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The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland
     

The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland

5.0 2
by Dan Barry
 

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With this Dickensian tale from America’s heartland, New York Times writer and columnist Dan Barry tells the harrowing yet uplifting story of the exploitation and abuse of a resilient group of men with intellectual disability, and the heroic efforts of those who helped them to find justice and reclaim their lives.

In the tiny Iowa farm town of

Overview

With this Dickensian tale from America’s heartland, New York Times writer and columnist Dan Barry tells the harrowing yet uplifting story of the exploitation and abuse of a resilient group of men with intellectual disability, and the heroic efforts of those who helped them to find justice and reclaim their lives.

In the tiny Iowa farm town of Atalissa, dozens of men, all with intellectual disability and all from Texas, lived in an old schoolhouse. Before dawn each morning, they were bussed to a nearby processing plant, where they eviscerated turkeys in return for food, lodging, and $65 a month. They lived in near servitude for more than thirty years, enduring increasing neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse—until state social workers, local journalists, and one tenacious labor lawyer helped these men achieve freedom.

Drawing on exhaustive interviews, Dan Barry dives deeply into the lives of the men, recording their memories of suffering, loneliness and fleeting joy, as well as the undying hope they maintained despite their traumatic circumstances. Barry explores how a small Iowa town remained oblivious to the plight of these men, analyzes the many causes for such profound and chronic negligence, and lays out the impact of the men’s dramatic court case, which has spurred advocates—including President Obama—to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people living with disabilities.

