A Dickensian tale from America’s heartland, The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland is the latest from New York Times writer and columnist Dan Barry. It is 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, Iowa, 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 30 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.
A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouseis more than just inspired storytelling. It is a clarion call for a vigilance that ensures inclusion and dignity for all.
Pulitzer Prize winner DanBarry writes the “This Land” column for the New York Times. Prior to joining the Times in 1995, Barry worked at the Journal Inquirer and the Providence Journal. At the Providence Journal, Barry received a George Polk Award for his work on an investigation into the causes of a state banking crisis; in 1994, he and the other members of the Journal’s investigative team won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles about Rhode Island’s court system. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2006, for his slice-of-life reports from hurricane-battered New Orleans and from New York, and in 2010, for his “This Land” articles. Barry is the author of Pull Me Up: A Memoir; City Lights: Stories About New York; and Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.