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Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In
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Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  239 ratings  ·  54 reviews
As a corrections officer at an all-male maximum security prison, Sara Lunsford worked with the worst of the worst, from serial killers to white supremacists. She knew that at the end of every day, she had to try and shed the memories of the horrors she had witnessed in order to live a happy existence. But the darkness invaded every part of her life. And dealing with a stre ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 1st 2012 by Sourcebooks (first published January 1st 2012)
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This had the potential to be a much better book. The experiences that Lunsford lived through were genuinely fascinating but the story was hampered by a narrative voice that relied too heavily on cliches, posturing and self-justifications. More descriptive writing, stronger characterizations and more specificity overall would have heightened the drama and created more incentive for readers to become emotionally invested in the addiction-to-redemption arc of the memoir. Lunsford talks about honest ...more
Randal White
I found that this book brought back a flood of memories. Like Lunsford, I worked in Corrections, 21+ years for the Federal Government. I began my career with them as a Correctional Officer, and worked my way up through the ranks to a long-sought retirement. I was also a second generation law enforcement professional, and also had a legendary father to try to measure up to. I experienced many of situations Lunsford had with inmates, including some that were even worse. I, too, found myself self-m ...more
K.A. Laity
Wow. I’m not usually much of a memoir reader — a market that’s been done to death — but I fully recommend this one if you want to know just how much horror a person can go through and still emerge whole, better and truly triumph. This isn’t some suburban tale of boohoo cruel words. Lunsford’s account of being a prison guard while her life fell apart is harrowing from beginning to end, delivering an extra sucker punch just before redemption. From the first indelible image of trying to clean brain ...more
Freda mans
Detailed and gritty!
Look, I know some of you are looking at the description or cover and thinking, "there's no way I'd read that, it's not my tastes." Well, get out of your comfort zone, and read it anyway! There is an amazing story to be heard right here. This lady, Sara, went through hell and back within a year, and not only became a better person, but changed her whole being. She's strong, confident, smart, and you root for her every step of the way. Let me tell you, she doesn't disappoint ei
I don't know if having met the author has swayed me on this story, but it was a great read. I really feel her demons being excised here. This is not a light, fun read either. It's gritty and down and dirty. You're going to feel it between your teeth and toes for a bit.
Mar 17, 2013 Cheryl rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Women
Shelves: books-i-own
Sweet Hell on Fire, indeed. The writing is excellent; Sara Lunsford's experiences are laid bare to her readers.

It is horrifying what she survived inside and outside of those prison walls.

While majorities of women have never been, and will never be, correctional officers, Sara still has a message that all women need. We can be free from our own prisons, “You define you.”

It is my dream to find that same courage. In reading Sara's book, I discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was. It is de
Vivi Dumas
Sometimes it's frightening when life imitates art and the monsters from the pages or screens appear in real life. Sweet Hell on Fire is a raw, eye-opening looking into a year in the life of correctional office turned writer, Sara Lunsford. I have to applaud Ms. Lunsford's bravery at laying out her world for all to see. It can't be easy to expose one's open wounds to be scrutinized by readers, to allow strangers into your intimate thoughts and fears, and to reveal all the dark secrets we desperat ...more
Why did a publisher put this book out? No offense to Ms. Lunsford but her story just didn't impress me or surprise me. I have known people in prison with far more graphic stories, and I have known addicts and alcoholics with far more tragic tales (eventually she even states she isn't an alcoholic, she just drank a lot).
Dottie Butterfield
Lunsford spins a gut-wrenching, truthful tale about her own personal Hell and how it was undeniably intertwined with the Hell inside of a Kansas prison. While she slashes open the outer layers of her own life she also brings prison life to the forefront, depicting the evils of gangs, drugs, and sex with inmates. While Lunsford was an outstanding officer, promoted before she left to pursue her dreams and never once crossed the line when it came to interacting with inmates, she had plenty of her o ...more
Pierced Librarian
Sep 15, 2014 Pierced Librarian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: To anyone who enjoys memoir
Recommended to Pierced Librarian by: ME!
Shelves: memoir
Could have used a tighter editing and some parts were a tad rambling, but the story itself is powerful. I have friends from high school who became correctional officers and I spent time in a medium security prison working on a documentary and this book goes a long way in explaining a lot.

