The ten best books about America's prisons
7. Among the Lowest of the Dead, David Von Drehle (1994). Washington Post staffer Von Drehle's epic account about a series of executions on Florida's busy death row is richly detailed, exquisitely written -- and ghastly. He seems to be everywhere at once: peeling back the mythologies of Ted Bundy, watching John Spenkelink smolder in the electric chair, catching the back-room maneuvers of attorneys trying to save their clients' sorry necks, and providing us all with a vivid portrait of America's long-stalled capital punishment machinery returning with a vengeance.
6. Life After Death, Damien Echols (2012). The purported ringleader of the West Memphis Three, Echols spent eighteen years on death row in Arkansas for a terrible triple murder before DNA evidence and public pressure freed the trio. His memoir scarcely touches on the case, but offers a fascinating account of how he kept his spirit alive in solitary confinement, with the aid of pen pal (now wife) Lorri Davis and what Echols calls "magick."
5. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, Ted Conover (2000). Conover, a Manual High grad, went undercover as a prison guard at Sing Sing to obtain an unmediated view of America's booming corrections industry. His fresh reporting transcends the lurid cliches found in most journalists' efforts to get at the subject, and his eye-opening journey provides ample proof of how the system dehumanizes the keepers as well as the caged.
4. The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, Pete Earley (1992). Investigative journalist Pete Earley got unprecedented access to Leavenworth during a time when it housed some of the most pathological convicts in the entire federal system. It's a mistake the U.S. Bureau of Prisons won't make again. His riveting account of how a maximum security federal lockup really works introduced readers to several memorable characters, including Thomas "Terrible Tommy" Silverstein, the most isolated prisoner in the BOP.
Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten best books about America's prisons.