Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing: Important quotes with page
1. “I don’t know, I don’t care, they’re not my friends, and I don’t like them. ” (Chapter 1, Page 10) Officer Sims, the night OIC (Officer in Charge), responds to Conover’s inquiries about the inmates by stating that she has absolutely no interest in the prisoners. Conover is amused by Officer Sims’s bluntness, which is indicative of the jadedness that many officers feel as a result of their work in prison.
2. “Maybe the instructor was just saying he didn’t care either. Maybe he was saying that forgetfulness and shows of weakness or emotion wouldn’t fly in prison. Maybe he simply believed, along with a number of his colleagues, that abuse was perfect preparation for prison work. ” (Chapter 2, Page 37) The excerpt depicts the constantly abusive nature of the training program at the officer recruit academy. Abuse is passed from the top of the hierarchy down to the lowest rung and is redirected back from the inmates to the officers.
3. “But I’d had worse pain, duller and more long-lasting, from various injuries.And how did you compare these nerve-related pains with heartache, or with the pain—call it soulache—of imprisonment, the kind of pain, no one seemed to observe, that we were going to administer in our chosen profession? It hardly seemed right to use the same word for all of them. ” (Chapter 2, Page 41) When Conover is being trained in pain management, he wonders if the level of intensity of physical pain can be compared to that of emotional pain. Here, Conover begins to contemplate on the more far-reaching, psychological effects of imprisonment and a career in corrections.
4.“Rehabilitation is not our job. The truth of it is that we are warehousers of human beings. ” And the prison was, above all, a storage unit. ” (Chapter 2, Page 41) The quote demonstrates the opposite of care or rehabilitation for inmates. Instead, Conover reveals that the objective of correction officers is to keep inmates contained, rather than to be just or treat prisoners humanely.
5. “Don’t confide in an inmate about your personal life. And don’t be tempted by bribery or other offers. The moment an inmate gets anything on you, he’ll have power over you and is certain, eventually, to sell you out. ” (Chapter 3,Page63) The officers are trained to maintain a total distrust in the inmates at all times, for their own security. This means that officers must keep an emotional distance from the inmates at all times, which heightens the dehumanization and callousness that officers display towards the prisoners.
6. “The inmate took one hand off the wall and began to repeat the phrase but was immediately jumped by the frisking officer and several others. When I heard about it, I was proud, because it showed we weren’t wimps. ” (Chapter 3, Page 85)
Conover mirrors the retaliatory and macho nature of other prison guards when he begins to affirm the aggressive tactics used on prisoners. Rather than being aghast, he is relieved to hear that officers are using displays of authority to enforce the status quo.
7. “Like our training officer, this man was fond of referring to inmates, out of their presence, as ‘crooks’ and ‘mutts. ’ The conversation left me thinking about the many reasons that an officer might come to regard inmates as savages. If a savage dissed you, what did it matter?
And if a savage got hurt [… ]who cared? ” (Chapter 3, Page 87) Dehumanization is the default attitude of many seasoned officers towards their work and the inmates. This officer believes that the ability to view the inmates as subhuman or savage makes the job easier to manage.
8. “[H]ere was a guy—Smith—who saw gallery work as an art, something you could perform creatively. Interpersonal skills were a big part of it [… ]Smith melded toughness with an attitude of respect for his inmates. In turn, he was respected back.
What he seemed to understand was that at the root of the job was the inevitability of a kind of relationship between us and them—and that the officer played a larger role in determining the nature of that relationship. ” (Chapter 3, Page 92) Officer Smith is an example of who Conover considers to be an admirable officer: one who respects his inmates and sees them as human beings. Conover believes that an officer’s ability to have a civil relationship with their charges is actually overall more effective than an officer who demeans his assigned prisoners.
9.“‘It’s a gray thing and a green thing, and nothing more complicated than that. ’ Somewhere between those poles lay the way I wanted to be. ” (Chapter 3, Page 93) The recruits are taught to draw clear lines in the sand between themselves and the inmates. The training officer uses the distinction between uniform colors to paint a clear picture of Us versus Them.
10. “‘You’re the zookeeper now,’ said Officer Luther. ‘Go run the zoo. ’” (Chapter 3, Page 94) This quote amplifies the sentiment that prison officers are merely warehousing inmates. The inmates are considered subhuman, animalistic, and objects unworthy of empathy.
11. “If in doubt, throw it out! ” (Chapter 4, Page 106) At the end of a lengthy yet unsuccessful attempt to report a contraband item, Conover realizes that it would be more expedient for him to dispose of the item than to wait for approval. This is one example of prison officers bending the rules or finding loopholes that cut through the bureaucracy in prison management.
