a 10-year-old facility, though, with a 1500-bed medium-security prison fence to fence with it.


Mostly I wanted to thank you for writing the book, for going inside. Even though I have the luxury of being a therapist and not a custodian, per se, and have not really given in to the brutal mindset, I have been impatient lately with our newboots and your book has made me more compassionate toward them. We have had a huge influx of new officers just recently, to the point that a huge percentage of our officers just finished training in the spring. Most of the experienced officers have transferred or quit because they just aren’t compensated for the crap they put up with. The whole place is a pressure cooker and a lot of us feel like it’s about to blow wide open. Add to that we are about 300 officers short handed, the inmates are frustrated that programming has been interrupted, and the place is being run by new boots who look scared and make mistakes that none of us are used to. All of us are afraid these days, inmates included.

It took someone like you to write that book. None of us could do it because we’d lose our jobs. And once we lose or leave these jobs, I don’t think anyone would want to think about it enough to write it out. And none of us have kept journals, although we have all talked about how we wished we had, even though nobody would believe it.

[name withheld]

I’ve been a correctional officer for 11 years for the State of RI, and you put into words, what I cannot express at times. Especially when you went home, and your children were “driving you crazy”. I started at the age of 20, and I always wondered to myself when I started “what the hell am I doing here?”….. After 11 years though…….the place just “becomes a part of you”. Keep up the good work!


If you can, could you send us a copy of “Newjack”, autographed to the guys at Maximum Security here in RI for our Reception/visit area? If not, can I send you a copy to be autographed….. We in RI do “work the toughest beat in the state!” Thank you……

J. Stephen Boulton
Badge # 956

I went to the NYSDOCS academy on January 22, 1990 (a day of distinction as we were the last class legally allowed to wear beards since the memorandum forbidding them applied to recruits who entered after January 23rd, so we were the big shots). I still remember the day that they told our class what facilities we were being assigned to. My jaw dropped when I heard “Terreri -Sing Sing” and pangs of jealousy went through me when I heard those assigned to Downstate or Camp Beacon. Bloom was my Academy instructor also and he was the same then. He went on to become my Sgt. at Marcy CF for a short time until he went back to the academy. He was a good guy as a Sgt., took no bullshit and backed you up. My 10 roommates and I lived in a crack house on Spring Street on top of the hill and were obviously out of place. I relived my whole Sing Sing experience through this book, shit I had forgot about was brought right back to memory. I think my wife was tired of hearing me say how on the mark your book was. Everything that happened to you, every guy you met (inmate or guard) was like deja vu. I worked with all of those types, what a trip! Just thinking about some of the “old timers” there that you described really brought back some memories of how much I couldn’t stand those bastards. I had forgotten, but I have to laugh about it now. I went from Sing Sing to Greenhaven, Marcy, Mid-State, Orleans and finally Collins. I resigned in October 1995 to work for the Border Patrol in San Diego, CA. … I did that up until last July where I transferred to become a Deportation Officer (around detainees again). Finally, I think you’re going to owe me a couple bucks. I’m making a lot of long distance calls to New York telling my buddies who went through Sing Sing to buy your book, my phone bill is going to be large.


Frank Terreri

I come away from Newjack with a newfound respect for some of the COs with whom I dealt while incarcerated.


… I was reminded by your book of one CO in particular that exemplified an attitude and level of competence I came to respect greatly. Sgt. Keith was the equivalent, in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, of a day shift ‘Gallery Officer’ in New York, and I was one of the men assigned to his tier for approximately 2 years. During that time, I watched him in his dealings with myself and others assigned to the tier, and found him to be a surprisingly fair man. Sgt. Keith was no pushover (and I saw some of those during my tenure…..they just rarely lasted very long) but he earned the respect of most all of the inmates with whom he met. While I have no idea of his education level, Sgt. Keith was an intelligent man, and in one of our talks (following what I considered a ridiculous use of force by some other CO’s), I asked him how it was that he, unlike so many of his peers, seemed able to always treat inmates with humanity. After some time of reflection, Sgt. Keith replied, “Well, I think that it is just that I have never met a person that I felt I needed to personally punish. But, I have also rarely met the person that I felt the need to personally forgive.” If I had not already had a great deal of respect for him before, I certainly could not have helped having it then!

Devin McNeal

I just finish reading your book Newjack. My wife bought this book for me to read. She used to be a Correction Officer for eight months at Sing Sing and quit a month ago. She graduate from John Jay College and wanted to work for a year.


Working at Sing Sing is very tuff. Many days my wife return home very upset. Most of the problem is with her fellow CO. No one there have any respect for women if they are married or single. Guys will always bother her to go on a date. Sometime she will hear from other officer that they are talking about her. This job changed her entire personality. She used to be a nice easy going person. Now she gets angry for any little things.

