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New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1372

Research Paper

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing” is a true story account of Ted Conover, a journalist who became a correctional officer for year in order to lean and attempt to reform the system at Sing Sing by preserving his sanity, morals and values while keeping order in the penitentiary. This true story stirs emotion and gives an uncensored insight into the struggles of the penitentiary system. Moreover, it gives the readers a better sense of understanding what goes on within the for restraining walls of penitentiary homes and how criminals are likely treated under the power of the authorities in charge (Entertainment Weekly, 2000).

The book starts with Conover at the training academy where he describes his roommate, Dieter. Dieter was an ex-marine whose character and personality was completely different from Conover’s. Conover here attempts to highlight the different personalities that most academy officers have and how these characters are transformed when they enter the penitentiary system (Conover, 13). Conover draws the huge contrast between Dieters more aggressive and free lifestyle to his more righteous and laid back morals and beliefs.

Once the author, Conover, gets into Sing Sing as a Newjack, his pious beliefs and lifestyle is soon put to the test. He reflects and accounts on how roughing up inmates, a rather horrific account, becomes an activity in which he revels in. this provides the reader an oddly disturbing pleasure as we see him turning back on his “holy” nature and transforms into his carnal self, seeking power through gruesome treatment of inmates(Entertainment Weekly, 2000).

By the middle of his one-year experience, Conover has fully transformed into a full-fledged penitentiary guard as he takes part in the ritual roughing up of inmates in the Special Housing Unit(Riley, 2000). He manages to share his drive, lust and joy that he derives from unleashing all the vengeful feelings and emotions that he holds against the men that he is supposed to guard and control. His vengeful emotions all derived from his transformational experience. He tales of how he saw a female officer, his partner being courted as she is on patrol on the tier. He is punched in the head and spat on and of inmates who masturbate and ejaculate on female officers. Most shocking is of Mr Slurpee who sprayed faeces and urine at officers from his mouth(Conover, 2000). Relatively, these experiences how much inhumane most penitentiaries are not because of the system but because of the people placed in power. Criminals or at some point even those who have just been accused are treated less than human as they are hence are given the sense of understanding that they have no value at all. Instead of straightening their ways, these individuals become more aggravated thus developing deeper desires of revenge against the officers and even against the society as a whole (Riley, 2000). Instead of helping the people to recover, they are being specifically dragged down to the lowest level of depression that they begin to intend to plan how to retaliate to those who have wronged them while they are kept under the custody of the penitentiary homes.

Through this reading, it is evident how Conover is able to get the reader to understand the relationship between the inmates and the officers. He clearly brings out the concept that defines this relationship which is basically defined by the ideals of war and conflict.  Through the horrific experiences that Conover undergoes, he is transformed and transforms to his basic primal self where vengeance is what gets him through the day (Riley, 2000). Conover’s supervisor’s motivate him further down the path that he is on, “you are the zookeeper now……..go run the zoo”(Conover, 2000). The reader is led to an ethical surrender where the events at the Special Housing Unit, where inmates are put into solitary confinement, are in the end just.

Conover is able to explain how his loss of humanity is real and unavoidable. The moment officers are brought into the system, their humanity goes down the drain with every encounter with an inmate. He is able to prove that even average men, good men, and normal men embrace violence once they are brought into the system (Riley, 2000). He shows how the penitentiary world is best made for the degradation of men to animals. The sheer vengeance and primal instinct of any man to gain power and dominance over the majority precipitates this process as humanity is considered to be weakness in the penitentiary world. Caring would be anyone man’s undoing.

Conover justifies these ideas through his fellow officers who were once “good men” but transformed into the animals they are (Bergner, 2000). The readers are introduced to Sergeant Wickersham, an abusive officer, one of the worst, who transformed into who he was after a cellblock uprising (Conover, 2000). During this uprising, he was held hostage. He also tells of Mama Cradle, an officer who always aims to cause trouble, something she revels in. Conover also tells of a more calm side to the whole story. He tells of a psychiatric ward inmate with whom he regularly played chess with. Even though these characters are all vital to the story, the attention that is given to them by the author is minimal. It only leaves questions into the possibilities that are underlying in the penitentiary world.

In a bid to maintain sanity and control in the penitentiary, officers end up making requesting to prisoners, some of which are illegal and some impossible (Riley, 2000). This is how the prisoners exercise their rights. The shifts and balances of power between the officers is highlighted by the author. This almost always leads to psychological effects that usually implode for those associated with such dealing, almost always leading to more gruesome violence. Very few officers can claim to have ever established a working relationship with the inmates where their cooperation was guaranteed. This was always countered with violence. Conover’s initial attempt to this was futile. He realizes that inmates are violent individuals who respond to one thing, violence. This is the language of the penitentiary system. Violence determines who has the power, and in the penitentiary world, power is the only guarantee for survival. Once Conover embraces this, he finds himself at a downward spiral to an unending thirst for vengeance and violence.

Personal Opinion

Conover is a true risk taker in undertaking the process in writing this book. By depending on his colleagues for protection and at times genuinely fearing for his life, should his true intent and profession be found out, he manages to conceal and at times forget his journalistic abilities. This is reflected in the way he fails to pursue some investigative endeavours leaving many aspects of the prison undiscovered and unchallenged. This book is a revelation to the challenges and difficulties that correctional officers face on a daily basis. In a way, it justifies the actions and behaviour of these officers as they struggle to survive in one of the worst working environments present in the world.

His account of the Sing Sing’s history is what manages to bring life to the book in the second half. All the characters from Sing Sing’s past build up a picture of a society in itself where developing conscience would be the death of one. The true cause and effect of the correctional system is brought to life. The real life events of uncontrollable inmates, the shifts and balances of power and the hideous tortures, bring to life the true picture of the correctional system. It brings out the fact that as a society, the after effects of law and order in the real world are felt in the correctional facility, deprived of sanity and humanity. It shows how efforts to fix a broken and unmonitored penal system are all futile in the sight of the menacing and effects of the justice system.

References

Bergner, D. (2000, May 14). Up the River: Denied permission to write about the lives of correction officers, the author became one himself. The New York Times.

Conover, T. (2000). Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. New York: Random House.

Entertainment Weekly. (2000, May 26). Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Entertainment Weekly, pp. 7-9. Retrieved from Entertainment Weekly.

Riley, J. (2000). Newjack: Beyond the Stereotype of the Brutal Guard. Alaska Justice Forum, 17(3), 3-4.

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