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.
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About the Author
Dan Barry is a reporter and columnist for the New York Times. In 1994 he was part of an investigative team at the Providence Journal that won the Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on Rhode Island’s justice system. He is the author of a memoir, a collection of his About New York columns, and Bottom of the 33rd, for which he won the 2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An expose of what happened to some intellectually disabled men taken from some state schools in Texas and brought to work at turkey factories by one company of people who used the men for their own financial gain. The story is heart-wrenching. Must read for anyone working professionally with disabled people, parents and caregivers, and we the disabled community. What happened in Texas and South Carolina and Iowa is part of our history as disabled people. A call to action.
As someone who grew up in Muscatine, I found it painful to read the details of what went on just a few miles away. However, this is a story that needs to be told--the men from the bunkhouse most definitely deserve to have their experiences shared with the world. It's uncomfortable and difficult to read some of the specifics, but it's important. Many thanks to those who rescued these men, and who continue to look out for their well-being!
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.
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!