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The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  1,008 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
Mass Market Paperback, 464 pages
Published February 1st 1993 by Bantam (first published 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 10, 2012 Ensiform rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, justice
The author, a journalist, was granted unprecedented access into the Hot House, where interviewed many inmates, guards, employees and family members. The result is this immensely readable 375-page tome, a wake-up call to all the “Square Johns” as to what prison life is really all about. Here are all the assaults, rapes, extortions, hooch, poker and drug deals, and everything else you hear about in the media. Earley did a fine balancing act, trying to tell the story from both the perspective of th ...more
May 18, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
Well-written insights into the lives (both inner and daily) of a selection of inmates who were at Leavenworth from 87-89. I wonder how much life in Leavenworth has changed since then, and if the new generation of guards still maintain the guard culture as it is represented in this book. In many ways, everyone involved comes off as being fairly awful, other than Geouge and Matthews.

In case you've read the book and you're curious, here's the update: Scott, Post, and Bowles are now dead. Post comm
Nov 14, 2013 Mara rated it really liked it
A review on the back of my copy of the book by Nelson DeMillw says it perfectly: "You don't read this book as an outsider looking into Leavenworth. On the first page, you open the gates of the prison; by the second page, the gates have been closed behind you-and you won't get our until the final page."

Fascinating and just so well done.
May 05, 2014 JAC rated it it was amazing
I used to dream about fucking women - beautiful women with great big tits ... But this is what I dream about now. I dream about fucking a fat prison guard and stabbing him in the back. It's scary, man. I wonder what I'll be dreaming a year from now, or maybe five years from now. I wonder what I'll be dreaming when I finally get back on the streets.

A fantastic piece of journalism. Earley spent two years researching for this book inside Leavenworth Prison, between 1987 and 1989 - a federal prison
Bey Deckard
Not a read for everyone but I found it compelling and informative. I liked how the author picked from here and there to tell the story—you get a sense that it was difficult to limit himself to the stories/interviews he chose.

You'll read one account and say "hey, this guy is innocent/should have better treatment" and think that Earley is sympathizing with the man, but then he turns that feeling around on its head in the next chapter when he makes you side with the guards. In the end, no one's wo
Pete Earley spent 3 years keeping up with the lives of 5 inmates deemed highly dangerous and sentenced to life in the Leavenworth penitentiary. He provides the stories from not only the 5 inmates he interviewed, but also the officers and wardens involved at the Leavenworth penitentiary at the time at that time. The stories are true-pics are provided to provide the reader with a more realistic idea of the "Hot House" and characters involved. I was enthralled with the stories and Early's use of wo ...more
Nov 09, 2013 Cora rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much I liked this one. Good journalistic read and well paced.
Patrick O'Neil
Oct 26, 2008 Patrick O'Neil rated it liked it
A well written work of journalism on a tough subject. Although at times just another litany of horrors from behind the walls. Stabbings, beatings, rapes and riots. Pete Earley gets the sordid details interviewing prisoners, guards and wardens. Yet with most journalists there is a sense on neutrality in their reporting, or at least there should be. Had Earley stayed neutral, less sensationalism, less pro-establishment, more consideration of the prisoners that aren't the blood thirsty "convicts" h ...more
Sep 21, 2009 Marge rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
This was an excellent book. I grew up near Leavenworth. Some of my high school classmates' fathers were prison guards there, and at least one of my high school classmates became a guard there. I was always fascinated by the size of the prison and feared escapes. I once drove up to the entrance of the prison, but a feeling of overwhelming evil took hold of me and I could hardly wait to leave.

While reading Mr. Earley's book, I was struck by the irrational "thinking" of the criminals, and knew anyo
Kari Coleman
Oct 14, 2008 Kari Coleman rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in prisons
Recommended to Kari by: Karen
I have really been on a non-fiction kick lately, in hopes of expanding my reading base. It has always been so much easier for me to pick up a fiction book and get lost in whatever world the story puts me in. For non-fiction I have this horrible idea that it's going to be a harder read and I won't enjoy it as much, which is completely FALSE!!! At my office, you get a sense of what genre's people like by what you see them reading in the lunch room. About a year ago, I noticed that one of the girls ...more
Feb 10, 2011 Lulu rated it really liked it
Through a connection with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Earley gained unprecedented access to one of the federal system's most brutal properties. Many of the Leavenworth inmates he profiles are serving multiple life sentences, oftentimes both for crimes committed on the street and once locked up.

