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Tom Shull PDF Print E-mail
Book Review
By Tom Shull Department of Correction's Teacher - 1972-1995
Hell Behind Prison Walls
The Devil's Den of Prison and Justice


    It is my pleasure to write about an individual, a former colleague of mine, and a true gentleman, Mr. John Pecchio.
    John began working at the Elmira Reformatory (Known today as the Elmira Correctional Facility) in 1966 as a shoemaker in one of the many Vocational shops in this prison. His career developed at the end of a very important era in New York State History. A "Military Style Drill Program" had been used in New York State's prisons system for years, and was being phased out. The end of this program was to be the turning point in handling inmates constructively. It was soon abolished in all maximum-security prisons, and later placed in prison camps. Strict discipline at the Elmira Reformatory, as well as the rest of the all-male maximum-security prisons in New York State had faded by the wayside. Prisoners' rights took precedence over employees' safety and individual rights. The Issue of often disregarding employees' safety, and paying more attention to greedy lawmakers as well as "outside" inmate attorneys promoting their own hidden agendas, lead to our prison system becoming more dangerous for both employees and inmates. New York State couldn't build newer facilities fast enough. Society's mismanagement of criminals and their wants and needs has lead to millions upon millions of dollars being spent in hope of quelling overcrowded conditions.

    John Pecchio wrote his first book, titled, "Hell Behind Prison Walls" in 2003, just eight years after being brutally assaulted by a student who was in his Vocational class. In essence, John was a product of non-caring, ruthless administrator; and their actions, or lack of actions, almost ended his life. It must be pointed out that others were not so fortunate. Although I was teaching at Southport Correctional Facility at the time, I can vividly remember hearing about this incident, and understood how an event of this magnitude could happen to any employee. John lived through this incident; however, his 25 year career with the Department of Corrections ended, albeit on a sour note. "Hell Behind Prison Walls" vividly described how one of New York State's maximum-security prisons located in Elmira, New York, and possessing ideal job opportunities for those individuals who desired to help wayward men straighten out their lives, went from strict discipline facility to a facility that Mr. Pecchio called, "a prison of shams and charades."

    "Hell Behind Prison Walls" indicated how inmates began being catered to by lawmakers. This practice filtered down to scared prison administrators. Elmira Correctional Facility, as well as the rest of the maximum-security facilities in New York State saw reform methods, which were once working being replaced by facilities that expanded prisoner's rights, a dangerous practice which affected all New York State Prison employees in one way or another.
    Mr. Pecchio in his twenty-fifth year of service never backed down to ideals that were ingrained within him early in life. He described himself as a leader and not a follower. He believed in what he was hired to do in 1966 that of teaching his trade as a shoemaker to incarcerated inmates. It's Mr. Pecchio's opinion (as well as my own) that if New York State held on to its' practices and principles to strict discipline within their prisons, along with continuing to teach self respect and pride to the inmate population, rehabilitation would be more successful and our prison would not be in the sad conditions they are in today. Needless money has been wasted the past quarter century because of societies' establishment of giving rights to the murderers, drug pushers, rapist, and criminally insane, and neglecting the rights of the innocent.

    Me. Pecchio wrote his second book, title, "The Devil's Den of Prison and Justice" in 2006. I have had the pleasure of reading this book, which John goes into detail of describing how prisons need an overhaul in handling inmates. The reader is captivated by mismanagement in prisons. Crimes in our society can and should be prevented. Society as a whole is kept in the dark as to what goes on behind prison walls. Mr. Pecchio describes how today's, murderers, drug pushers, rapists, and mentally unstable are being kept incarcerated, often without the help they need to straighten out their lives. Taxpayers are being forced to pay for needless activities that inmates are being provided with, just so these incarcerated individual don't go public with how they are being "neglected" or "mistreated" or how their rights are being violated. "Military-style-Strict Discipline", if used today in our prisons, (as Mr. Pecchio so vividly states in his riveting novel) would take care of the problems that constantly plague not only New York States' prisons, but the rest of the overcrowded prisons that exist in the United States.

    "The Devil's Den of Prison and Justice" is a must-read, not only for the novice, but for all prison employees and former prison employees. As John so aptly puts it: "It's better to be a leader who is involved in getting it right the first time, then being a follower", whose actions more times then not eventually leads to dangerous consequences. Strict discipline can lead to a rehabilitated inmate. It's time that society wakes up and starts demanding why prisons are failing. John has started the ball rolling; it's time that others follow his lead.

    Congratulations in providing two books worth reading, John. Continue success in your future endeavors.


Thomas Shull