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Non-fiction review: American Prison by Shane Bauer

Title: American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
Author: Shane Bauer
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 351 (including notes, index, etc)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (LA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my dad

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level 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 fo 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.

Review: This book is pretty intense. If you are bothered by swearing, reading about sex, violence, or tense situations this book is not for you. The private prison system, if the rest of it is like Winn, is a total and complete disaster filled with no order, guards that are hardly trained and seem to hate their charges, and inmates that are angry and have no boundaries.

The chapters of this book alternate with Bauer's experiences working at Winn and the history of forced labor in the US. I was more drawn to the work experience chapters, but my dad really liked the historical chapters so there is something for everyone.

I was shocked throughout this book by the cavalier and aggressive attitude of the prison trainers, the guards, and the Board members. They didn't seem to care about the health or welfare of the inmates, the contraband, or anything besides the money. I think one of the most shocking things was how the job affected the author, leading him to be more aggressive and negative as well. 

This book is super interesting.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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