In Marin / READING LIST
MM: How did your time at Winn change
your perspective on the system?
SB: I think I went there with the inten-
tion of writing an exposé about a private
prison and conditions for prisoners, and
I really saw how the level of exploitation
that existed in the system was much
more all-encompassing than I realized.
The guards and almost everybody else
working there were part of this system,
and whether they were working within it
or imprisoned by it, they were all some-
how trapped in it. And it was affecting all
of them negatively.
MM: Are there any moments from
your time as a guard that stand out as
SB: There was a while when the prison
was on lockdown. Inmates were angry,
and guards were having to do more
work than usual because we had to
bring the food [to the cells]. There was
an inmate who had taken two trays of
food and I just started yelling at him.
And I kind of flashed to this moment
when I was in prison in Iran and I used
to take extra meals. And one day a
guard just flashed on me about it, and
it turned into a pretty scary situation.
So, when I did that, I kind of had this
moment like, “ Whoa, I’m on the other
side right now. I’m lashing out at this
guy for wanting more food.”
MM: Have you seen or do you antici-
pate any sort of systemic changes from
this sort of exposé writing?
SB: Not under this administration, hon-
estly. When the Mother Jones article
came out, the Obama Administration
said they were going to stop using pri-
vate prisons on the federal level, and
the company’s stock tanked. And as
soon as Trump took office, he reversed
MM: What are you hoping readers
take away from American Prison?
SB: I really tried to not only expose the
modern-day prison system, but really
help people understand how we’ve got-
ten to this point … how the legacy of
slavery plays into the prison system,
how the profit motive has been a major
part of our prison system since the very
beginning. Our prison system is the
largest in the world; it’s an aberration.
And I think we need to understand how
we got there. CALIN VAN PARIS
Author Talk American Prison by Shane Bauer (Oakland),
Penguin Press, $28. In the tradition of great
undercover journalism, reporter Shane Bauer got
himself a job at a private prison in Louisiana in
2014 with the intent of discovering what actually
goes on inside a place most of us would prefer
to forget exists. What he found was the dark
underbelly of for-profit incarceration. While Bauer left the job after
four months — and went on to win a National Magazine Award
for his exposé in Mother Jones — the subject never left his mind. In
American Prison, Bauer provides a deep dive into the private prison
system and the corporate interests that drive it. At times harrowing
but vitally important in its message, this work is a clarion call for
America to divest itself of a penal system built on indentured servi-
tude and reclaim its commitment to the pursuit of balanced justice.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera October 2, 7 p.m.
Twenty Years of Life by Suzanne Bohan (Bay
Area), Island Press, $30. In Twenty Years of Life,
Suzanne Bohan argues that in the United States,
your ZIP code is ultimately a huge factor in
your overall health. By contrasting the statistics
and stories of people living in impoverished
areas with those of residents in more affluent
locales, Bohan makes the case that quality of schools, availability
of healthy food and access to nature can significantly affect our
life spans. Not one to pose a problem without offering a solu-
tion, she also describes the work of the California Endowment, a
health foundation dedicated to redefining the way charity works
by infusing funds directly into poor communities. An inspiring
yet somber reflection of our era, this book takes a timely look at
how we can better ensure an equal — and longer — life for all.
Appearing at Book Passage Sausalito October 2, 6 p.m.
Almost Everything by Anne Lamott (Marin),
Riverhead Books, $20. When life gets tough, it’s
immensely reassuring to know we have new
words of wisdom from Anne Lamott to steer us
back into calmer seas. Following a series of short
but profound works from Lamott over the last
several years (Hallelujah Anyway ; Help, Thanks,
Wow), Almost Everything is a road map for finding hope and insight
within ourselves — even if they’re buried deep. With her trademark
blend of humor and shrewd advice, Lamott encourages readers
to glean a path forward from these small but profound moments
— especially at times when things may feel especially bleak.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera October 15, 7 p.m.
Local Page Turners
Reviews by Book Passage Marketing Manager Zack Ruskin.
We sat down with Oakland
journalist Shane Bauer to discuss
his book American Prison, which
explores the country’s insidious
nexus of prison and profit.
Bauer, who was held hostage
in Iran from 2009 to 2011,
went undercover by posing as a
prison guard at Louisiana’s Winn
Correctional Center in 2015,
later describing the stint in an
award-winning piece for Mother
Jones (“My Four Months as a
Private Prison Guard”).