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Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  2,383 ratings  ·  252 reviews

Ted Conover, the intrepid author of Coyotes, about the world of illegal Mexican immigrants, spent a year as a prison guard at Sing Sing. Newjack, his account of that experience, is a milestone in American journalism: a book that casts new and unexpected light on this nation's prison crisis and sets a new standard for courageous, in-depth reporting.

At the infamous Sing Sin
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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 19th 2000 by Random House (first published May 2nd 1999)
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Larry Bassett
I like books where the author immerses him or herself in a situation and then writes from his or her own experience. Barbara Ehrenreich has done this for several of her books. After my mother was sentenced to jail for civil disobedience, she has a much better understanding of who is in our jails and why. This was knowledge that she might have been able to get from reading a book, but having the experience was so much more powerful. Ted Conover writes as an outsider who chose to spend some time a ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Prison memoirs by prisoners are plentiful, shocking and tragically predictable; few have narrated the working life of prison guards, doing a “life sentence eight hours at a time.” I read 4/5 of this excellent book in a day—I highly recommend it. The author, Ted Connover, goes through the process of becoming a Corrections Officer in the NY state system. After a few months of hellish basic training, he is thrown “into the deep end” working in Sing Sing prison. Need I say it’s like one big Zimbardo ...more
Mike
Ted Conover has the crazy idea of working undercover in Sing Sing for a year. This is every bit as scary as it sounds, and without being sensationalistic he shows why being a prison guard is one of the worst jobs imaginable. Conover has compassion for both the prisoners and the guards, without losing his objectivity or coming off as a bleeding heart. In addition to being a great piece of investigative journalism, the book gives you a harrowing account of Sing Sing's history. You discover that, j ...more
Darcia Helle
I want to start by saying I have immense respect for Ted Conover. When our prison system denied his request to shadow a corrections officer recruit, he sidestepped the system and applied for the position himself. His commitment to the job, in order to bring us the story, is commendable.

Newjack is an honest, straightforward look at life inside a prison from the viewpoint of a corrections officer. While I read a lot on this topic, most books come from the inmate's perspective. I was shocked to lea
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Jim
This is an interesting book about life inside prison by one of America's most innovative authors/journalists.

Conover made numerous requests of corrections authorities to visit Sing Sing, one of New York state's (and America's) most notorious prisons. He was denied time and time again any opportunity to visit, or interview inmates, officers, etc. Conover, unlike most writers, who would have given up and picked a new topic, applies for admission to New York's correctional officer training academy
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Brendan
Much much more than participant journalism, Conover's ambitious yearlong journey at Sing Sing as a corrections officer (don't call him a prison guard) produced this nonfiction masterpiece. Over the course of NEWJACK (prison slang for officer trainee), the reader sees Conover undergo many transitions: from excited trainee to disillusioned officer, from hardass guard to sympathetic friend of the inmates. Also, playing historian and anthropologist, Conover steps back from his personal experience to ...more
Emily Goenner
Interesting, but I have a prison connection at the moment which made it real and relevant. Society's prison culture is a topic, though, that should be of interest to more people due to its size, growth, and the destruction it causes to families of inmates and guards. Conover is engaging, astute, and colorfully describes many of the characters he meets, inmates and other guards alike.
Dachokie
Zookeeping 101 …

Most of the books about prison are written by current/former inmates, authors focusing on sensational events (riots) or academia types ripping the US prison system in general. They are (generally) one-sided and somewhat depressing. Ted Conover’s NEWJACK provides a refreshingly different perspective of prison life … that of the prison guard. While not an overly exciting read, it certainly fills a void.

Ted Conover was so determined to provide a prison guard’s point-of-view, he enli
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Mike
'Newjack' is a commendable book and achievement, as the author, Ten Conover, spent a year working in Sing Sing prison as a correction officer and meticulously recorded his experience.

