Cover image for American prison : a reporter's undercover journey into the business of punishment / Shane Bauer.
Title:
American prison : a reporter's undercover journey into the business of punishment / Shane Bauer.
Author:
ISBN:
9780735223585
Publication Information:
New York City : Penguin Press, 2018.
Physical Description:
351 pages, 16 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Abstract:
"A ground-breaking and brave inside reckoning with the nexus of prison and profit in America: in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country's history. IIn 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an expose about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can't understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018

One of President Barack Obama's favorite books of 2018

A New York Times Notable Book

A ground-breaking and brave inside reckoning with the nexus of prison and profit in America: in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country's history.

In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison , Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can't understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.

The private prison system is deliberately unaccountable to public scrutiny. Private prisons are not incentivized to tend to the health of their inmates, or to feed them well, or to attract and retain a highly-trained prison staff. Though Bauer befriends some of his colleagues and sympathizes with their plight, the chronic dysfunction of their lives only adds to the prison's sense of chaos. To his horror, Bauer finds himself becoming crueler and more aggressive the longer he works in the prison, and he is far from alone.

A blistering indictment of the private prison system, and the powerful forces that drive it, American Prison is a necessary human document about the true face of justice in America.


Author Notes

Shane Bauer is a senior reporter for Mother Jones . He is the recipient of the National Magazine Award for Best Reporting, Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, Atlantic Media's Michael Kelly Award, the Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism, and at least 20 others. Bauer is the co-author, along with Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, of a memoir, A Sliver of Light, which details his time spent as a prisoner in Iran.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Deprivation, abuse, and fear oppress inmates and guards alike in this hard-hitting exposé of the for-profit prison industry. Mother Jones reporter Bauer, who wrote about being imprisoned in Iran for two years in A Sliver of Light, hired on as a guard in 2014 at Louisiana's Winn Correctional Center, a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic). Equipped with a hidden camera and recorder, he found a snake pit of exploited labor and substandard correctional services. Bauer and his fellow guards were understaffed (sometimes three guards for a 352-prisoner unit), paid $9 an hour, poorly trained, and afraid of inmates; prison management veered between chaotic laxness and brutal crackdowns. With a $34-per-day-per-inmate budget, the prison axed educational and recreational programs and fatally skimped on health care (one inmate Bauer met lost both legs after officials failed to hospitalize him for an infection; another hanged himself after his suicide threats were ignored). Bauer vividly depicts Winn's poisonous culture as he finds himself succumbing to its mind-set of paranoid authoritarianism ("Striving to treat everyone as human takes too much energy. More and more I focus on proving I won't back down"). In addition, he sets his reportage in the context of a history of for-profit incarceration in the South that is rife with racism and torture. The result is a gripping indictment of a bad business. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

