By Rhonda Johnson
Updated May 26, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

When New York state prison officials rejected journalist Ted Conover’s request to interview a ”newjack” (rookie corrections officer), he went undercover. He took entrance exams, endured seven weeks of boot-camp training, then clocked in at notorious Sing Sing prison for eight hellish months as a newjack, where he was overwhelmed by the constant chaos and threat of violence in his job policing cell-block galleries. After being routinely humiliated by the sadistic sergeant of A-block, and pelted with insults, garbage, and worse by inmates, Conover questioned his liberal ideas about incarceration and gained a grudging respect for those able to tolerate the crushing stress of guard work (for a 1997 starting salary of $23,824). Instead of emerging from Sing Sing with a reform agenda, Conover ended his ordeal with Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, this fascinating look at how prison brutalizes men and women on both sides of the bars. A-