An ex-lifer's account of nineteen years behind bars initiates the outsider to a closed world, where men live closely in cooperation and combat. Sentenced when a teen-ager for first degree murder during an armed robbery, John Resko was transferred from the routine horror of the Death House, where policy futilely combined last-minute thoughtfulness with sadism, to Dannemora, known as ""Siberia"" for its invincible isolation. John Resko's years, reviewed in terms of men and environment, span several waves of reform in handling and physical set-up; they do not span much change in the viewpoint of the criminals themselves. His own maturing into a productive, socialized man and artist who earned his reprieve as he juggled his reputation as a ""right guy"" with the prisoners and his ability to learn from the staff -- and fellow inmates -- seems more an individual accomplishment than an institutional one in a system which is not firmly set on the path of rehabilitation but only chances on it. The prisoner's view yields up the explosive inner world of the men -- their belligerence toward the ""screws"", their hopeless anger as they face unendurably long sentences, their inability to learn from punishment as, unrehabilitated, they return in freedom to old trades and errors, their efforts to hold and have something of their own in the recreation courts where property sense prevails, their devices for surviving through escapism. At times clouded by ambivalence and crowded chronology, this is at once a corrosive adhoc reckoning of prison methods and a survey of the hazardous mentality that rehabilitation must seek to depose. A personal close-up that holds and might catch the public eye.