Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, is Ted Conover’s account of his year as a corrections officer (C.O.) in Sing Sing, one of New York’s most dangerous, all male, maximum-security correctional facilities. Conover, a journalist, became a guard after his requests to shadow a corrections officer recruit at the facility were denied. Told in first person, part nonfiction and part investigative journalism, the story, which features Conover as its main character, is replete with a cast of corrections officers, over 120 officer recruits, and colorful inmates.
Some of the novel’s characters include corrections officers Mama Cradle and Smith, hardworking professionals who put the needs of prisoners foremost; the psychologically scarred Sergeant Wickersham; the imposing Sergeant Holmes, who disperses daily assignments; and Conover’s roommate during training, Dieter, a substance-abusing, misogynistic ex-Marine. Among the inmates, whose numbers include a group of mentally ill prisoners (“bugs”), transvestites, and prison gang members, one gang member, Toussaint, becomes influential to Conover’s understanding of the nature of gangs and gang members themselves. Another, quite colorful inmate dubbed “Mr. Slurpee” sprayed urine at anyone passing by his cell.
Although not one of the novel’s main characters, the officer who teaches the new recruits how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (C.P.R.) is memorable for his cruel and dismissive attitude towards the inmates. If one of the inmates should be rendered unresponsive, his advice included performing chest compressions via pumping a boot against the inmate’s chest and delivering rescue breaths by simply blowing at the floor (Conover 37). His actions underscore Conover’s later assertion that the prison system warps everyone connected to it.
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