A female officer closely scrutinizes prison police work.
Though billed as a novel in the subtitle, mononymous author Ajut’s introspective, insightful debut reads more like an intensive memoir. Her testimony draws heavily on her history as a former Atlanta area Department of Corrections officer in a maximum security state prison until her retirement. Throughout chapters detailing her inner-city upbringing with an abusive, alcoholic father coupled with her dehumanizing training regimen at the police academy, the author paints a largely unflattering portrait of a physically and psychologically grueling profession where “female visitors and children especially are calculated prey and become emotionally and psychologically trapped in this secluded world of coldhearted criminals, misogyny, and sexual objectification.” If an officer is hardworking, has integrity, and is morally sound, the author believes the prison system, its convicts, and its employees will seek to break down that benevolent foundation. The job indeed took its toll, as Ajut spent years struggling with stifling confinement, the nefariousness of corrupt peers, suicides of both prisoners and officers, and continual anxiety and fear. She dispenses dire warnings for women who enter the corrections arena that as “fresh new meat,” they will become targets for the mind games inmates and officers play. The insider details of prison life (both in men’s and women’s facilities) as a guard are extreme, eye-opening, and often difficult to read. Officers are unarmed except for batons while prisoners roam about unrestrained; there is rampant sexism, animalistic brawls between men, and relentless, antagonistic sexual overtures among women. A closing chapter of female inmate stories drives home prison brutality and desperation. Ultimately, Ajut was forced to fight regular feelings that she was “one step away from a mental meltdown.” Brazenly frank and written with an intensive sense of self-awareness and personal strength, the author educates with tough love while revealing the fetid underbelly of her former profession with the grace of a slam poet and the knockout punch of a professional fighter.
A brutally honest depiction of prison life from an officer’s perspective and a cautionary must-read for any woman contemplating a security career.