EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 15, 2012

'Sweet Hell' captures readers from beginning to end

Your hands were tied – quite literally. It wasn’t a very comfortable position to be in, either. The zip-strip holding them behind your back cut painfully into your wrists, twisting your arms to one side. And noody seemed to care.

Being arrested is not an afternoon on the couch, you know. Likewise, it’s not a cakewalk for those on the other side of the bars, according to Sara Lunsford. In her new book “Sweet Hell on Fire,” you’ll read about life in prison, and out.

Sara Lunsford was a “retread.” She’d worked at a state prison before this book begins but, as a retread, she was “dumb enough to come back for another round.” Working in the prison made sense, however: Her father had done it and her husband worked there, too.

Some 2,300 inmates on four levels of custody were housed in this prison in which she toiled -- all of them men, which was the way Lunsford preferred it. Any officer, she says, will tell you that women inmates are “tougher, meaner, and harder to handle.”

That notion belied her first day, though. In an “incident in the yard, “a lock in a sock” killed an inmate and Lunsford learned that human brain matter stained a poly-cotton blend uniform permanently.

Despite the dangers, Lunsford liked her job and her co-workers. She knew from experience that she might come to like some of the prisoners, too. There were lines, however, that she would never cross. She’d never be “dirty”; never smuggle drugs; never have a relationship with an inmate; never trust the murderers, sex offenders, thugs, and thieves in her care. She had to be hard but she had to be fair, too, because a fair officer was a respected officer. Respect often meant safety.

Text Only | Photo Reprints

Photos of the Week