The Boys in the Bunkhouse

  • by Dan Barry
  • Narrated by Fred Sanders
  • 9 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 disabilities 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 disabilities 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 30 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Our Brothers' Keepers?

"The Boys in the Bunkhouse" could be a cold story with shock value to jazz it up. Instead, it's an elegantly written story of flesh-and-blood men caught in a disgusting and deplorable situation. You get to know the men, their dreams and fears. Mostly, they dream of families, though phone numbers they have are long since disconnected; of retirement in a lovely home that their wages built in Texas; of ownership of tiny things most of us take for granted. And they fear their supervisors and people letting them down yet again.
While the book chronicles the hardcore nature of the jobs they do, the abusive environments they work and live in, their horrific physical ailments, it comes off as neither detached nor sensationalized. They're simply facts of year in, year out reality for the men.
The tragedy is that complaints started as early as 1974, and actions could have been taken time and time again. Yet somewhere along the way, people forgot that the "Henry Boys" were living, feeling human beings. And while there is wonderment that the people of Atalissa never spoke up... or noticed... that things were very wrong comes off as purely believable given the even-handed writing of Dan Barry. This is truly one of the most powerful books I've listened to in a long time.
At times, Sanders' delivery is dry, but at least he has the voice of a skilled documentarian. I never stopped feeling outrage, sadness, heartbreak, joy.
Very much worth the time, very much worth the credit.
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- Gillian

Let's not be too judgmental.....

This book is valuable only if we think about the situation it describes thoroughly and circumspectly. While there is no question that the men in this story were taken advantage of, there is hardly a mentally challenged person walking on this earth who will avoid that altogether. The danger of stories like this lies in society's overreaction. Before hating these particular abusers one would do well to study the long term effects of deinstitutionalization and how it has contributed to homelessness. Mentally handicapped people can be a danger to themselves and the public. Part of the problem is that so few high quality people will deign to work with this class. Providing these people with honest jobs is better than allowing them to fend for themselves or be forever on the dehumanizing dole. This situation clearly got out of hand but a similar program that included watchfulness and socially accepted standards for health and well-being of the persons would go a long way toward giving the disabled the dignity that so often eludes them.
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- Howard

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-17-2016
  • Publisher: HarperAudio