American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into The Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer
Three days. That’s how long I had to read this book before I had to return it to it’s owner. Luckily for me, it was a quick read. I got it from a friend who was assigned it for a college level African American Studies course focusing on mass incarceration through the civil rights era. When I saw him carrying it around, I had to have it. I read the Mother Jones article that was the basis for the book for a class on the history of incarceration. Great article. That’s why I was so excited when I saw the book in his hands. He gave me the three days before the next class to read it. So I just knocked it out, and it will be handed back to him in a few minutes. The best part for me is since I got it back to him, I’ll be able to borrow the next book his class gets. But enough setup.
Shane Bauer is a reporter who was held in an Iranian prison for daring to be near their border. Shortly after his release, for some reason, he decided to get hired as a guard at a private prison for a first hand account no reporter simply doing interviews could ever get. The Hollywood movie pitch description would be that’s it is the private prison version of “New Jack” by Ted Conover.
I think Shane did a masterful job of weaving the history of incarceration and specifically the history of private prisons into his experience. And the experience he shares is the one all too typical of the failing penitentiary system in this country.
If that is the type of context you want, or need, this book is for you. Like I opened with, I read it in less than three days. It kept me engaged the whole time. The bad news for Shane is that if you already have a good grasp on the history of incarceration, you can stick with just reading his Mother Jones article, depriving him of his author’s cut of the book sale.
The best part about reading the book was a discussion I had with my friend Todd. I told him the book had a really accessible discussion about the often cited Stanford Prison experiment, conductd decades ago, where students were split into prisoners and guards. The guards turned sadistic so quickly that the experiment had to be abandoned after six days. Todd said that the experiment was too dangerous for a few college students but that is the same system we trust to return rehabilitated citizens back to society. Hmmmmmmm.
The worst part about reading the book is this review. Since it motivated me to write a review to share with the world, if I stick with doing book reviews, one day soon I will look back on what I wrote and be a little embarrassed about how bad this is. Oh well. Still glad I did it.