It was very hard for my two kids and my self to see her suffer. The job change her entire personality. I hope one day she will return to the way she was and put Sing Sing and the people there behind her. I read in your book that you were having difficulty at home with your family. I understand how your wife felt because I went through the same thing with my family.

Reading about A and B block scares me. I will not recommend to anyone to let there wife do this type of job. Thank you for this wonderful book.

Chateram Hanuman

I just finished reading your latest book – NEWJACK: Guarding Sing Sing and as the wife of a Correctional Officer in the State of NJ I found your book enlightening. I thank god that my husband works in a medium security prison and due to his seniority of 13 years has one of the easier jobs you talked about in your book. Similar to your experience, he usually does not talk about his job with me but in reading your book, I asked him some questions about his work and he did talk about it to me. He has always said that some of the other officers are worse to deal with than the inmates and it appears you found the same thing at times. Some of the comments in your book are sticking in my mind (serving a life sentence in 8 hour shifts) and I will never ever again tease my husband when he talks about retirement after 25 years (even though he will only be 52). I think when that day comes we will both now be thankful. I’m sure your year as a CO is something that you will never forget and I thank you for your insight because I now have a new appreciation for what my husband has to deal with on a daily basis. Thankfully, he does appear to be one who can “leave it at the gate” but I know from experiences with others that he works with that this is not usually the case. Enjoyed the book – changed the way I thought of my husband’s career – made me thankful.



Susan Lear

I have been employed as a CO for 19 years (New Jersey) Thought the book was very insightful, and accurate. Most people cannot imagine what the job entails, and what we go through on a daily basis. It’s nice to have someone shed some light on the profession who has actually experienced it. Though we are the black sheep of the law enforcement profession the public really does want us to be there, most just don’t want to recognize we exist…IT’S A DIFFICULT JOB! A lot of street cops don’t like to admit we are professional law enforcement officers….they need to be reminded that “we walk the toughest beat in the country”……….I am probably one of the rare ones though…..happily married 16 years..not an alcoholic…….and i’d like to think the job hasn’t changed me a whole lot, but i’m probably just kidding myself….STAY SAFE!


Scott Kately
New Jersey State Corrections Officer

I have done time at Bedford, Sullivan, Attica, Wende and now I am at Collins. While reading your book, I was thinking of my own evolution so to speak, how in a very short period of time, I went from the idealistic, “I hope to change the world, gee, let me lead by example, show these poor sots the righteous path”, to a cynical, apathetic, may I borrow her line, “I don’t know, I don’t like them, they are not my friends.” I love that line!

For the rest of us Mr. Conover, this job is not a means to an ends, you got to play guard for a brief period of time, in order to write a book, commendable. The rest of us are doing a 25 year stretch. And what do we get for it? I don’t recall you telling the world what it was like to support your family in the New York City area on $26,000 a year? Not that I expected you to be a one-man PR campaign for us hacks, but … you could have been more through in the what’s in it for them department. Not to mention, you skimmed right over when each of us crosses that line. You know the one, the evening when you had zero tolerance for your son’s minor transgression. Each and every one of us has been there, we stopped, just as you did, took a long hard look. At this juncture is when we must find healthy outlets for the stress. As you should have no doubt known, the vast majority fail to find the healthy ones and choose the not so good, drink too much, smoke too much, wife and child abuse.

Maureen Powers
Correction Officer

Hello, Ted. I worked in the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, Detention Center, San Antonio Texas, for 7 years. You really captured the feel of being locked up for 8 hours, and trying to manage the residents. I’ve read many books on prison life,and your story was the most honest. I think it should be required reading for all new correction cadets. You made me reflect on my past career. It helped me realize for the first time,it was normal to feel frustrated. I left after 7 years with no sense of accomplishment,just a feeling that I dodged a bullet. And that always bothered me. I realize that the training does not prepare you for the lingering feeling of frustration. I used to think I was the only one who felt like I was involved in a project that would never end. A project that you never complete, just survive. After reading your story, I came to the realization that all you can do,is walk away. There is no way to finish it,because there is no end to it.



I was a corrections officer in Michigan, and I greatly enjoyed reading your book. I am a female, so I had a different perspective (no strip searches, thank God) and I also worked at a low level of security which would have probably been comparable to Tappan in New York.

I think that you really got some of the turmoil into words that a lot of newer officers feel, we don’t want to look too easy or like a pushover, and if you come off like John Wayne, you have all the inmates hating you. And I really don’t care what anyone says, if I am in a housing unit where there are 120 inmates and me then they are letting me be in control. Being a female that any one of them could have overpowered I liked to think that I at least had a working relationship with them. I wish that some of the older guards would read it, and see themselves. I was able to find the balance that worked for me, but so many can’t.

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the book, and find myself missing the work-demented, huh?