One, Thomas Silverstein, killed a guard while at an even more infamous federal prison in Marion, Illinois. He lives in a cage in Leavenworth's basement that inspired Hannibal Lecter's Tennessee digs in
Aug 22, 2007 Cat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: truecrime
As a fan of both books about prison and the author, I was understandably excited about reading this book. I maintained that excitement until I was about three quarters of the way through, and then I realized that I really didn't care for plot elements that involved Warden Matthews and the prison guards.
If there's one thing I learned from this book it's that begin the warden of a U.S. Prison is just as exciting as working in the General Services Administration.

On the other hand, I found the stori
Lizz Rockford
Aug 05, 2013 Lizz Rockford rated it it was amazing
Anyone who wants to know what it feels like inside the walls needs to read this book. My perspective is that of an Officer, so when I picked up this book I braced myself to be irritated by the crybaby story of an attention-seeking inmate who is eager to sarcastically yell "My hands are up, don't shoot!" when you tell them 'no', or one eager to threaten a lawsuit because "you're violating my civil rights!" when canteen is out of Snickers bars. "This is police brutality!" when the facility goes on ...more
Jun 21, 2012 Samantha rated it really liked it
Pete Earley's 'The Hot House' offers a compulsively readable, honest-feeling account of what life's really like inside a maximum-security prison. By focusing on the stories of individual prisoners and guards, he's able to offer more insight on the mindset of the incarcerated and the staff, rather than a completely dispassionate accounting of facts. He doesn't flinch away from exposing some of the hypocrisies of his featured individuals - for instance, the man who refuses to "snitch" for the hono ...more
I love non fiction prison stories and this book has it all. It's one of the most horrifying and fascinating looks at what it's really like inside. Some of the stories and and side stories are truly the stuff that nightmares are made of....and no shit, once you read something like this it's impossible to unread it or forget it. You hear about shitty things that people do to other people all the time but some of this stuff makes you really appreciate having places like Leavenworth, most of the peo ...more
Feb 06, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
I first read this book in high school, and was interested to see how it compared now. I was pleased to find that I still greatly enjoyed it.

The author spent a great deal of time inside Leavenworth, talking to inmates and guards. He didn't have an escort or a radio, and was pretty much allowed to wander where he pleased.

I think what makes this book different is that it has no thesis. That might be a detriment to many books, but it works perfectly here. You see inmates from the guards' perspectiv
Jun 21, 2016 amanda rated it it was amazing
necessary reading for anyone who's interested in the prison system. a journalist given unprecedented access into leavenworth prison at the time when it was still maximum security, earley has had the chance to get to know both the inmates, the guards, and the warden. i think he does a fantastic job of humanizing everyone--even the guards aren't always "nice" or "good" people, but you can really feel for them. this was just a really solid book, both in the research, the writing, and the tone. a lo ...more
Aug 20, 2007 Nicholas rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American prisons/aspiring criminals
The best non-fiction book about Prison in the language. Earley was given unprecedented access(it would never be given again) to Leavenworth at a time when Leavenworth was the "Harvard of the federal prison system," home to the hardest of the hard. The convicts Earley is interested in aren't reflective of the larger inmate population-they're all white for one-and that's what makes it such a remarkable account. Earley focuses on the leaders and the legends, the people who matter within the walls. ...more
Feb 16, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: college-reading
This book reminds me of those shows on the National Geographic channel that spotlight life inside prisons, except this is so, so much better. By the end I was thinking deep tumultuous thoughts about the line between good and evil, right and wrong, the path to redemption, forgiveness, the reality of rehabilitation, yadda yadda yadda, all with a healthy dose of stomach-turning horror at one aspect or another of the corrections system every 25 pages or less. Took about 8 hours or so to plow through ...more
Nov 13, 2007 Russell rated it really liked it
The author is an investigative reporter who details life at Leavenworth prison both inside and outside the walls.

The author has repeated interviews with various members of the Aryan Brotherhood who are exceptionally candid about the violence and scheming that go on behind the walls.

Yet, the author is always implying that he cannot give (or get) the full story. Case in point, the author brings up numerous times how defensive one older prisoner is about his relationship with his younger bunkmate,
Aug 08, 2010 NancyG rated it liked it
My next door office mate recommended that I read this book about life inside Leavenworth Prison and with my criminal justice degree and current job helping put the bad guys in prison I couldn't resist checking the book out. I didn't have a lot of sympathy for the inmates but then I don't think most folks would. The guards aren't protrayed a lot more sympathetically giving the book a realistic feel. The author was the first journalist given unfettered access and the result is a harrowing look int ...more
Jun 05, 2013 Mikey rated it really liked it
A friend of mine who shares my penchant for rather heavy non-fiction recently lent this to me. While it was first published 20 years ago and many of the conditions, systems, etc. described therein may no longer bear any resemblance to the conditions today, it's still a very interesting read. This book gave me a lot of insight into the federal prison system (both in relation to inmate life and the duties of those administering the prison) - and of course only further confirmed that I DO WANT want ...more
Tristan Goding
Nov 30, 2015 Tristan Goding rated it liked it
This book is pretty wild, the kind of book that thrusts you face-first into an inferno and doesn't really ever let you have a chance to breath. From page one, the raw quality is relentless and punishing. At the end of it, you'll feel like you've been to prison. Overall, I learned a hell of a lot about the infamous Leavenworth Penitentiary. More than that, however, I feel like I spent a lot of quality time with some very hard people that I would never have gotten to otherwise. It was a good read. ...more
Colin Ryan
Aug 12, 2014 Colin Ryan rated it really liked it
Great piece of journalism. The author really captures the prison ecosystem. Both prisoners and guards appear to be defined in opposition, without sensationalizing the grim struggle for control and autonomy defined by unwritten social rules is fascinating. The idea of rehabilitation is only brought up as a punch line and the reality is a broken system in which the strong thrive and the weak are crushed. Great read.
Mandy Brazee
Oct 18, 2007 Mandy Brazee rated it really liked it
This book was easy to read and the people profiled were interesting. This book is not for the faint of heart though. He profiles grisly, disgusting, sociopathic prisoners. Some of the material is very graphic and very disturbing. Based on what these prisoners shared with him for the book, it makes me wonder if some people are beyond rehabilitation. The prisoners he profiled are hard-core criminals with no conscience.
Mike O'neil
Jun 06, 2010 Mike O'neil rated it really liked it
Good book about life inside Leavenworth Penitentiary (USP-Leavenworth) with lots of background on several Convicts, particularly Tommy Silverstein, the single-most tortured human being ever to be victimised by the government of The United Snakes Of America.. Also has lots of reasonably accurate information pertaining to the Aryan Brotherhood, THE ONLY TRUE "FAMILY" in the entire federal prison system
May 09, 2011 Vikki rated it really liked it
Very interesting and well written. Pete was able to come and go at Leavenworth Prison. He basically took five men in Leavenworth and told about them. And there is much on the history of Leavenworth prison. I would not want to be in prison.
I went to college with Pete. He is just a normal guy-although outstanding, for sure. I can see him interviewing these hardened criminals. Pete is just someone you want to talk to and tell all of your secrets to. Great book, Pete!
May 11, 2013 Pixismiler rated it liked it
This book was a little difficult for me to get into but picked up quickly thereafter. I worked in a prison for some time and this is a pretty accurate description of the day to day life. It is written in a discombobulated fashion which is what the day to day in prison is like. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to work in prison without having to work in prison, this is a good book for you to read.
Jan 23, 2015 N.K. rated it really liked it
I was not quite sure what to expect with this one but ended up being pleasantly surprised. Not the easiest subject matter but I thought Earley did a nice, even-handed job with the book. The convicts were not treated overly sympathetic but then neither were the guards. A nice slice of history and true crime. Well worth the read.
Ellis Amdur
Jan 16, 2015 Ellis Amdur rated it really liked it
Earley spent a lot of time interviewing some very bad men at Leavenworth in the late 1980’s. He focuses on five, all in the anti-social personality – psychopathy spectrum. He gets as close inside such men as one can get through the written word. Read it right after reading Robert Hare's Without Conscience, and see what stands out to you.
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Pete Earley is a storyteller who has penned 13 books including the New York Times bestseller The Hot House and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.
After a 14-year career in journalism, including six years at The Washington Post, Pete became a full-time author with a commitment to expose the stories that entertain and surprise.
His honest
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