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Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  3,121 Ratings  ·  308 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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 19th 2000 by Random House (first published May 2nd 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Larry Bassett
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
Tracey S
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new-york
In the early 1990s anthropologist and journalist Ted Conover applied for access to visit Sing Sing maximum security prison in order to write about it and was turned down. Undeterred, Conover at once applied to become a Corrections Officer as a loophole to gain access, and in 1997 he finally got his chance to be a Newjack (a trainee CO).
He begins by relating his experience throughout the 7 week training camp where recruits had to go through all sorts of rituals, including being exposed to tear ga
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solidly interesting. Some kindle highlights:

In the 1990s, while Wall Street was booming, one out of three black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine was either behind bars or on probation or parole. Young black men in California are now five times as likely to go to prison as to a state university. - location 413

Fifty of the state’s seventy-one prisons were built in the last twenty-five years, a period in which the number of inmates has increased nearly sixfold, from 12,500 to over 70,
Jun 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: prison activists, corrections officers, creative non-fiction lovers
The premise of this book is that the author Ted Conover got a job as a ‘corrections officer’ in Sing Sing to see what it was like to be a prison guard. Seeing as how he looks ‘not tough’ and was used to hanging out with the high society of New York (not the magazine), he comes off pretty whiny sometimes, but it is clear that it is a pretty terrible job, in part due to the stress and psychological requirements necessary to telling people what to do all the time and, in turn, being resented for it ...more
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
Aug 24, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
'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
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
May 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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'
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-misc
A very interesting and thought provoking book written undercover. Conover strikes the perfect balance between objectivism and sentimentalism. It's a bit dated - it was published in 2000, although I found most parts still very much relevant today. Worthwhile for anyone concerned with the growing prison industrial complex and the impacts of that on society.
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this when I was studying for my Comps in Corrections. I enjoyed it and the journalistic style of writing. Conover did a good job of illustrating the stresses and the releases of being a correctional officer. You can always feel the underlying stress of the situation which is true of working in corrections.
Victoria Weinstein
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Brian Hickey
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ever wonder what it would be like to fully experience one of the toughest prisons in North America? Well, Newjack is the literary version of strapping a hidden GoPro camera to a rookie corrections officer in one of the world's most troubled prisons . This window into Sing Sing, (a maximum security prison in NYC), was also my first literary Easter egg of 2017. It was on sale, I liked the title, and I dove in with my expectations on hold. Suffice to say, this totally random find absolutely blew me ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, crime, law

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

Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Во-первых удивило, что автор для того чтобы сделать этнографическое исследование и написать книгу, прошел академию СО(correction officer) и целый год отработал в тюрьме максимально строгого режима "Синг-Синг". Повествование ведется от первого лица и в основном в хронологическом порядке описывает, прохождение академии, пробацию и собственно работу в качестве регулярного надзирателя. Автор не только раскрывает настоящую жизнь заключенных и сотрудников, но делится своими ощущениями от происходящего ...more
Jan 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
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
"These were the guys, the source of my pain, the source of their own pain, the source of their victims' and of their families' pain. My first few days, they had seemed like one big green-clad undifferentiated mass. Now, of course, they all had faces to me."

Conover entered my radar with his reading of the epilogue of Newjack on The Moth. I went into the book thinking that it would be like that: these bizarre, dramatic prison-life stories, chapters of gang crime and corruption and all the other no
Andrew Benedict-Nelson
The blurb from Tracy Kidder on the back of this book compares it with the journalism of Orwell (Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days) and I have to agree.

While no one could duplicate Orwell's way of subtly imbuing every moment of a narrative with political meaning, Newjack has a different kind of appeal: Conover, perhaps because of the ordeal he endured, allows himself to become much more vulnerable in his text than old Eric Blair ever did. It might be that vulnera
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about a journalist who becomes a corrections officer (commonly referred to as prison guard)at Sing Sing Prison to discover what it is really like to be a guard, especially as compared to common representations of them in popular media such as movies and television shows.

While the book covers some history of American prisons and punitive operations it largely deals with his day to day struggle to be a good officer in the face of a lot of stress in a difficult job. While Conover is c
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, justice, jobs
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
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic piece of creative non-fiction: it entertains, educates, and horrifies, expounding on the grinding reality of those in the correctional system- both prisoners and correctional officers. Ted Conover sheds light on the depth and savagery of fundamental problems in the American corrections system. He shows us how quickly the rigidity, bureaucracy, and antiquated systems can turn a well-intentioned guide into a jaded and wretched gate-keeper. The stories are gripping, sad, touching, and e ...more
Immersed in the world of Sing Sing which takes us from Conover's training, through his early days in the totally bewildering and frightening days corridors and his observational absorbtion into this place of longevity. The society that lives and operates within and outside a complex set of rules of behaviours and regulation is expertly written and described. Over his year, Conover settles into this new, scratchy and nerve wracking skin, and develops the skills and experience to more than just su ...more
Badly Drawn Girl
May 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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