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The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,472 ratings  ·  98 reviews
A stunning account of life behind bars at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, where the nation's hardest criminals do hard time.

"A page-turner, as compelling and evocative as the finest novel. The best book on prison I've ever read."--Jonathan Kellerman

The most dreaded facility in the prison system because of its fierce population, Leavenworth is governe
Paperback, 464 pages
Published February 1st 1993 by Bantam (first published 1992)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  1,472 ratings  ·  98 reviews

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Nov 14, 2013 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 18, 2012 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
A lot of books hint around about prison culture and what it's like to be incarcerated long-term; this book shows you what goes on in one of the toughest prisons in North America. The author does a great job of explaining how it works for the prisoners, how it works for the men and women keeping them locked up in there, and does a good job of sketching the bottomless gulf in between. I was also gratified to find that the whole first chapter was an update on one of our local boogeymen, Ronald Bail ...more
Feb 10, 2012 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 05, 2014 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
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much I liked this one. Good journalistic read and well paced.
Feb 10, 2011 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
Patrick O'Neil
Oct 26, 2008 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 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
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: criminal-justice
I grew up in a town in Missouri, just across the river from the city of Leavenworth and its prisons, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. I've driven past the federal pen at Leavenworth many times so I am familiar with its structure and shape. This book was interesting to read, although some parts left me wanting to know more. Like, there was one chapter about an inmate escaping by confounding the guards and simply walking out the front door, but it didn't say how he got from his ce ...more
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
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Excellent book and what prison life is really like and the mindset of many of the dudes in there
Micky Lee
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating insight into life in prison sad,funny scary and violent I couldn't put it down its a shame there's no follow up book
Kari Coleman
Oct 14, 2008 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
Erik Surewaard
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a great read this is. Easily deserves five stars in my opinion. I also agree with the statement that this book is a “page turner”. I read it in just over one day. I was so gripped by the stories being told that I just couldn’t stop reading. It was a late night yesterday;)

I am currently reading quite some books on prison life. I want to get an idea to how people would function in an environment that is (i) very restricted; (ii) a combination of different races and gangs; and (iii) a mix of s
Ana-Maria Bujor
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, non-fiction
This book presents the stories gathered by one journalist who was allowed to roam free in one of the toughest prisons in US. And it does a very good job at making one not stop reading for hours. The stories are engrossing, tough and very matter-of-fact. Both prison staff and inmates get presented in depth and in such a manner that one can get to see humanity in even the worst killer, while never minimizing their deeds. In fact this is what I appreciated most - the way the author manages to walk ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The Hot House provides a fascinating look into the lives of the inmates and guards of Leavenworth Prison in the late 1980s. While journalist Peter Earley doesn't shy away from the horrors of prison life (there are plenty of mentions of rape, torture, murder), he also presents a balanced view of the power dynamics in the prison; there is no black and white, good versus evil. It calls into question the American judicial system and the effectiveness of rehabilitation in a prison environment. I'd be ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating mishmosh of multiple narratives within Leavenworth prison. You have to look back frequently to produce cohesive story lines, but the author acknowledges this at the onset. What struck me the most was the camaraderie between guards and (sometimes extremely violent) inmates that exists in the day-to-day, and the obvious but sometimes unsettling humanity that exists within people who somehow find it in themselves to commit horrific crimes. Fun, easy read.
Barron Dalton
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a well researched look into a notorious prison. The criminals that the book covers are just that, really nasty murderous criminals. Glad those folks are locked up. It is informative but, I would say the skill level of writer ship or conveyance is marginal at best. Seems to be written by an average reporter that does everything in life in an average way for the sake of establishing more average-ness. Not written in a clever way, the cup is there but, it is dry.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An unflinching account of what goes on inside one of the country's most notorious prisons, and the lives of those involved with it for a two year period. Pete Earley's writing pulls no punches. Nothing is glossed over. This is what life is like for those who live there, work there, or have an indirect association with the institution, either presently or formerly. A fascinating, exciting read, to say the least.
Ervin Vice
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
The single most interesting section of this book was the one describing the escape artist Robert Litchfield. I was fascinated by his ability literally to talk his way out of prison - via the very front door. He alone deserves an entire book. As for the rest, well, the alternating chapters devoted to the Cuban prisoners bored me. What remained didn’t quite make up for it, imho. One final note: I got curious and googled what became of William “Catman” Post. No spoilers.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was a good read. It took me longer than it takes me to read other books, because there was so much information and at times it was hard to follow the story lines that were happening with different people. I would recommend this book for someone who is looking to read about prisons and how the most notorious of them work. I really enjoyed the ability to read from both sides of the tracks about things that were happening in the prison.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So dark and so intriguing but the best part is how unbiased the writing is.

You can expect a lot of disturbing and frustrating stories in this book. Another thing you can also expect (and what I was surprised by) is how there may not be two sides to every story but there is always some good in everyone.

This book brought up a lot of interesting questions if you’re willing to ask them. What makes a man good, is a criminal morally bad, does everyone deserve redemption, are just a few questions I h
Jane Thompson
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prison Story

Pete Early does it again. He writes about a complex system and uses examples to clarify it for us. He explains for us the prison system and how both prisoners and guards think and react.
Jen Hart
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great blend of both facts and personal stories. The history, descriptions, and back stories were never too much, so that one would lose interest. The personal accounts never held back and the writer never skewed them in one direction or the other(guards vs. inmates). It felt as if I was sitting somewhere with the writer as he dictated these stories. Well done.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good book about prison life!
Shannon Miller
Oct 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Well written, but dry.
Andy Norris
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Even-handed writing. Interesting read.
Aaron E. Allan
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
pretty well written and gives you a look into the minds of some vicious prisoners.
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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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“On February 1, 1906, Leavenworth received its first inmate, John Grindstone, a Native American convicted of murder. He was paroled a few years later, but returned to the Hot House within months for killing another man. He eventually died of tuberculosis at the prison and achieved another first by being buried in the first plot of a new pauper cemetery on a hill a half mile from the penitentiary. Officially called Mount Hope, the prison’s cemetery is still used today, although it is better known as Peckerwood Hill, the tag given it by convicts and guards. By the early 1900s, the government had” 0 likes
“Any who say they are not willing to shoot an inmate are not hired.” 0 likes
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