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Holding the Key: My Year as a Guard at Sing Sing Paperback – July 2, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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About the Author

Ted Conover is the acclaimed author of Coyotes, Whiteout and Rolling Nowhere. He has written for The New Yorker and is now a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York, USA.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (July 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743206649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743206648
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,148,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sean M. Maher on May 28, 2007
"Holding the Key" is the UK title for Ted Conover's brilliant book, "Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing." The American edition is available from Amazon here: Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

Fantastic stuff, can't recommend it highly enough.
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Ted Connover dispels the image of the brutal prison guard in total control of oppressed prisoners that is often portrayed in dramatic jail orientated films such as the Shawshank Redemption or Cool Hand Luke. Connover working for a year as an undercover journalist in the guise of a Corrections Officer is soon exposed to the brutal reality of life that is Sing Sing prison. Verbally abused on a daily basis and in constant fear of his life Connover takes us on a journey where machismo and testosterone rule the day. Feeling pity, but at the same time anomosity, towards the jail population (colleagues included) it is obvious that the experience was completely different and more testing than what Connover had ever expected. With accurate descriptions of inmates, colleagues, the 'job' and the whole reality of the prison system 'Holding the Key is certainly an exhilirating read that opens your eyes to what goes on, not only behind the closed gates of Sing Sing, but within the mind of a corrections officer. Ill certainly be adding to my collection of Ted Connover books if this gem is anything to go by.
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Having been refused access to the New York Penitentiary system when approaching it openly, journalist Ted Conover decides to get himself employed as a "Corrective" Officer for a year and see for himself what it is all about. The result of his year, which he spends at the notorious Sing-Sing prison outside of New York, is this interesting, low-key account of life in prison from both sides of the fence.

The book starts with that seemingly ubiquitous American institute - the Boot camp - in which in a diluted version of that venerable military institution, the recruits are subjected to a regime of petty regulations, bullying seniors, and broken a little in order - so the theory goes - to be remade into the ideal Corrective officer after what appears to be a ludicrously short seven weeks. From there Conover goes to his four weeks of on job training at Sing-Sing where he stays for the remainder of his term.

Conover appears to be an American of the liberal mode, antagonistic to racism, sexism, etc, and this has a welcome effect on his account of the prison system. What is less welcome is the extent to which he essentially - because of the nature of his participation - becomes embedded within it in a way not dissimilar to many of those reporting on the Afghan and Iraq wars. He becomes, not unnaturally, sympathetic to the plight of the staff to the point of feeling elated (though with a few qualifications) when four prison officers who first handcuff, and then beat up a former prisoner they know in a crowded restaurant have the charges are thrown out for reasons of insufficient evidence.
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Ted Connover dispels the image of the brutal prison guard in total control of oppressed prisoners that is often portrayed in dramatic jail orientated films such as the Shawshank Redemption or Cool Hand Luke. Connover working for a year as an undercover journalist in the guise of a Corrections Officer is soon exposed to the brutal reality of life that is Sing Sing prison. Verbally abused on a daily basis and in constant fear of his life Connover takes us on a journey where machismo and testosterone rule the day. Feeling pity, but at the same time anomosity, towards the jail population (colleagues included) it is obvious that the experience was completely different and more testing than what Connover had ever expected. With accurate descriptions of inmates, colleagues, the 'job' and the whole reality of the prison system 'Holding the Key is certainly an exhilirating read that opens your eyes to what goes on, not only behind the closed gates of Sing Sing, but within the mind of a corrections officer. Ill certainly be adding to my collection of Ted Connover books if this gem is anything to go by.
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