Cover image for The boys in the bunkhouse : servitude and salvation in the heartland
The boys in the bunkhouse : servitude and salvation in the heartland
Barry, Dan, 1958- author.

Personal Author:
First edition.
Physical Description:
340 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
"A full-length account of the author's prize-winning New York Times story chronicles the exploitation and abuse case of a group of developmentally disabled workers, who for 25 years, were forced to work under harrowing conditions for virtually no wages until tenacious advocates helped them achieve their freedom."-- Publisher's description.
Geographic Term:


Call Number
Material Type
Big Flats Library 1 362.3 BAR Adult NonFiction Book
Cuba Circulating Library Association 2 HISTORY 362.3 BAR Adult NonFiction Book
Fillmore - Wide Awake Club Library 1 362.3 B New NonFiction Book
Penn Yan Public Library 1 362.3 BAR Adult NonFiction Book
Richburg - Colonial Library 1 362.3 BAR New books

On Order



Nominated for the 2017 Hillman Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

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 disability, 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 disability 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 thirty 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.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Throughout the small town of Atalissa, Iowa, they were known as the boys. Originally from Texas, this group of men with intellectual disabilities lived together in a former schoolhouse, from which they were bused to grinding workdays at the turkey plant, from 1974 until 2009. New York Times columnist Barry details the decades these men spent living and working in unimaginably horrid conditions, despite newspaper and government investigations into the arrangement. He dives deep into their lives and the regulations that created this situation, a tangled web of legislation and changing attitudes toward the treatment of those with disabilities. While standards in the wider world for supporting people with intellectual disabilities shifted from institutionalization to inclusion, the situation in Atalissa remained remarkably unchanged. With passion, energy, and understated eloquence, Barry examines how this happened, while sharing the stories of the men and those who cared for them. A resounding investigation of how America treated some of its most vulnerable citizens, shocking in its details, this is a masterful story of long-delayed justice.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2016 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

New York Times columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd) weaves a moving tale of how a group of 32 mentally disabled men from Texas were rescued in 2009 after decades of servitude. Through a state program, the men were first put to work in the 1960s at a turkey processing plant in Texas. Then, in 1974, they were moved to another plant in Atalissa, Iowa. There, they lived in an abandoned schoolhouse and eviscerated turkeys in return for room, board, and (low) wages. Over the years, the outside world changed, but theirs did not. They became more isolated from the local community, worked ceaselessly, and were neglected and abused. Only through the efforts of dedicated people, including Iowa state social worker Natalie Neel-McGlaughlin, Des Moines investigative journalist Clark Kauffman, and Texas labor lawyer Robert Canino, were the men eventually able to leave. Their stories, pieced together through extensive research and interviews, are both riveting and often difficult to read, though Barry tries to end on a positive note. Still, his descriptions of overdue reunions and the list recounting "where they are now" is a bleak testament to what happened to 32 men over decades of neglect. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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