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FOR THE FULL KIRKUS REVIEW: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/dan-barry/the-boys-in-the-bunkhouse/"In 1966, a pilot program at the Abilene State School in Texas moved six developmentally disabled men to a ranch run by T.H. Johnson, who agreed to teach the “boys,” as he called them, basic agricultural skills. They would be paid a pittance and board at the ranch, saving the state money and providing Johnson with a source of very cheap labor. Award-winning New York Times writer and columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game, 2012, etc.) rivetingly chronicles the lives of these men and 26 more who worked for the irascible Johnson at his turkey processing plant in Texas and, later, in Atalissa, Iowa. From 1974 until 2009, Johnson’s workers, living in filthy, decrepit housing, were paid far below minimum wage, from which room and board were deducted; were denied medical and dental care; and were violently abused by their overseers. Every day, they caught, killed, and gutted turkeys, work, Barry writes, that was “hard…and repetitive, a bloody, filthy, feathery mess.” Along the way, a social worker discovered the “slave-labor camp” and reported the “human-rights horror” to the Iowa Department of Social Services only to be told that the company’s operation—a “for-profit business model with a paternalistic overlay of limited freedoms and routine discipline”—seemed legitimate."
A 'Wake-Up Call' To Protect Vulnerable Workers From Abuse
Heard on NPR All Things Considered
Read and Listen to the complete report by Yuki Noguchi
Decades Of Abuse, For $2 Per Day
The men had worked at a nearby processing plant, gutting turkeys under the watchful eye of a contractor called Hill County Farms. The contractor was paid to oversee the men's work and living arrangements. The supervisors hit, kicked, handcuffed and verbally abused the men, who were each paid $2 per day. This went on for three decades, affecting 32 men.
Seehase says medical exams later revealed the men suffered from diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, festering fungal infections and severe dental problems that had gone untreated.
It went on and on, she says, because the men knew nothing better and because no one reported the abuse.
"Their life experiences didn't tell them that there was really another option for them," Seehase says. "It's incredibly difficult to try to understand. And I have no explanation. And I don't know who can explain how this really happened."
Kenneth Henry, the owner of Hill County Farms, could not be reached and his attorney didn't respond to requests seeking comment. In testimony, Henry acknowledged paying the men $65 a month, but denied knowing about the neglect or abuse."