Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Ted Co nover, the intrepid author of Coyotes, about the world of illegal Mexican immigr ants, 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 une xpected light on this nation's prison crisis and sets a new standard for courage ous, in-depth reporting.
At the infamous Sing Sing, once a model priso n but now New York State's most troubled maximum-security facility, Conover goes to work as a gallery officer, working shifts in which he alone must supervise s cores of violent inner-city felons. He soon learns the impossibility of doing hi s job by the book. What should he do when he feels the hair-raising tingle that tells him a fight is about to break out? When he loses a key in a tussle? When a prisoner punches him in the head? Little by little, he learns to walk the fine line between leniency and tyranny that distinguishes a good guard.
Alon g the way, we meet a cast of characters that includes a tough but appealing supe rvisor named Mama Cradle; a range of mentally ill prisoners, or "bugs"; some of the jail's more flamboyant transvestites; and a philosophical, charismatic inmat e who points out to Conover that the United States is building new prisons for f uture felons who are now only four and five years old. Conover also gives us a h istory of Sing Sing (it was built by inmates, and for decades was the nation's c apital of capital punishment) in a chapter that serves as a brilliant short cour se in America's penal system.
With empathy and insight, Newjack tells t he story of a harsh, hidden world and dramatizes the conflict between the necess ity to isolate criminals and the dehumanization—of guards as well as inmates—tha t almost inevitably takes place behind bars.
WINNER 2000 - National Book Critics Circle Awards
Ted Conover was raised in Colorado and lives in New York City. His previous two books, Whiteout and Coyotes, were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. He has written for The New Yorker and is now a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine.