Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In” as Want to Read:
Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  334 Ratings  ·  64 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sweet Hell on Fire, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Sweet Hell on Fire

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Jaclyn Roche
I just spent the last three days being taken on an emotional roller coaster through a year in the life of Sara Lunsford, a correctional officer who overcame herself and a traumatic incident. She came out stronger on the other side of that year despite life trying to knock her down. I straight up ugly cried at least four times throughout the memoir and laughed more than I could count. There were points while reading that I wished that I could reach through the pages and give the author a hug or a ...more
Freda Mans-Labianca
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing story of coming out the other side, of making the decision to be happy. There are two parts to this story work and the rest of her life. This book takes you through a pivotal year in the author’s life. Sara is a strong and effective correctional officer. Sara is also a young mother struggling with her inner demons. This story tells of her struggles and will leave you feeling better about the world. I could totally relate to this story but am not strong enough (or a good enough ...more
Leah Hallow
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing story! I couldn't put this book down! Poignant, humorous, thoughtful-all describe this memoir. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the prison system, gender politics, or needing a good, smart laugh!
Dec 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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).
Tara West
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nicholas Leggett
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
sooooo bleh.
Deborah Hall
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable read, easy on the brain, not a easy subject. Not an easy life.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Very gritty and straight forward. Not for the faint of heart
Alyssa Yates
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm not usually much of a memoir reader, 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 a 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 burning image of trying to clean brains out of her uniform to the ultimate betrayal by a ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Vivi Dumas
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: no-longer-own
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
May 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
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
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dottie Hill
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Emily Crow
Aug 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Karen Wherlock
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jamie Brenner
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl
  • Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear
  • Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On
  • Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can--and Should--Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids
  • Bronx D.A.: True Stories from the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence Unit
  • The Last Kiss: A True Story of Love, Joy and Loss
  • Dwarf: A Memoir of How One Woman Fought for a Body-and a Life-She Was Never Supposed to Have
  • Mermaids 101: Exploring the Magical Underwater World of the Merpeople
  • A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust
  • The 5 Greatest Spankings of All Time
  • My Next Step: An Extraordinary Journey of Healing and Hope
  • Can't Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-Up Love
  • I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion
  • Rocking Horses Painted Red
  • I Will Not Leave You Comfortless: A Memoir
  • Thanks for My Journey: A Holocaust Survivor's Story of Living Fearlessly
  • Choices and Illusions: How Did I Get Where I Am, and  How Do I Get Where I Want to Be?
  • Riding Fury Home: A Memoir
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...
“It’s also said that a society’s prison system is how best to measure their civilization. If that’s so, we’re fucked.” 0 likes
“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
More quotes…