In "Asymmetry," two seemingly unrelated sections are connected by a shocking coda. The first, "Folly," is the story of a love affair. It narrates the relationship between Alice, a book editor and aspiring writer in her mid-20s, and Ezra Blazer, a brilliant, geriatric novelist who is partly modeled on Philip Roth. The second section - "Madness" - belongs to Amar Jaafari, an Iraqi- American economist who is being detained at Heathrow. Halliday's prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald. This is a first novel that reads like the work of an author who has published many books over many years, and it manages to be, all at once, a transgressive roman à clef, a novel of ideas and a politically engaged work of metafiction. THE GREAT BELIEVERS By Rebecca Makkai Viking. $27. Set in the Chicago of the mid-80s and Paris at the time of the 2015 terrorist attacks, Makkai's deeply affecting novel uses the AIDS epidemic and a mother's search for her estranged daughter to explore the effects of senseless loss and our efforts to overcome it. Her portrait of a group of friends, most of them gay men, conveys the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic's early years and follows its repercussions over decades. Empathetic without being sentimental, her novel amply earned its place among the contenders for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award. THE PERFECT NANNY By Leila Slimani Translated by Sam Taylor Penguin Books. Paper, $16. We know from the outset of this unnerving cautionary tale (winner of the Goncourt Prize) that a beloved nanny has murdered the two children in her care; but what's even more remarkable about this unconventional domestic thriller is the author's intimate analysis of the special relationship between a mother and the person she hires to care for her offspring. Slimani writes devastating character studies, and she also raises painful themes: the forbidden desires parents project onto their nannies, racial and class tensions. In this mesmerizingly twisted novel, only one thing is clear: Loneliness can drive you crazy. THERE THERE By Tommy Orange Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95. Orange's debut is an ambitious meditation on identity and its broken alternatives, on myth filtered through the lens of time and poverty and urban life. Its many short chapters are told through a loosely connected group of Native Americans living in Oakland, Calif., as they travel to a powwow. They are all, as in Chaucer, pilgrims on their way to a shrine, or, as in Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," an extended family crossing the landscape. The novel is their picaresque journey, allowing for moments of pure soaring beauty to hit against the most mundane, for a sense of timelessness to be placed right beside a cleareyed version of the here and now. WASHINGTON BLACK By Esi Edugyan Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95. This transcendent work of empathy and imagination, the 2018 winner of Canada's prestigious Giller Prize, opens on a sugar plantation in British Barbados in the waning days of slavery and, against that backdrop of unconscionable brutality, quickly tips us into a new world of possibility: one in which men take to the skies in hot-air balloons, dive to mysterious ocean depths and cross the Arctic on foot. Most daringly, it is a world in which a white slave master's brother and a young black slave can forge an indelible bond. With subtlety and eloquence, Edugyan unfolds a wondrous tale of exploration and discovery. Nonfiction AMERICAN PRISON A Reporter's Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment By Shane Bauer Penguin Press. $28. Bauer moved to rural Louisiana in 2014 to work undercover as a guard at the Winn Correctional Center, a privately run prison. He lasted four months before his deception was discovered, but that turned out to be more than sufficient to write a searing exposé for Mother Jones, which earned him a National Magazine Award and an invitation to speak to officials in Washington about problems in for-profit prisons. With this book, Bauer has expanded his article into a comprehensive analysis impossible to ignore. His book is a meticulous catalog of horrors, from the historical precursors - the practice of convict-leasing at Southern prisons after the Civil War, in which inmates were rented out to companies as a captive work force - to the rampant violence, neglect and incompetence that pervade a multibillion-dollar industry. EDUCATED A Memoir By Tara Westover Random House. $28. Westover's extraordinary memoir is an act of courage and self-invention. The youngest of seven children, she grew up in Idaho, in a survivalist family who lived so far offthe grid that she lacked even a birth certificate and did not attend school until she went to college. Getting in wasn't obvious: At home, reading meant studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and much of her childhood was spent helping her mother, an unlicensed midwife, and her father, a paranoid man who maintained a scrapmetal junkyard. In recounting her upbringing and her triumph over it - she would earn a Ph.D. in history at Cambridge - Westover took great risks and alienated family members. The reward is a book that testifies to an irrepressible thirst to learn. FREDERICK DOUGLASS Prophet of Freedom By David W. Blight Simon & Schuster. $37.50. A monumental work about a monumental figure. The charismatic Douglass was Abraham Lincoln's conscience, so to speak, and Blight's detailed, cinematic biography is the result of a lifetime of engagement with his subject. Douglass wrote three autobiographies himself, describing his rise from slavery to a role as one of the greatest figures of the 19th century, but Blight's work is fuller than any of those, relating both the public and private life in a way that Douglass either could not or would not undertake. The result is a portrait that is likely to stand as the definitive account for years to come. HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence By Michael Pollan Penguin Press. $28. Best known for his work on the ethics of eating, Pollan delivers his most personal book yet, one that demanded he drop acid in full view of the reader. Exploring the history and science of psychedelics, he tells of the rise and fall and rise again of our societal interest in these drugs, which are now thought to have many benefits, from helping with addiction to easing the terror of the terminally ill. The book hits its high point when he examines the mysticism and spirituality of the psychedelic experience. What can we learn about ourselves when the part of our mind controlling the ego drops away? What is this older, more primitive part of the brain, which connects us to how a child sees the world? It's a trip that leads him to wonder about how, ultimately, we can get the most out of our existences as conscious beings in the world. SMALL FRY By Lisa Brennan-Jobs Grove Press. $26. Brennan-Jobs grew up shuttling between two starkly different worlds: the bohemian, peripatetic world of her mother, an unstable and impoverished artist, and the luxurious world of her cruel and increasingly wealthy father, Steve Jobs. She provides indelible portraits of both parents, recreating the fraught landscape of her childhood in Palo Alto through the careful accretion of exquisitely granular detail. Her memoir is a work of uncanny intimacy, the debut of a singular literary sensibility. Ultimately, though, it is her portrayal of Jobs as a man prone to mind-boggling acts of emotional negligence and abuse that gives this book its overlay of devastation.


Library Journal Review

Bauer (A Sliver of Light) spent four months in 2014 as a corrections officer for a private prison in small-town Louisiana. His real job, though, was as an investigative journalist for Mother Jones. He applied, interviewed, and was hired without a comprehensive background check even though he used his real name. During training and his subsequent work with the prisoners, he found himself getting more brutal and losing sense of his humanity. Alternate chapters cover his time as an officer and the historical evolution of for-profit prisons in the United States. These chapters look back to the English prisoners sent to America as indentured servants, pre-Civil War laws and punishment, the development of penitentiaries, and ultimately the privately run prisons of today. Narrator James Fouhey performs excellently, covering Bauer's emotional range from sympathy to rage. The author's perspective is further informed by the two years he spent as a prisoner in Iran after he wandered too close to their border. VERDICT Those who relish learning about the American prison system, especially private prisons, will appreciate this audiobook. Fans of investigative journalism and embedded explorations in dangerous occupations will find this valuable. ["This informative book will surely find many passionate readers": LJ 10/15/18 review of the Penguin hc.]- Jason L. Steagall, formerly with Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.