Tina Babcock

dear Mr. Conover i had bought your book and read it in 2 days. i am a jail officer. it will be 6 years for me at the Suffolk County jail. i can’t believe how you are so right about working at the jail. mostly about the part how we look like the bad guys and how when we get hurt no one is there for us. i got hurt for the first time May 15 and I’m still out of work. 16 girls got into a fight and while i was protecting the girl they jumped for threatening me a girl jumped on my back and dislocated my shoulder. i find out August 24 if i need surgery.

well enough of that. the training is a lot different then what you went through. some time you don’t go through the academy until you been there for 1 year. my first day the threw me and another in the unit and the inmates had to tell us what we had to do to run the unit. when i went to the academy it was for 3 weeks not it is for 6 weeks. we still have to do our 30 minute rounds but the doors are different and there is not gates that we have to open to get to each unit. it looks like a hotel. i wish that i was trained at a jail that was more like a jail. my name is [name withheld], yes i am a female. I’m 31 years old and going back to school. thanks to you i know that i can do more with my life then opening and closing doors. you are right it does seem like a full time baby sitters job. i do talk to the inmates. it is hard to walk by someone when you know they are in pain. i have a heart and i hate to see someone crying in their cell. i think all the other officers should read your book. maybe they will realize how easy we have it then what you went trough. the male and female inmates don’t give me any trouble. i think it is because i treat them the way i want to be treated. yes the job can be stressful but i think it is how you handle yourself. if you go in there in a bad attitude and put it on the inmates they can ruin your whole day.

[name withheld]

We were on honeymoon in San Francisco last month and saw an interview with you on BayTV where you were discussing Newjack. We kind of took a liking to you and were fascinated by the idea of the book. So we managed to get hold of a copy before we left to return home. I read it avidly on the flight back to England and found it incredibly interesting. Both my husband and I work for the Prison Service in England, although we work on the rehabilitation side rather than being guards. Obviously this is part of the reason why we were so interested in your project.


I was fascinated by the depiction of Sing Sing which sounds totally different to an English jail (although I started to wonder if things went on between guards and inmates here that I just didn’t know about). There were some similarites, including some that surprised me (I thought the idea of shadow boards for tools was a quaint English custom). I also suspect that there are some similarities to our prison officer training which also has a strange military edge to it.

I wondered if there is no rehabilitation attempted in Sing Sing or if it is just that guards weren’t involved. Here, our rehabilitation programmes all involve prison officers who can opt to specialise in that direction if they are interested. Many opt to do so, saying that is “what they joined the job for”. We have only been offering treatment programmes for the last ten years or so, and they seem to be changing the environment of prison quite considerably.

Ruth Mann
Principal Forensic Psychologist
HM Prison Service Sex Offender Treatment Programme

I, too, have become immersed in prison life, although from a completely different vantage point: visitor of a loved one.

There are no manuals, or even brief informational brochures, for prison visitors. During my first few weeks of visiting I thought I’d stumbled on a great idea that I could sell to the Mass. Dept. of Corrections. … Then I realized that they don’t want us to know anything more than we’re able to scrounge together in the waiting line. The system prefers to keep us expecting the unexpected, too. The long-timers teach the newcomers: no pocketbooks; empty your pockets; the metal in your shoes or bra might set off the metal detector; make sure the address on your visitor form matches the address on your license – even if you’ve moved; how to get around phone blocks by paying Correctional Billing Services (worth a story in itself!) on “plastic” in advance; etc.

During this time of waiting out a sentence, when life revolves around visit days, dialogue with other “waiting women” is ofunique importance. Social barriers that might ordinarily divide a group:age, education, financial status, ethnicity, do not seem to exist anylonger.

However, as a man nears the end of his sentence and is moved toother areas of the prison with less and less security, there is an unspokenresentment at the woman’s new social “position”, for she is almost free,too. She is no longer deep in the trenches with the others. No one can helpbut be envious.

Nothing and no one prepares you for the respectful and always cooperativeinteraction with the guards that seems to be in the best interest ofeveryone. It sounds like common sense, but given the circumstance it’s notso easy. Some sense the benefit this has on their loved one inside more than others, who are confrontational and challenging. And I’ve seen how thisplays out, too. However, no matter how pleasant, cooperative, agreeable,respectful we might be in our brief but oh-so-important interactions withthem, many of the guards treat us though we have broken the law, too.Interestingly, my experience has shown me that the guards who are the mostobsequious, those who speak to us with polite language but in a tonetransparently condescending, are considered the “toughest” and most “unfair”inside.

It is as if their treatment towards us is simply window dressing.Thank you for writing Newjack. I am grateful for the opportunity to learnabout the people with whom my sweetheart deals every day.

Lisa Allen





Candy “Warixi” Soto