The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison – Pete Earley

Posted 10 March, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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Title: The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
Author: Pete Earley
Date Finished: March 6, 2009 #10
Published: 1992 Pages: 441
Rating: 4/5

I borrowed this from one of my coworkers. Not to be alarmed, but she’s a little obsessed with prison books. :) After several months of coercion, I finally gave in and took this one to Hawaii with me. Couldn’t wait for the Non-Fiction Five coming in May!

In the late 1980s, Pete Earley was granted permission from the warden of Leavenworth, in Kansas, to extensively interview the prison’s staff and inmates for an unprecedented look into one of the more dangerous maximum-security prisons in the nation. Earley focuses on six inmates as well as a couple of guards and the warden over a two-year period of time. He writes about the crimes the inmates have committed, what life is like for them in prison, and how the guards handle the pressure of maintaining peace within the prison walls.

This book is hardcore. I’m not a rubbernecker (HUGE pet-peeve), but this book was like looking at a horrible accident. You just can’t look away. I was fascinated the entire way through–learning the stories and what makes some of these criminals tick. One of my roommates in college was a criminology major, so I’ve heard plenty of stories of crimes pre-arrest, but to learn about what goes on IN the prison was fascinating. There is a fair amount of violence and language in the book, but I didn’t feel it was excessive, especially given the topics.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that Earley separated each chapter out by character with a thread of the Cuban prisoner situation running throughout the novel. But, only a partial part of the inmate’s/guard’s story was told in each chapter, so by the time I got back around to the person, I had forgotten the details. By the end, I could tell you a long list of things that happened, but I couldn’t tell you who committed what crime, what happened while that person was in prison, or what happened to them once the book was over (with the exception of a sociopath who spent most of the two years in solitary confinement). I’m not sure if there would have been a better way to present the material, and it could have been because I was on vacation and only reading a little bit here and there, but in the end everyone’s story was a little interchangeable.

Do I recommend it? Like I said–it’s hard to look away. Isn’t everyone just a little bit interested in the criminal mind and how it works? Even just a tinsy bit?

Also reviewed by: Kari and Laura (incidentally also both coworkers, although not the one mentioned above–this book has definitely made the rounds!) Also, Stephanie reviewed this one.

17 Responses to “The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison – Pete Earley”

  1. cj

    Life inside a prison is definitely a world unto its own. I’ve occasionally watched the ‘inside prison’ shows they have on NatGeo TV (I think) and I’m always fascinated in much the same way – you don’t want to look but you do.

    Prison guards are amazing people. I could never put up with what they put up with. Not in a million years.

    cjh

  2. I don’t think I’ve read any real crime stories but I do watch the crimewatch (a local real crime series) on TV. It’s scary and disturbing why some people do such things… but yeah that’s life.

    I echo CJ. Those prison guards are really amazing people… we definitely need people like them in our society!

  3. I’ve read my fair share of true crime books over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a prison book. I’m guessing I would probably get totally sucked in.

    You know what I just realized…I don’t have your other blog on my reader! Off to change that…don’t want to miss out on your Hawaiian adventures! :)

  4. *CJ – It amazes me the amount of conspiracy that goes on inside the prison (at least this one)–from the guards and the inmates. I didn’t realize SO much crime still occurred within the walls! I agree–prison guards have got to be incredibly strong people. I would find it too hard to not let those things affect my personal life.

    *Melody – I don’t read a lot of crime stories, but I do like to watch Law and Order: SVU (that’s the only one…usually the shows are too intense for me). But ya, it is difficult to try and understand a complete lack of morals that some of these guys had.

    *Debi – Yup–hard to put down!! In all honesty I don’t post much at the travel blog. I get really overwhelmed and it takes a long time to upload the pictures. :) For someone who spends so much time reading and then writing about what she reads, I’m pretty lazy. :P I’ll probably do a little post here as well since not many read that one.

  5. Huh, three of your coworkers all love this book. where is it that you are working? I actually have had my eye on this one for a while now. Glad to read the review. I love learning about criminal minds. Very fascinating….

  6. I would probably really enjoy this book because I’m so enamored by crime stories. I love watching Forensic Files and Anatomy of a Crime. Bring the book my way, please!

  7. I think that everyone probably is a bit interested just to see what makes them tick. This is something that I would usually pick up but I am adding it to my TBR list after reading your review :)

  8. *Bermuda – I’m usually too much of a fraidy-cat to read true-crime, but this one was so intriguing!

    *Michelle – Hmmm…insurance. I guess with such a boring profession one must read interesting things? Just kidding! Hope you like this one.

    *Krystal – LOL! This one has definitely made the office rounds. Almost as much as The Book Thief–have you read that one? Anyway, this is Karen’s (although you may have already gathered that).

    *Sam – Hope you like it–it would be pefect for the non-fiction five coming up in May. Hint hint, nudge nudge. :P

  9. Definitely sounds like a horrible accident kind of book. Not sure if prison books are for me (then again, I bet there’s a prison book out there that would make me swallow these words), but I’m glad you found it a worthwhile read!

  10. These types of books and TV shows are always compelling to me. I have a few books on my TBR shelf that have been sitting there for a very long time now – one day! Glad to read you enjoyed this one.

  11. *Nymeth – I don’t think prison books are for me either–I get too worked up! But this one was pretty interesting.

    *Joy – The idea of these books/TV shows is really compelling, but like I was telling Nymeth above, I get way too worked up to actually watch/read them. I’m not a necessarily paranoid person, but these things can easily get to me!

  12. Ooh, I read this last year! I share the prison obsession with your co-workers, and this was fascinating. I agree, though, that it was hard to keep track of who was who throughout the book.

    I also read Pete Earley’s Crazy, about his son’s mental illness and the state of the US’s mental health care system. That was a very sad, moving book, and if you liked his writing style, I recommend Crazy.

  13. Terrific review, I will keep my eyes open for this one. I am a fan of true crime non-fic, but haven’t read many on prison life. One I did read and thought was terrific is “Go Boy” the memoir of Roger “Mad Dog” Caron, a Canadian who spent most of his life in reformatories and prisons. He also wrote a book called “Bingo” about the worst prison riot in Canadian history.

  14. *Stephanie – I’ve added your link to the others. I actually remember seeing at least one prison book on your blog not too long ago that I recommended to my friend. The title escapes me, though.

    *Joanne – Oooh! I’ll have to keep my eyes open for those titles and also pass them on to my friend. Thanks for the suggestions!

  15. Anonymous

    Worked there for 25+ years. The book is not totally true although many parts of it were. Prisons are a safe place to work if you follow the rules and don’t get overly familiar with the inmates. Correctional workers are there to supervise, keep the place safe for staff and inmates, and not allow escapes. Anyone trying to do more than that is asking for problems.