The boys in the bunkhouse Servitude and salvation in the heartland

Dan Barry, 1958-

Book - 2016

A full-length account of the author's prize-winning New York Times story chronicles the exploitation and abuse case of a group of developmentally disabled workers, who for 25 years, were forced to work under harrowing conditions for virtually no wages until tenacious advocates helped them achieve their freedom,"--NoveList.

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New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 2016.
Physical Description
340 pages ; 21 cm
Main Author
Dan Barry, 1958- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Throughout the small town of Atalissa, Iowa, they were known as the boys. Originally from Texas, this group of men with intellectual disabilities lived together in a former schoolhouse, from which they were bused to grinding workdays at the turkey plant, from 1974 until 2009. New York Times columnist Barry details the decades these men spent living and working in unimaginably horrid conditions, despite newspaper and government investigations into the arrangement. He dives deep into their lives and the regulations that created this situation, a tangled web of legislation and changing attitudes toward the treatment of those with disabilities. While standards in the wider world for supporting people with intellectual disabilities shifted from institutionalization to inclusion, the situation in Atalissa remained remarkably unchanged. With passion, energy, and understated eloquence, Barry examines how this happened, while sharing the stories of the men and those who cared for them. A resounding investigation of how America treated some of its most vulnerable citizens, shocking in its details, this is a masterful story of long-delayed justice. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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 [Page 105]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Nominated for the 2017 Hillman Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights AwardWith 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.