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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is a book by journalist Ted Conover, who worked as a correctional officer in an upstate NY prison in preparation for writing this book (published in 2000). Conover has explicitly stated that nothing in the book is fabricated or embellished in any way, and so the...

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Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is a book by journalist Ted Conover, who worked as a correctional officer in an upstate NY prison in preparation for writing this book (published in 2000). Conover has explicitly stated that nothing in the book is fabricated or embellished in any way, and so the book's straightforward style is made even more powerful with the awareness that it is completely authentic. This quote offers some details of how Conover prepared to face his workday:

Around six-thirty, fifteen minutes till lineup, I would put on my gray polyester uniform and make sure I’d got all the things I needed on my belt: radio holder, latex-glove packet, two key-ring clips, baton ring. I put a pen and a pad, an inmate rule book, and a blue union diary in my breast pocket, slid my baton through the ring, locked the padlock, and slammed the locker door. Then I walked past a pile of old office desks and, usually, went into the men’s room, which smells like an outhouse. Every morning my stomach let me know, just before the shift started, what it thought of this job.

Conover details the objects he needed to have ready, and implies that every morning, just before he began his work shift, he felt sick to his stomach. Without being melodramatic, the writer conveys the intense physical distress this working environment brings out in him.

Conover also describes the reputation of Sing Sing among newly trained corrections officers:

A stint at Sing Sing, with its decaying plant and reputation for chaos, is a sort of rite of passage for New York State correction officers. “Everybody’s got to do their time at the bottom of the barrel” was how a union representative had put it to my class at the correction academy in Albany. We had trained for seven weeks, and then were sent directly into battle, so to speak. “Three months at Sing Sing is like three years anywhere else,” the union rep had said.

Sing Sing as a "rite pf passage" implies that this prison is a more challenging place to work than most, but also that it was characteristic of most of the other prisons of its size, location and security level. And yet the union representative's comment that a three month stint feels like three years is very telling and disturbing.

In addition to describing his specific experiences at Sing Sing, Conover also takes care to place his research in context and explore the prison industry in the US as it compares to the rest of the world. He references racial disparities as well, noting particularly the high rate of incarceration among black males in the 1990s:

Since the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the former No. 1 jailer, the United States has run neck-and-neck with Russia in the race to become the world leader in rates of imprisonment. We lock up six times as many citizens per capita as England, seventeen times as many as Japan. Prisons and jails in the United States now hold nearly two million people, meaning that one out of every hundred and forty residents is behind bars. In the nineties, while Wall Street was booming, a third of the black men in this country between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine were either incarcerated or on probation or parole.

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