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The Big House - Book Review Example

7 pages
1738 words
Wesleyan University
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Book review
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The big house is a frightening insiders view of the worlds renowned maximum security prison. The book was written by James Burton who is a former warden of that prison. James Bruton, a warden at the supermax prison, was an enlightened man, and he narrates the experience he had while working there. The book describes the inside of the prison, the kind of people that are kept there as well as the type of offenses people there is charged with in all cases. According to James, the prison is usually full of robbers, murderers, rapists, and thieves. The wardens here have to interact and tolerate people with killers that are hungry for human blood. In as much as these are the most dangerous inmates on earth, James still granted them the respect they deserve.

According to Bruton (2004), the inmates warrant all the respects just like any other person out there. James believes that the public expects those inside the prison to come once again back to the street better rather than frustrated and in disgusting condition. Prison should be amended to change criminals into good people. The author feels for these prisoners and thinks they deserve to live a healthy life irrespective of their current situation in prison. The writer has done a credible job and has apparently stated the kind of life the inmates in maximum prison experiences inside there. James concern for the prisoners teaches others especially those undermining the prisoners that they are also important. The insight that is shared by this former warden regarding the importance of treating inmates with respect is precious. For those people who believe in "an eye for an eye" and making terrible living conditions for convicts, it will be good if they read this book and get an insiders opinion on why that will never benefit them.

The writer narrates life inside these prisons in its entirety as a worker. The experiences he had for those five years can have a drastic change in the lives of many readers. Working in a maximum correctional facility made James come into contact with the most dangerous people in the world (Bruton, 2004). The shocking reality of working with all sorts of criminals dawns on you once you start working in these places. The author in his narration describes the unimaginable ferocity and numbing reality that exists in the prisons.

The book also illustrates learning the management techniques that prison workers should have to control the most violent hard to manage criminals. The writer also explains staff approach to treating convicts made Oak Park Height super-maximum prison one of the innocuous and most secure prisons in the world (Bruton, 2004). The authors description of their prison may inspire those who intend to work in such places to change their mind regarding how the handle prisoners. It's a treat for those who ever wondered what life is like inside the walls of a noisy cellblock, a tiny cell, a razor-wired prison yard, or the much-feared place.

According to Bruton (2004), the wardens and other prison workers have little or no respects for the convicts and always treat them a lot of disrespect. Cases of violent prisoners are typical in most prisons in America what makes the prison workers harass inmates. In some cases, the convicts bcome victims of sexual harassment by the workers who are supposed to provide them with security making the jails very insecure. James in his view, these incidents rarely occur at the supermax prison when he worked for several years. In most cases, he narrates how he took care of the inmates and the kind of security the convicts within that jail receives.

Working as a warden for five years in a super-maximum prison presented various life challenges to James Bruton. He came face-to-face with what the life is for prisoners inside these jails. A good number of these convicts suffer from mental illnesses following the kind of offenses they committed yet very little help is usually given to them. Apparently, most prisoners all over the world experience mental illnesses, but that should not be a reason for them to be neglected. An inmate may be a rapist or a murderer, but given an opportunity, many of them usually transform into better and worthy people.

A significant number of prisoners after serving their terms, they go ahead and study criminology and even become professors (Ross & Richard, 2003). Many criminology professors were once convicts, and their experience back there changed into better people. These are some of the positive effects that staying in prison should have on inmates. Making their life a living hell inside there will never allow them to achieve all these but instead, make them worse than they were before. In the book, he states, "95% of offenders that serve prison time in this country is eventually released. It makes sense that rehabilitation is a strong focus. Offenders simply cannot be mistreated on the inside and at the same time be prepared to live a productive lifestyle on the outsideit is the responsibility of the state, via the warden of a correctional facility, to provide an environment for change" (Bruton, 2004).

