Book Review: Newjack – Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover

People’s perception of life in prison has always been different, in a way that it is viewed as a harsh and brutal environment. More so when looking at the individuals who work to guard them. It seems to imply that these individuals must be harder and more brutal than the ones they are guarding to be able to effectively do their jobs.

Ted Conover documents his life as a “newjack” or rookie prison guard in his book, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (New York: Random House 2000). This tell-all first hand research relates the life, the stresses, the disdain, the chaos, the distasteful working environment and facilities, and the politics that only one who worked in one can experience and tell about it. The book talked about the vicious life within those walls can become, and how both prisoners and guards become more and more callous each day they experience life within those walls.

In Conover’s experience, he talked about the people he worked with, coming from all walks of life having visions of an ideal jobs; those wanting to work in law enforcement, those being ex-military wanting to use their skills, and those only wanting to have a regular job that offer good benefits. Most of them sacrificing the long commute to work and spending life apart from their families to lock and unlock prison cells, move the prisoners while they get harassed in the process.

Prisoners practice their rights by hassling these officers into requesting things that are either against the rules, or tedious requests that takes a long time to grant, while they ignore orders and policies. It then seem that with the reputed discipline along with the compensation are the psychological effects that implode more violence within these walls caused by both prisoners and guards. Conover gives a disturbing image to correction professionals about the difference between life in training and life with inmates. In an ideal world, cooperation within those walls are said to be achieve by establishing communication, but in actuality, only few officers are able to achieve this cooperation and have fulfilling jobs.

As in any other job, good relationships with co-workers are essential, but unfortunately, this is also difficult to achieve in such an environment. This causes an uneven and inconsistent performance, as well as treatment of their charges resulting to a high turnover in staff in any given year.

Situations from prison-to-prison differ. The larger the facility, and the higher security risk the prison is, lessens the probability of a better working environment. Finding solutions in order to solve these issues in providing favorable work benefits for these officers can be resolved, in order to retain a good workforce to guard prisons, but are not addressed. As informative as Conover’s book might be with regards to the faults and flaws of life in prison, it lacks certain elements such as describing how the typical life in prison is like, roots of the problems that he described, and the details about the difficulties officers face in their line of work. To sum it all up, might have lacked the in-depth picture that readers would expect from a book wanting to present what is not known to people from outside those walls.

The book Newjack presents us with the confirmation of the hardships, the stresses and the chaos surrounding the job of officers, as well as how much these individuals are willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to gain a decent source of living. It also presents how prisoners are human beings who think and feel like any other human being would. In effect, it sometimes seem to present more about the life of the prisoners instead of presenting the life of the staff that it wants to give light to. Not giving a complete sense of what Ted Conover would like the world to see from his books only makes his book give a warning and that life should be better for both officers and prisoners alike.