Inside Out Fifty Years Behind the Walls of New Jerseys Trenton State Prison is a book written by veteran prison guard Harry Camisa and his co-writer Jim Franklin. It was first published in 2003, a year after Camisa retired from the employ of New Jersey Department of Corrections. It chronicles the fifty years of Camisas life as first a prison guard then a teacher in Trenton. In those years of service, Camisa encountered the many infamous characters that were detained in the prison. He also experienced many victories and trials in that treacherous environment.

Through a collection of short stories and anecdotes, Camisa brings readers inside the highly guarded walls of Trenton State Prison. The prison after all is a maximum-security facility for the most notorious and hardened criminals of New Jersey. He shares the humorous, the frightful, the surprising, and even the life threatening experiences he had while working as a prison guard.

Camisa also sheds light into the kind of people locked up in Trenton State Prison. His first-hand encounters with them gives readers a glimpse of what the most dangerous criminals are like. In his 50 years experience, Camisa even had the opportunity to befriend some of the toughest, most menacing offenders.

The extensive stint of Camisa allowed him to go through history within the massive walls of the prison. He also took part in many of the most talked about incidents that happened in Trenton. Being one of the first Italian prison guards in New Jersey, Camisa himself is part of history.

It was in 1950 when Harry Camisa started working at Trenton State Prison. He was 21. The prison is a familiar site to Camisa. He grew up only a block away from it (Camisa  Franklin, 2003) and as a boy passed by the place so many times. However it was only on his first day as prison guard did he have the chance to really see what lay inside.

Trenton State Prison is one of the toughest maximum-security penitentiaries in the country. It is located in the middle of a residential area south of the city (Camisa  Franklin, 2003). The prison is a massive two block wide brick building that house the most dangerous and brutal criminals to ever cross the shores of New Jersey.

During the 50 years Camisa was employed at Trenton, he had the chance to meet some of the most celebrated criminals in history. From known Mafia lords to the most violent sex offenders and murderers, Camisa met them all.

Several times, upon meeting these hardened criminals for the first time, Camisa was struck by how unsuspecting most of them were. Clarence Hill who was called The Duck Island Killer was a soft spoken and personable man. He was so unlike the monster he was when he went on a killing spree between the years of 1930 and 1940. Then there was Richard Biegenwald who was convicted for killing four women in New Jersey. He is considered  a serial killer in New Jersey. In his last post, Camisa worked alongside Biegenwald famously almost everyday.

In the book Camisa shared many more encounters with many more of the most vicious criminals. However, what is striking about his stories is that in most of them, Camisa would describe the inmates as meek or gentle. It surprises him that the men he spent time with in prison are the very same ones who have done the most heinous of crimes.
Camisa also tells of his harrowing experiences while working in prison. He called his life as a prison guard living on the edge (Camisa  Franklin, 2003). He was in the middle of one of the bloodiest riots in prison history when two warring Muslim gangs went after each other in 1975. He also witnessed 13 death sentences materialize. In two instances had to participate in the execution of three men in one night. He was in the center of many attempted escapes, one of which was that of a Black Liberation Army member that ended up in a gun battle between law enforcers and the escapees. And then there were times that danger became too personal. Camisa was taken hostage twice and survived.

Through his sharing of actual events inside prison, Camisa attested to many of the horrific practices by the people who run it. In fact in one instance Camisa himself took part in beating of an inmate. Life in prison is tough for both the inmates and their guards. However, in this intense environment there are still opportunities to build a life.

Inmates are allowed to work and earn inside prison. They are also given options for study and skills enhancement. Camisa after retiring as prison guard in 1979 went on to teach and run several of the facilities inside prison. He worked closely with many of his ward. Many of them who are released after serving their sentences go on to live productive and quiet lives. Some become repeat offenders and spend their lives going in and out of prison.

The guards have different views about prison. Some see it simply as a way to make a living while waiting for better things to come. In the book Camisa also revealed how some politicians use being head of the prison for their own selfish designs. Some however, like him see working in prison as a lifelong vocation.

Camisa sums up his 50 years as an employee of the New Jersey Department of Corrections with the very first line in the book I love my job (Camisa  Franklin, 2003). The system may not be perfect. The life inside prison may not be the most ideal. There are dangers waiting in every corner. Prison may be a place for seemingly hopeless individuals. But to Camisa, Trenton State Prison actually helped shape his life and made him the person he is today.


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