12. “While everyone knows that prison can warp or distort the personalities of prisoners, few stop to consider how it can do the same thing to those who work inside. ” (Chapter 4, Page 107)
Sergeant Wickersham was one of the officers who was taken hostage during a riot in B-blockwithin two weeks of his starting date at Sing Sing. Wickersham had also been a POW in Vietnam, and Conover believes that Wickersham has been mentally affected by these experiences. The other officers refer to Wickersham as a “bug,” a term usually reserved for mentally-ill inmates.
13. “I was doing well at keeping work off my mind until I noticed his younger sister with her hands on the slats of her crib, looking out. Unnervingly, it reminded me of the same view I had all day long.
Like an inmate, she was dependent upon me for everything. These two jobs were too much the same, I thought with disgust. My son, tired but rambunctious, didn’t want to brush his teeth and, struggling, mistakenly hit me in the eye. I grabbed him angrily and shouted, made him cry. Well, there was one difference between him and the inmates, I thought darkly [… ]He was destroyed when I got mad; they, on the other hand, seemed energized. ” (Chapter 4, Page 114) Conover starts to notice the ripple effects of his work as a corrections officer and its impact on his family relationships and parenting.
Conover is quicker to anger, has lower capacity to be compassionate, and draws comparisons between the behavior of his children and the inmates.
14. “There was action ahead, and I felt suddenly excited to have been included. Despite the ominous tone, and my better instincts, I’d countenanced enough inmate misbehavior and disrespect to feel invigorated by the thought that this is where it all stops. This is where we draw the line. We were going to follow the rules, and we were going to have our way. ” (Chapter 4, Page 131)After having his authority repeatedly disrespected and challenged by inmates, Conover is eager to enact retribution upon them. He is looking forward to reinforcing who is ultimately in control and sending a message to the inmates that the officers are the ones in charge.
15. “The cell-extraction team came back downstairs [… ] then gave one another hearty hugs and slaps on the back. They were sweaty and charged up [… ] I felt the catharsis, too: Prison work filled you with pent up aggression, and here was a thrilling release, our team coming out on top [… ]No weapon had been found in any cell.
Perhaps, I began to expect, none had actually been expected. It seemed reasonable to conclude that we had been sent in to make a statement about who was in charge. And I had to wonder: With the outcome never in doubt, what had we won? What did it do to a man when his work consisted of breaking the spirit of other men? And who had invented this lose-lose game, anyway? ” (Chapter 4, Page 134) The officers are enthusiastic about the extraction even when they fail to find the contraband item that they are searching inmate’s cells for. Conover questions whether the real purpose of the assignment was actually merely a show of force, a display of the power that the guards have over the inmates; at worst, Conover wonders about the necessity of sending such an obvious message when it does not seem to hold any value for either the inmates or the officers.
16. “Vivid to me, and a seeming conundrum, was the refusal of my inmates to submit to a strip-frisk [… ] What could account for an action so apparently contrary to his best interests? My idea of his best interests, I later concluded, was colored by the team I was on. Eventually, it occurred to me that self-respect had required him to refuse. His stupidity began to look principled.
He was renouncing his imprisonment, our authority, the entire system that had placed him there. If enough people did that together, the corrections system would come tumbling down. ” (Chapter 4, Page 135) When an inmate refuses to comply to Conover’s strip search, Conover at first is perplexed by the inmate’s defiance. Eventually, Conover realizes that the inmate’s refusal was a matter of the inmate exercising their own autonomy, and Conover recognizes the possibility of collective resistance as a force that could dismantle the system as a whole.
17. “The process of breaking a man simply takes longer and costs more. Does it represent ‘injustice or tyranny’? That depends on your point of view: If they are not going to be put to death, the monstrous—the Lemuel Smiths—must be warehoused. Trying to extinguish the spark of the rest— the merely incorrigible, those holding on to civilization by a thread—itself feels like a monstrosity. ” (Chapter 4, Page 136) Conover pushes back against the idea that prison is necessary in most cases, especially given the non-restorative nature of corrections. It seems unnecessarily cruel to him to repeatedly break inmates who are, at the very least, attempting to hold on to their humanity.
18. “It was easy to forget when you worked at Sing Sing that all the inmates were, essentially, missing from someplace else. Outside the walls, however, they were still fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands—mainly of poor people from New York City. In being sent to prison, they had no doubt let people down [… ] But they were missed by many others, and every day of the week these people found their way to the prison [… ] The Visit Room constituted a sort of breach in the wall between the hermetic world of the prison and the universe outside.
In it, an inmate could try to reconnect to the real world and prior life [… ] A visitor could contemplate, with more perspective than any prison employee, the effects of incarceration and the prospects of life after it. ” (Chapter 4, Page 151) Conover gives a snapshot of inmates’ lives and relationships outside of prison. The constant dehumanization, silence, and erasure of inmates’ histories makes it easier for officers to forget about prisoners’ humanity, and Conover suggests that prison visitors are more capable of contemplating the impact of incarceration than prison employees are.
19. “Purpose: To provide for a Family Reunion Program which helps preserve, enhance, and strengthen family ties that have been disrupted as a result of incarceration. The word incarceration had been crossed out, and handwritten in its place was the word individual. Family disruption wasn’t caused by incarceration, in other words; it was caused by actions of the individual that resulted in incarceration. The distinction was important to officers, who wanted no personal responsibility for the harmful effects of the system. ” (Chapter 4, Page 160)
The quote shows how officers are quick to distance themselves from accountability in their treatment, or maltreatment, of prisoners. In the eyes of the officers, inmates are to blame for their own circumstances.
20. “The presence of his statue, I think, speaks to an idealism that is never openly discussed by guards, the hope that prisons might do some good for the people in them, that human lives can be fixed instead of thrown away, that there’s more to be done than locking doors and knocking heads, that the ‘care’ in care, custody, and control might amount to something beyond calling the ER when an inmate is bleeding from a shank wound.” (Chapter 5, Page 208) Conover suggests that a more compassionate form of imprisonment would be more beneficial to society than one that is devoid of care for inmates. Conover believes that prison might integrate more restorative rather than punitive methods.
21. “The real action was on the gallery looking after inmates [… ] I thought I could do it. I wanted to do it, to satisfy myself that the toughest job was not beyond my capacity [… ] I was always haunted by that mental image of Mendez, the officer who had cracked under the strain of a string of bad days in A-block. ” (Chapter 6, Page 219) In spite of the difficulties Conover faces while working at Sing Sing, ultimately, he still wants to prove that he is able to do the job. He is reluctant to leave without learning as much as possible, and does not want to succumb to the daily pressures of the job.
22. “Antisocial personality, though it described plenty of guys on R-and-W, seemed also to serve as a catchall for problem inmates who couldn’t otherwise be categorized.
That was disheartening, just another suggestion that psychology, admittedly far from curing inmates, even had trouble describing what was wrong with them [… ] prison work was an exercise in the massive erosion of distinctions, the lumping together of disparate kids, the suppression of the mind’s ability to perceive difference. ” (Chapter 6, Page 223) Conover is disappointed in the shortcomings of the medical staff and industry in their inability to effectively help the inmates who are struggling with mental health issues.
Conover goes on to say that prison work is the intentional homogenization and generalization of all inmates into one indistinguishable mass.
23. “‘Anyone planning a prison they’re not going to build for ten or fifteen years is planning for a child, planning prison for somebody who’s a child right now. So you see? They’ve already given up on that child! They already expect that child to fail. Now why, if you could keep that from happening, ifyou could send that child to a good school and help his family stay together—if you could do that, why are you spending that money to puthim in jail?’ I had no answer for Larson. He had made me feel dumb in my uniform, like a bozo carrying out someone else’s ill-conceivedplan. ”(Chapter 6, Page 233) In a conversation with Conover, inmate Larson forces Conover to contend with the relationship between investment in prison and disinvestment in communities, especially in regard to youth from marginalized areas. Larson is critical of the growth in the prison industry and the pre-emptive plans to incarcerate youth instead of empowering them.
24.“Instead of feeling like a big, tough guard, the gallery officer at the end of the day often feels like a waiter serving a hundred tables or like the mother of a nightmarishly large brood of sullen, dangerous, and demanding children. ” (Chapter 6, Page 234) Conover is resentful of the feeling of emasculation when thinking of his relationship to gallery inmates. Rather than acting as a caretaker of the guards, he would prefer to think of himself as a tough authority figure, which plays into the culture of machismo at the prison.
25. “I was like my friend who had worked the pumps at a service station [… ] Prison got into your skin, or under it. If you stayed long enough, some if it probably seeped into your soul. ” (Chapter 7, Page 243) Conover offers that the effects of prison work are inescapable. Regardless of his actual location or the temporary duration of his post, Conover is constantly thinking of his work at Sing Sing, which affects his behavior towards his social relationships outside of prison.