American Prison: A Review

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This was an OUTSTANDING book. I am a lover of all things non-fiction and prison related, so this book was right up my alley.

Shane went to great lengths as a reporter to tell a true, raw, and shocking story of what it’s like to be a guard in prison. Every other chapter included some history about prisons. At first I thought, “Oh great, this is going to be boring.” It absolutely was NOT. I was taken aback reading old stories of people being beaten, brutalized, and killed by the guards who were supposed to be “reforming” them. Shane made some eye-opening claims about what life is like in prison, and it is not a pretty picture.

I learned how LITTLE the prison guards get paid and how DANGEROUS the job is in regards to that pay. There are, obviously, way more prisoners than guards, so it’s possible for riots to happen any day of the week. The prison Shane was an undercover guard at, Winn, was particularly brutal. While he was there he witnessed a multitude of stabbings, inappropriate sexual behavior, and he also was surrounded by the prisoners yelling offensive things at him constantly. They are short staffed, only two guards in an area where there should have been four, and there is absolutely no order. Basically, the prisoners ran the prison and not the guards.

What I loved most about the book is how Shane really let us in to his mind and what he was thinking- he made this story so HUMAN. He was constantly battling his own demons and oftentimes felt shame when he had to invoke discipline. I could identity with him, even though I have not been in a situation such as this one, because it is never easy when one has to hurt people and punish people that are already hurting, whether it be intentional or unintentional.

I think one of the things that shocked me the most was the lack of medical attention and mental health care that the prisoners needed but didn’t get. It was so sad to have to read about people who were injured or died due a lack of mental and physical treatment. Those who were put on suicide watch were stripped of all of their clothes, and the only thing in their cell was a bench, a small smock to cover theirselves with, and a toilet. One thing I will never understand is putting someone in isolation and stripping them from their humanity and expecting them to get better. Attempting to improve mental health through isolation is not even possible, and it is a sad, sad fact.

I recommend this book to everyone. Those who don’t like non-fiction, I recommend this to you. Those who do not like memoirs, I recommend this to you. Those who do not like journalistic pieces, I recommend this to you. It will truly change your perspective on the genres.