Tony Levy, with A Turnkey or Not? has written a sometimes amusing, sometimes shocking and overall interesting book about his actual life as a prison guard. He lets us see what life is like for the guards and prisoners, some things that have changed for the better, and of course, human nature being what it is, there is always someone trying to take advantage of any situation.


This book covers Tony’s career and experiences. Some of the people he met and the things he had to do as a prison guard, or turnkey, were sad, while some were funny, and some were just interesting. Life in prison is much more difficult, or anyway it used to be, than I had ever imagined. Having to empty your own bucket in the morning because there isn’t any plumbing in the cells, or thinking about all the bugs that come out at night were two of the things that would have made life tougher as an inmate. Having an inmate decide to empty his bucket on you would be enough to make me look for another job! Some of the guards Tony met along the way came up with some interesting ways to pass the time. These stories make me wonder what life was like in prisons many years ago. Like all good books, this one got me started thinking about how prisons have changed for the better and yet they still seem pretty bad. Of course they aren’t mean to be a great place to live out your years, and hopefully most people are motivated to get out and stay out of jail.


I have never been tempted to try out life in a prison and have only been once to visit a prisoner in jail. Working in a prison doesn’t seem like it would be a very good idea, but Tony didn’t seem to mind it. The other guards in the book that Tony met along the way seemed like pretty regular guys, although some of them had a few issues of their own.

Tony is not trying to tell us all the bad stuff or all the horror stories he could find about mean guards or frightening, out -of -control prisoners. This is his story, just as it happened, and it comes across as very true and sincere, so it is believable and held my interest. Not a lot of people have enough good stories from their lives to write a book, and this one opens a window on something we all guess at and wonder about and see blown way out of proportion on TV and in the movies. Yes, people are sometimes mean to each other in prisons, and yes, sometimes people kill themselves, and yes, there are guards who don’t strictly follow all the rules. But reading Tony’s story I saw a slice of reality that is yes, a mixture of the craziness, the tediousness, and the really pretty funny bits of life as a prison guard.