James is the death penalty for the convicts. Following his narration, James believes in the dignity of the inmates and offers them the respect they all deserve. Bruton explains the expectation of the public from the prisoners. According to the writer, people expect convicts to come out entirely different people with a changed mindset as well as proper behavior. They hope that their experience in prison should insert some sense into them hence change from their weird behaviors (Bruton, 2004). The death penalty may never provide a solution the offenses to committed by these criminals. In regards to this punishment, I agree with Bruton since executing the convicts will never give them a chance to learn from their faults.

Instead of eliminating the inmates especially those murderers, they can be granted life imprisonment. By doing so, the prisoner will learn and even change into a reasonable and responsible man (Molleman & Leeuw, 2011). There are many cases where the convicts decide to pursue their career dreams while in prison given a chance. According to (Ross &Richard, 2003) prisoners are the best college students as compared to other students. While In jail, they usually spend most of their time concentrating on their reading with less interruption from other life issues. Since they are already established, adapted to living in dormitories nothing can hinder their concentration. They also have a lot to learn to avoid landing in prison again.

The book is written from the wardens perspective leaving the convicts opinion uncovered. Despite its accuracy and insightfulness, the book is one-sided, and most inmates may not agree to all those things narrated here. These are some of the books that members of the convict criminology discredit since it does not sight frustrations that prisoners experiences inside the jail. For those who have been to these correctional facilities can confirm that some workers in these prisons do not deserve to work there. They molest the prisoners and treat them will less respect (Molleman & Leeuw, 2011). Most prisoners do persevere all the harassment they receive from the prison workers and for those who are overwhelmed, they are forced to retaliate (Clear, Cole, Reisig, Petrosino, & Carolyn, 2014).

For those suffering from mental health issues, they never took care of by the medical staff. These inmates are never given anti-psychotic medications they deserve but rather get bare minimum generics. These convicts should be subjected to various therapies that can help them out of these conditions. Instead of focusing on correcting their crimes, the facilities should consider treating these conditions since it will be the best remedy for their actions (Films Media Group, & Promedion (Firm), 2016). The readers may not find it comfortable reading this book at night following its contents. The book would be fair if it covers both sides since the wardens interact with these prisoners on a daily basis and understand all the frustrations they are facing. It will give an insight of the reality in these jails to those readers with their loved ones locked in these prisons.

The author seems to have high regard for himself in the book than any other characters. In most cases, the writer pats himself for the work well done in prison and for being part of the best run jail in the world. He disregards other states and prisons for not doing an excellent job for the inmates. The author holds himself as the best warden who blends the right amount of discipline with the knowledge of knowing when the prisoners need some rest. He praises himself so much that the readers may raise questions of the truth in it. People should not blow their trumpets but instead, let the observers comment on the work well done. One should allow others to recognize his/her work grant the grade according to the performance.

The author should have concentrated on what they experience as wardens as well the experiences of the inmates. When it comes to warden activities, he should have talked about the general contributions of most wardens in prison instead of patting himself severally. The author also praises the prisons he once worked at as the best of all correctional facilities without considering the views of inmates. Even though he may convince the readers that have never been there but cannot be evidence enough to show that they offer the best for prisoners.

The book is suitable for those intending to join the panel system though may not sound well for those who have experienced their worst in such facilities. It has the highest level of biases since it concentrates majorly on the right things in the center overlooking the worst moments, especially for the prisoners.



Bruton, J. H. (2004). The big house: Life inside a supermax security prison. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.

Clear, T., Cole, G., Reisig, M., Petrosino, & Carolyn. (2014). American Corrections in Brief + LMS Integrated for Coursemate, 1-term Access. Wadsworth Pub Co.

Films Media Group, & Promedion (Firm). (2016). The History of American Criminal Justice.

Molleman, T., & Leeuw, F. L. (2011). The Influence of Prison Staff on Inmate Conditions: A Multilevel Approach to Staff and Inmate Surveys. European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, 18(2), 217-233. Doi: 10.1007/s10610-011-9158-7

Ross, J. I., & Richards, S. C. (2003). Convict criminology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.


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