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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking and brave inside reckoning with the nexus of prison and profit in America in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country's history. 

In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. 

Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can't understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.  

The private prison system is deliberately unaccountable to public scrutiny. Private prisons are not incentivized to tend to the health of their inmates, or to feed them well, or to attract and retain a highly trained prison staff. Though Bauer befriends some of his colleagues and sympathizes with their plight, the chronic dysfunction of their lives only adds to the prison's sense of chaos. To his horror, Bauer finds himself becoming crueler and more aggressive the longer he works in the prison, and he is far from alone.  

A blistering indictment of the private prison system and the powerful forces that drive it, American Prison is a necessary human document about the true face of justice in America.

©2018 Shane Bauer (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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  • Frank
  • Mill Cree, Washington
  • 09-23-18

Disgusting

We never really ended slavery, only rebranded it as prison labor. The modern version is the privatized prison. They kept that guy in prison for a year after his time was up. Why? He had no place to go. So, they pay practically nothing, take it back in commissary, provide no job training, then keep you in prison because you have no place to go because you have no money. We need to end this evil system. I'm writing to my state representative.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Ellen
  • DOVER, OH, United States
  • 10-19-18

Wow

I have a friend that’s been in prison for 43 years and I had no idea at all what he might have went through. I don’t think he’s in a private prison though so perhaps his day wasn’t as bad as this book is telling us. I was also shocked at the history of prisoners and prisons, very very shocked. Our country should be very ashamed.

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Required reading

This book should be required reading in every high school civics class and in every US history class in both high school and college. Bauer has given an account of something hidden from the public eye that everyone should know. Riveting, accessible and eye-opening. Also read on Audible with perfection.

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A history of slavery and an explanation of how it continues.

This is an insiders account of how corrupted and despicable the American prison system is.

Everything is a commodity. Everything is a for-profit venture in a system as parasitic as ours.

Other countries such as Norway genuinely try to rehabilitate their criminals. America only seems them as yet another source of profit.

Don’t turn away. Read. We must understand how the system works if we are to fight it.