Ted Conover's new book about the year he spent as a corrections officer at Sing Sing Prison, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (2000, Random House, ISBN 0-375-50177-0), has been effectively banned at prisons in New York State. According to The New York Times, "Inmates are forbidden to have it in their cells, and it is not available in prison libraries because state officials have not given the book an official thumbs up or thumbs down (although Conover says that prisoners have been passing a bootleg copy around Sing Sing)."
Conover's book is principally about corrections officers. Though scathingly critical of the prison system, it is largely sympathetic to guards. "I wanted to hear the voices one truly never hears," said Conover, "the voices of guards--those on the front lines of our prison policies, the society's proxies." As a journalist, Conover was frustrated in his attempts to investigate the world of corrections from the outside. He proposed following the life of a rookie prison guard for a year, but was denied access. So, he enrolled as a rookie himself, undergoing seven weeks of military-style training at the Correctional Services Training Academy in Albany. The book recounts first-hand the tedium and occasional unwanted excitement of being a guard at Sing Sing.
Conover is also the author of two books that were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Whiteout (1992) chronicles the world of wealth and privilege in the ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado. Coyotes (1987) explores the world of illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States. Leon Uris said of Coyotes, "A devastating document, this one must be read."
Ted Conover was raised in Colorado and lives in New York City. He has written for The New Yorker and is now a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine.He was a visiting guest at the Writers Intitute on October 26, 2000.
Following Ted Conover's reading, Scott Christianson will join the discussion. Mr. Christianson is a journalist and chronicler of the American prison system and author of the nonfiction books With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America and Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House.
"Newjack is an astonishing work by a gifted--and dedicated--journalist. Ted Conover takes us into the dangerous, sad, amusing, and instructive soul of one of America's best-known prisons." - Tom Brokaw
"This book takes a reader inside one of the many locked doors of America's penal system. It is clear-eyed and sympathetic, intelligent and engrossing. It reminded me of some of George Orwell's admirable journalism." - Tracy Kidder
In conjunction with the UAlbany Art Museum exhibit
"Searching the Criminal Body: Art/Science/Prejudices, 1840s to Present"
The Writer PBS Series
Writers Online Magazine Article
Albany Times Union Article
Ted Conover's Home Page