It is a strange world in a prison and Ms. Lunsford takes us there and into her own hard-scrabble life for a brief peek of how someone can deal daily with inmates and still basically be a good human.

Don't get me
Kellie Kamryn
People don't change unless they find something inside of themselves worth changing for. From beginning to end, I rooted for the author to find that "something" inside that would make her life worth fighting for. Learning about the life of a prison guard, especially from the female perspective, was fascinating to me and showed me a side of life most of us would never think about.

Real, raw and honest, this personal journey was important to share with the world. More people than we think go through
Great read! I read some of the other reviews posted where people complained about language or other things and except for a couple of typos, I would disagree with their comments. I felt like I had really been immersed in the negative life of a prison officer. The dirtiness of the language and descriptions added to the grittiness. This is prison folks. I couldn't stop reading it was so interesting. I laughed reading parts of it that were hysterical and I got really pissed off in some parts that w ...more
Tara West
One of the best books I've read in a very long time. I think every woman should read this. Sara Lunsford is an inspiration.
I admit that part of the reason I didn't particularly like this book is it reminded me of a woman I know that I don't particularly care for, so that colored my views. But I also think there should be a limit on how many times one should be allowed to drop the F-bomb in one book. I'm not a prude; that's not the problem. I understand that there is a ton of profanity between inmates and correctional officers, so any time she quoted herself or an inmate and they cussed, I was okay with that. But she ...more
Bethany Foster
Books about prison fascinate me. It's a whole culture and lifestyle that I cannot wrap my mind around, and honestly that's probably not a bad thing. I like books about prisons and prisoners...written by CO's, inmates or former inmates, I'm not fussy, I just like the insight.

This book appeased my guilty pleasure in that it definitely offered up some insight as to what life is like inside those walls. The problem I had with this book is that I struggled to like the author. I understand that you ne
Sweet Hell on Fire is one of the best memoirs I've read this year. It is in all ways funny, insightful, gripping, educational, and just plain inspiring. Ms. Lunsford is brutally honest about her years as a corrections officer, giving us a glimpse into a world most of us will never see from either side of the bars. Her story is rich in detail and she is not afraid to tell even the worst, most embarassing parts of it.

Having been one of the few women in the IT profession back when dinosaurs walked
Chloë Yates
Honest and inspiring. Talking about "narrative arcs" and "storytelling voice" in relation to a memoir like this is redundant, not to mention somehow snarkily oblivious, if you will. This is life lived (almost) one day at a time. You don't get arcs in life, you just get life.

Lunsford's account of her year is brutal and you get a no holds barred sense of a quest for self - or, more appropriately, the regaining of self - whether she thought she wanted it or not. It's quite something to sit down an
Bitten By Love Reviews
As a corrections officer at an all-male maximum security prison, Sara Lunsford worked with the worst of the worst, from serial killers to white supremacists. She knew that at the end of every day, she had to try and shed the memories of the horrors she had witnessed in order to live a happy existence. But the darkness invaded every part of her life. And dealing with a stressful divorce and a mother sucumbing to cancer led her to a complete immersion in her work and eventually the bottom of a liq ...more
I won this from Goodreads first reads.

This is an insightful and mostly interesting look into how life is for both convicts and officers in modern prisons. Sara shows us a year in her life coping with the stress and horror of dealing with inmates five days a week.

I find most memoirs pretty boring, but this has captivating tidbits every few pages that kept me engaged. The strongest parts of Sweet Hell on Fire are the stories and experiences Sara has directly with the inmates. She gets into physica
I've been interested in nonfiction, specifically true crime, since the mid-1990s and jumped at the chance to review this. I like reading and watching shows about the darker side of life. I thought it would be real interesting to read about working in the prison system from a woman's point of view.

