A PRISON AND A PRISONER by Susan Sheehan
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A PRISON AND A PRISONER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The prison is Green Haven, a maximum-security facility homing 1,855 men located in Dutchess County, 80 miles north of New York City. The prisoner is George Malinow, 57, a four-time loser, veteran of Clinton, Attica, Sing Sing, and Wallkill, a man who has spent all but three of his last 39 years on the inside. New Yorker writer Sheehan describes in minutest detail the symbiosis which exists between the prisoner and his environment. Malinow works in the parole clothing dispensary, does glass painting for a hobby, plans to marry a Filipino pen-pal sweetheart, and operates smoothly in Green Haven's intricate barter-hustle-and-steal economy. The portrait of the prison is etched with equal exactness, facility by facility, through the myriad regulations that often turn out to be chimerical. Thus in the dining hall Sheehan discovers that lunch is ""mandatory"" but only half the inmates show up; salt is available but not pepper since it is classed as a ""dangerous weapon."" it is of such items that Sheehan's book is made. Her very meticulousness is de-mythicizing: prisoners are seldom physically beaten by guards these days, the bread-and-water diets of ""the hole"" are passÉ, the equipment in the industries, though it suffers from disuse, is not obsolete but modern. Malinow writes in a briefly-kept diary that prison is ""hell"" but it seems a purely perfunctory sentiment. None of which makes it any less hellish in cost (per year, per man, Harvard is cheaper), futility, and failure of the rehabilitative ideal. Sheehan has skewed her findings by profiling a prisoner as savvy and well-connected as Malinow, but her point is that even when jail becomes cushy it conforms to a maniacal illogic of its own. First published in the New Yorker, a convincing, disturbing report.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin