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352 pages, Paperback
First published May 2, 1999
You didn’t have to be flaying an inmate’s back with a cat-o’-nine-tails to be wounded by the job. That was simply it’s nature, a feature of prison work as enduring as Sing Sing’s cell block design. “In its application the familiarity it causes with suffering destroys in the breast of the officer all sympathetic feeling.”
To do this job well you had to be fearless, know how to talk to people, have thick skin and a high tolerance for stress.
At Attica and Clinton, he said, inmates didn’t even talk to female officers. It was flat-out forbidden.
“And if they do?” I asked, knowing that every jailhouse rule was eventually violated.
Gaines paused and smiled. He was a soft-spoken, gentle-tempered man.
“They get the fucking shit beat out of them,” he said.
The possibility no longer bothered me as it once had.
The point was that anyone could end up inside. The black officers I knew, especially, seemed to feel this – that the difference between straight life and prison life was a very thin one and that sometimes the decision about which side you were on was not yours to make.