The book was everything I thought it would be- disturbing and disgusting. Did I mention the cup of semen Sara found in an inmate's cell? The author's narrative is raunchy and unfiltered and is a bit muc
I enjoyed reading this book. Sara tells it like it is , takes no crap from anyone.. She is a very strong woman. I'm not brave enough to do her job but thank god for her and others that are able to work in the prisons and keep us safe .. It takes very strong people to do her job. Her stories will make you laugh out loud. I was sadden and angry about the scariest night of her life ~ nobody should be treated the way she was by law enforcement just because they think she didn't act like someone that ...more
Karen Wherlock
A year in the life of a female prison guard. All I could think of while reading this was my counselor's comment when I was hired at a youth agency to work with families in crisis, "how are you going to prevent your work from seeming like how normal families function to you?" Hmmm... While the author was a good guard, fair and honest and with excellent boundaries, her personal life was a mess. I didn't love this book, or even enjoy it very much. I don't really get the connection between her work ...more
Emily Crow
I would say that I enjoyed this book, except that the subject matter doesn't really lend itself to "enjoyment." In vivid prose, Lunsford describes the year she spent working as a prison guard for a maximum security men's prison. Her experience makes a very good case for how dehumanizing prison work is, and the ways she tried to dull herself with drink or desensitize herself by creating a callous persona. With "corrections" being one of the fastest growing employment fields, this memoir is a need ...more
This is a well-written memoir about a female corrections officer and her life at work and at home. I found her stories from her job to be really interesting. In my opinion, memoirs usually either really suck or are really compelling, and this book would fall in the second category.

My only complaint is that I found numerous typographical errors that distracted me from the story. However, the copy I read was an "uncorrected proof" so it's possible that the final version is cleaned up. (If so, I'd
This is a great book. Reading it was like sitting down with a friend and a cup of coffee. Next thing I knew, the conversation was over, but I was changed. Though Sara's stories of the prison may not have been unique to only her (any CO will tell you a lot of these stories), it was the way she told them that made the book interesting. Her witty humor, the bluntness of it all- it just drew me in. Her world was falling apart before she took The Job. What better place to find control than in a maxim ...more
I am not certain that a bland statement such as, "I liked this book", is appropriate for Sweet Hell on Fire. I did like the book and recommend it to others to read. The information about prisons was new and fascinating to me.

I felt with this book I experienced much more than a simple good read.

Author, Sara Lunsford's account of her personal and professional life challenges was gritty, tough, heartbreaking, and more than a little gross at times. But it also rang true and made me appreciate her
Mandy Whilden
**I was provided a free copy of this book from Goodreads Firstreads for an honest review. Thanks to Goodreads, the author, and the publisher!!**

This book was a wonderful read. Sara Lunsford is a very talented writer and she certainly had an interesting story to tell in this book. I found myself laughing out loud during the funny moments and feeling her pain at the sad moments in the story.

This book takes you behind the walls of a prison, where you get to experience the nitty gritty details of th
Jamie Brenner
This is only the second book I have ever read in the setting of prison (the other one being Dreams from the Monster Factory by Sunny Schwartz). I was hesitant to enter into this world, because I knew that as much as I love this authors writing (she is fantastic romance novelist under a pen name)there would be tough moments in this. Once I started, I felt stupid for having waited so many months to dive in, because this was the best memoir I have read in a long time. Beautiful writing about a some ...more
Sweet Hell on Fire is Lunsford's memoir covering the span of a year in her life chronicling her work as a prison guard and her descent into alcohol abuse. Each chapter represents one day during that year (not all 365 days are written about) either describing something that happened in her personal life or on the job in prison or both. Lunsford does a good job of tying her personal and professional stories together giving you both a look at what it's like to work inside of a prison while also des ...more
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Sara Lunsford also writes as Saranna DeWylde and Sara Arden.

Sara Lunsford was a segregation officer at an all male maximum security facility and promoted to the rank of sergeant before leaving corrections to pursue a full time writing career. Sara’s fiction has been published under pseudonyms in magazines, anthologies and novel length work. She is currently working on other nonfiction projects and
More about Sara Lunsford...

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“They say that during the first year of corrections, an officer is no good for The Job. After that year, they’re no good for anything else.” 0 likes
“All of the pressure we’re under, the body adjusts. It’s when the body realizes it doesn’t have to function under that kind of stress that it says “fuck you” and promptly starts shutting down.” 0 likes
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