He exposes the hypocrisy of correction officer training which stresses strict adherence to rules versus the real life mishmash of daily rule following on the job. He dispels some common myths about prison guards (they aren’t all terrible inflictors of random violence, as seen in movies) and prisoners (they aren’t
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Ensiform
The author, an anthropologist journalist, went through basic training and became a corrections officer in Sing Sing for a year. The usually secret world he uncovers --- of brutality (almost entirely on the inmates’ side), of facing danger daily, of learning to enforce some rules and let others slide --- is fascinating. He also makes some fine discoveries about the criminal mind; while he does get chummy with some inmates, by the end, he finds himself both invigorated and repelled by the violence ...more
Molly
While volunteering in a maximum security prison, I found I was as nervous around the guards as I was the prisoners. In fact, I did not really care for prison guards at all, but now that I came across this excellent piece of investigative journalism while touring the Eastern State Penitentiary, I am on fire about prison reform and profoundly confused at the complexities involved. Ted Conover spent a year as a corrections officer, and his experiences are told alongside an accessible and interestin ...more
Converse

Ted Conover, a journalist, spent about a year as a corrections officer (don't call them guards, that is too accurate for comfort) in the maximum security portion of Sing Sing, a New York state prison located in Westchester county. He took this unusual career move when the authorities showed no interest in letting a journalist poke around the state corrections system by more ordinary means. Sing Sing is one of the oldest prisons in the New York state system; the originally buildings (unused, dam

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Aaron
I got this book out of the library after hearing what must have been an old interview on Fresh Air with Ted Conover (the book was published in 2000). Some disapproved of his methods. He wanted to learn about being a prison guard, but no one in the DOCS system would let him shadow a new recruit. So he signed up himself and did all the testing and training and then worked as a CO at Sing Sing for a year.

The result is a really good book. No huge revelations, but a good thorough interesting if rath
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Jessica
I found Conover's story completely fascinating, as would just about anyone with an opinion about the American justice system and its prisons. Sing Sing is a particularly excellent place for him to immerse himself in this world as it's a 150+ year fixture of corrections in this country, as well as a crossroads between the clearly very different worlds of Rikers Island and prisons farther upstate.

While the history and Conover's efforts to learn the job captured my attention initially, what I can'
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Badly Drawn Girl

A gripping page turner that reads like a novel, Newjack is a book that gives outsiders a glimpse of the realities of prison. Ted Conover goes undercover because he isn't granted any access to information as a journalist. But he doesn't approach it as an undercover stint, he goes through correctional officer training with the intention of becoming a CO. The reader gets to experience it all alongside him... training, first day jitters, fears, biases, friendships, and violence. I have read a lot of
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Patriotgirl1
As someone who works in corrections, I thought it was gutsy the way Conover got the background to write his book. He actually took the time and energy to apply as a corrections officer and got the job! For someone that doesn't know anything about corrections, he takes you in this sub-culture from the beginning and takes the reader though the steps necessary to become a corrections officer. From there, the reader is taken inside the prison, with its' many officers, nuances of prison life and the ...more
Mia
For the past few summers, I've read about shipwrecks; this summer, I thought I'd venture into another of my greatest fears: prison. I have such a fear of going to prison that I can't watch movies or shows set there--no Shawshank Redemption or Oz for me. So I picked up Conover's book hoping it would provide me with an insider's perspective at a more bearable remove, and it did. Readers can learn about prison culture and practices from Conover's perspective as a newly trained corrections officer a ...more
Elizabeth
Ted Conover’s book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is a retelling of Conover’s experience as a corrections officer at Sing Sing prison in New York. His initial attempts at uncovering what goes on in prisons from the perspective of the corrections personnel were thwarted. Conover’s inquiries were met with vague responses, side-stepped questions, and canceled appointments. In the opening chapters of Newjack, Conover explores his decision to apply to the academy and the months that follow; including hi ...more
Michael
An excellent book that I had been looking forward to reading. It was worth it. He spends a year as a prison guard…er…correctional officer, going though the academy, on-the-job training, and then a year becoming an experienced correctional officer (CO). In the middle he gets historical and writes a bit about Sing Sing prison, the history of prisons in terms of punishment versus reformation, and capital punishment methods.

