Conover is a journalist who decides to go undercover as a correctional officer at Sing Sing Prison in New York. He tried to go into the prison as a journalist but was turned down. Then, he was invited by a CO to visit a prison but when prisoners and other COs encountered him, everyone would stop talking and he was unable to gain any insight into the prison culture. His fascination with prisons and feeling that prisons should be more transparent in their operations, led him to go undercover as a correctional officer.
He took and passed an exam and entered as recruit at an Academy. Most of the COs were ex-military men who wanted a civilian job with good benefits.
He wanted to gain firsthand experience as a prison guard so that he can inform outsiders about the prison social conditions that include abuse, corruption, sexual abuse and other violations. He wanted to find out why young black men in California have a five to one change of ending up in prison instead of a university by creating his own research project.
He believes that incarceration has become a social problem because it does not offer prisoners reform. Prisons have become an “expensive instrument” that has been said to harm the prisoners more due to the brutality, abuse and corruption within its environment. He also goes on to say that when these prisoners are released back into society, they tend to influence others within their community by wearing baggy “low-slung pants” which are popular within our society.
Prisoners have an influence on civilians that have led to its own “empowering culture” of drugs and violence.
During his research, Conover found out that most of the COs did not reveal to strangers that they worked in the prison. They lied about their jobs due to the stigma of working at a prison. They described working as a prison guard as a “life sentence” waiting on retirement. Conover stated that “Prison guards had the highest rates of divorce, heart disease, drug and alcohol addictions and the shortest life span than any other civil servants due to the stress in their lives”. Conover goes on to describe his on-the-job training was “inadequate” and did not provide him with the necessary skills needed to do the job. Also, most of the guards abuse the inmates or treat them horribly, while others command minimum respect from the prisoners. He also found that Supervisors barely supervised newly recruits and officers would often not deal with problems during their shift which results in the CO on a later shift dealing with the problem.