Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Boys in the Bunkhouse

The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland by Dan Barry is a non-fiction account of what happened in the small town of Atalissa, Iowa, for over three decades to a group of mentally handicapped men.

In 2009, twenty one men were rescued from the abandoned schoolhouse they inhabited since 1974.  Their lives consisted of working for next to nothing at a turkey plant and all living together in the schoolhouse.  Conditions in the school were unsafe and the building stunk of urine.  

Barry researches the lives of these men and that of the turkey plant and it's owner, giving a greater understanding to how something so horrific could happen without anyone stopping it.

Initially the idea of hiring men with who were mentally handicapped was done with good intentions.   The work was something they could be taught, and earning money would give them a sense of purpose and self respect.  The schoolhouse where they lived seemed a great solution because all the men could live together and be supervised by an adult who lived with them.  However, after the initial owner was no longer alive, the way the men were treated changed dramatically.  

There are many things that didn't happen (no close relationships with families, families that lived in Texas, residents in Atalissa not ever visiting the men at the school) that also played a part in the way these men were treated for such a long time.

Unfortunately, I must have my nose stuck in a book far too much, because my mother and husband both remember this story taking a prominent place in our news while I had never heard this story before and was stunned to read about it.  Barry does a great job giving background information about the turkey plant and its owner, the men and their families and the town of Atalissa, Iowa, to provide a well researched account of this sad story.  Although non-fiction, it reads much like fiction and is easy to get into and hard to put down. 

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