Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
The distressing experience of operating as a prison guard in such a notorious penal facility as New York State’s Sing Sing Penitentiary is one that is unlikely to be desired by one not professionally committed to the execution of prison uniformity. However, the outstanding novel written by Tom Conover illustrates the encounters of a journalist who voluntarily plunged himself into the obscure universe of the men and women paid to spend the better portion of their lives behind prison barriers. In Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, Conover creates a noteworthy document resonating personal emotional occurrences that nonetheless suggest the cultural sensitivity of a true prison guard. From the standpoint of our studies on the concept of incarceration, this is a remarkable work, shaping the characteristically oversimplified prison guard as – apart from his reputation for viciousness and hostility – a multifaceted figure facing a demanding and internally contradictory role. At the core of Conover‘s masterpiece is the perception that the prison guard must find a way to tread the balance between assertive authority and consent to involvement within the context of a society founded and controlled by the prisoners. Conover spent a year working as a “newjack”—the inmate term for a new New York state correctional officer. Upon departure from the training academy he was assigned to work in Sing Sing, the state’s maximum security prison in Ossining, where most inexperienced officers spend their first months on the job. Newjack tells the story of Conover’s initiation into correctional work. After a short time at the academy and a brief period of on-the-job training, Conover found himself working, frequently alone and always weaponless, in galleries housing sixty or more inmates. As a newjack, he was responsible for the care and custody of scared young first-timers, drug addicts, gang members, violent predators, and physically incapacitated...
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