A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouse is more than just inspired storytelling. It is a clarion call for a vigilance that ensures inclusion and dignity for all.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sasha Abramsky
It is a powerful story…As an exposé of a moral catastrophe, this is a vital piece of reportage. It stands alongside Gabriel Thompson's book on the undocumented, Working in the Shadows, and bears comparison to recent reports on the exploitation of foreign laborers with temporary work visas. The Boys in the Bunkhouse stands as a warning that too many people, in too many circumstances, are willing to take advantage of the vulnerable. They will do so simply to make a quick buck, and they will find ways to rationalize the indefensible.
Publishers Weekly
03/28/2016
New York Times columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd) weaves a moving tale of how a group of 32 mentally disabled men from Texas were rescued in 2009 after decades of servitude. Through a state program, the men were first put to work in the 1960s at a turkey processing plant in Texas. Then, in 1974, they were moved to another plant in Atalissa, Iowa. There, they lived in an abandoned schoolhouse and eviscerated turkeys in return for room, board, and (low) wages. Over the years, the outside world changed, but theirs did not. They became more isolated from the local community, worked ceaselessly, and were neglected and abused. Only through the efforts of dedicated people, including Iowa state social worker Natalie Neel-McGlaughlin, Des Moines investigative journalist Clark Kauffman, and Texas labor lawyer Robert Canino, were the men eventually able to leave. Their stories, pieced together through extensive research and interviews, are both riveting and often difficult to read, though Barry tries to end on a positive note. Still, his descriptions of overdue reunions and the list recounting “where they are now” is a bleak testament to what happened to 32 men over decades of neglect. (May)
Los Angeles Times
“A fascinating, beautifully told story... In the hands of Barry, a national correspondent for the New York Times, this marathon of duty, loyalty, misery and folly becomes a riveting narrative...The book feels like ‘Our Town’ on the diamond.”
Library Journal
04/15/2016
Atalissa, Iowa, 2009. Acting on a tip, a social worker discovered dozens of older men with intellectual disabilities living in squalid conditions and exploited as cheap labor for 40-odd years. The men were tasked with eviscerating turkeys on a slaughterhouse assembly line—filthy, grinding work that netted them a paltry $65 a month along with a string of humiliations by their bosses. Veteran New York Times reporter Barry, who first documented this story for the Times in 2014, describes grown adults being put on time-outs like children and handcuffed to their beds. The author also recounts equally problematic paternalism as the bosses of Henry's Turkey Service occasionally took their employees on outings to brothels or bars. Meanwhile, Atalissa's townsfolk and various state agencies remained largely oblivious. Many of the men were previously institutionalized at Austin State School in Texas. In the 1960s, the state discharged them to work on ranches, hoping they would become self-supporting taxpayers. Lack of regulation paved the way for exploitation, culminating in a landmark 2013 verdict in the U.S. District Court. VERDICT Barry never reduces the men to victimhood; their personalities and joys spring vividly from the pages. Overall, the author presents a troubling case study of commercial exploitation and a wake-up call on how America treats its most vulnerable citizens.—Michael Rodriguez, Hodges Univ. Lib., Naples, FL
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-03-14
A gripping indictment of society's treatment of "losers." In 1966, a pilot program at the Abilene State School in Texas moved six developmentally disabled men to a ranch run by T.H. Johnson, who agreed to teach the "boys," as he called them, basic agricultural skills. They would be paid a pittance and board at the ranch, saving the state money and providing Johnson with a source of very cheap labor. Award-winning New York Times writer and columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball's Longest Game, 2012, etc.) rivetingly chronicles the lives of these men and 26 more who worked for the irascible Johnson at his turkey processing plant in Texas and, later, in Atalissa, Iowa. From 1974 until 2009, Johnson's workers, living in filthy, decrepit housing, were paid far below minimum wage, from which room and board were deducted; were denied medical and dental care; and were violently abused by their overseers. Every day, they caught, killed, and gutted turkeys, work, Barry writes, that was "hard…and repetitive, a bloody, filthy, feathery mess." Along the way, a social worker discovered the "slave-labor camp" and reported the "human-rights horror" to the Iowa Department of Social Services only to be told that the company's operation—a "for-profit business model with a paternalistic overlay of limited freedoms and routine discipline"—seemed legitimate. The townspeople of Atalissa liked the "boys," who sometimes came to town, marched in parades, and bought candy with their small allowances, and the men were proud to be workers; they didn't openly complain. But one man's sister, desperate over her brother's plight, caught the attention of a tenacious investigative reporter, whose exposé shocked the nation. Finally, social services sprang to action, and the men were extricated, cared for, and embraced by those who had long ignored them. Gently, empathetically, and indelibly, Barry conveys a tale of unthinkable brutality.
Colum McCann
Praise for Bottom of the 33rd:
“What a book—an exquisite exercise in story-telling, democracy and myth-making that has, at its center, a great respect for the symphony of voices that make up America.”
New York Times Book Review
“As an exposé of a moral catastrophe, this is a vital piece of reportage.”
Providence Journal
“An extraordinary contribution to the literature of social injustice. . . . The Boys in the Bunkhouse surely will emerge as one of the landmark books of the year.”
Kansas City Star
“Barry’s book can’t right all those wrongs, but it at least documents them eloquently, and in a more permanent way.”
Newsweek
The Boys in the Bunkhouse is not just a book about the victims but also a book that turns those victims into real men. Dan Barry has written them into history, as only a journalist could.”
Gay Talese
“Dan Barry represents the magic that is possible in journalism when there is a convergence between a great story and great talent.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A fascinating, beautifully told story... In the hands of Barry, a national correspondent for the New York Times, this marathon of duty, loyalty, misery and folly becomes a riveting narrative...The book feels like ‘Our Town’ on the diamond.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An astonishing tale that lyrically articulates baseball?s inexorable grip on its players and fans, Bottom of the 33rd belongs among the best baseball books ever written.”
Associated Press Staff
“[Dan] Barry does more than simply recount the inning-by-inning-by-inning box score. He delves beneath the surface, like an archaeologist piecing together the shards and fragments of a forgotten society, to reconstruct a time and a night that have become part of baseball lore.”
New York Times
“A worthy companion to Roger Kahn’s classic Boys of Summer ...[Dan Barry] exploits the power of memory and nostalgia with literary grace and journalistic exactitude. He blends a vivid, moment-by-moment re-creation of the game with what happens to its participants in the next 30 years.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062372130
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/17/2016
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
97,958
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Dan Barry is a national columnist for the New York Times. He lives with his wife and daughters in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 9 days ago
Terrible injustice to these men and to think it could possibly be happening today,unknown. It left me wondering though,if they were ever compensated. I do hope so.
Anonymous 9 months ago
This a a very written book that tells the true story of exploitation of men with disabilities by a company called Henry's Turkey Service. They took individuals with intellectual disabilities out of the Texas institutions and made them live in an abandoned school house in Atalissa, Iowa. The had to to the hardest jobs in a turkey processing plant and were only paid about $65 a month. They were deprived of most human liberties. The authorities looked the other way. This is the story of their human struggles told brilliantly by Dan Barry of the New York Times. it is hard to believe that something this horrible could go on for over 40 years in a small town in Iowa!