Conover may not answer all the questions one wants but he certainly raises t
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Bobbi
Undercover Corrections Officer <p>Ted Conovers tried to get enough material to write about New York prisons but kept getting the run around. So he decided to become a corrections officer. After a long waiting period, he completes the Academy and works at Sing Sing prison for one year. This is his experience.</p>
<p></p>
<p>The Academy is set up to be very militaristic and in hindsight, run just like a prison. Upon graduation, he and most of his class is sent to Sing S
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Bob Lake
This is a very interesting look at life inside the penitentiary from the viewpoint of a "guard". I immediately followed my reading of this book with a reading of Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael G. Santos, which is a look at penitentiary life from the viewpoint of the inmate. This combination made for an interesting look at the viewpoints of these two groups.
Katie
An excerpt from a paper I wrote on Newjack:
"Ted Conover is not only a journalist, but an author. This book could be a novel if he chose to portray it like one. It reads well, it sounds realistic—and most importantly, it sounds human. Conover is honest with his feelings and admits when he was right, and when he was wrong. Recounting his entire experience, he’s able to note how the things he learned affected his reactions to situations. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to like Newjack much, but
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Michael
I was torn between 3 stars or 4 stars. I gave it 3 because it never really popped off the pages. It is a good read and will keep you interested. I give the author an A+ for effort. Taking a very dangerous job pretty much for the sake of research takes courage and dedication. And I did discover a couple of other events I'm interested in reading about. Maybe I expected his experience in Sing Sing to be a little more, well, crazy. But it was still a very interesting book. Especially if you have any ...more
Victoria Weinstein
Preachers, start your highlighters. This is a powerful book about how guarding prisoners degrades the souls of those working in the system just as surely as it degrades the souls of those in lock-up.
Sean
First, I give Conover a lot of credit for what he did. I commend him for seeing flaws in the American prison system and for taking incredible steps toward seeking reform. With Newjack, however, I don't think he went far enough.

Newjack serves fine as a memoir — a story of one man's experiences as a correctional officer in his training and first year. But I think Newjack is trying to be much more than that. Conover is conducting a social experiment at Sing Sing. His intent isn't to just tell his s
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Kristin
At first I thought it was just going to be another one of those testosterone laden books but it turned into a very thoughtful and perceptive piece about the prison system. The history of Sing Sing, which included how incarceration became the punishment rather than a temporary status, was fascinating. In an ironic twist, the last page before the afterward was torn out. Fortunately one of my friends is a Conover fan and I was able to amend the situation before returning my copy to the library. In ...more
Dev
Somewhat interesting but rarely exciting look at what it takes to be a prison guard.
Kim Olson
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a corrections officer at Sing-Sing, this book will give you a pretty good taste of it. Journalist Ted Conover spent an entire year doing the job, essentially working under cover at the notorious maximum-security prison. In Newjack (a term for newbie officers), he documents his span there, sharing details about the paramilitary training he underwent, some of the harrowing experiences he (and all officers) face on the job, and the dynamic between the pr ...more
Phillip
I picked up this book since I have been incredibly interested in prisons for about a year now. It started with watching the first season of Orange is the New Black about a year ago. I followed it up by watching a bunch of prison documentaries on NetFlix. After exhausting that medium I decided to look for a book, and found this on a top ten list. After I picked it up I realized I actually read another book, Coyotes, by the same author as a choice in 11th grade English Class. I remember enjoying t ...more
J.A. Callan
Ever wonder what life is like for the average corrections officer in the USA? Well, this is the book for you, then. Conover displays guts of steel in his undertaking of this project - masquerading as a corrections officer in order to gain the experience of what life is like for a prison officer in New York's Sing Sing Prison (The only prison in the world, I learned, which has a commuter track running through it!)

The book delves into the lives of officers and inmates. The officers are essentially
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Ted Conover, a "master of experience-based narrative nonfiction" (Publisher's Lunch), is the author of many articles and five books including Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes, Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants, Whiteout: Lost in Aspen, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the Pulitzer P ...more
More about Ted Conover...
Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today Whiteout: Lost in Aspen The Fair Ophelia (Kindle Single)

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