[Photo by Haley Schrenk]
By Amber Levias
Bona’s alum Dan Barry, spoke at the Sandra A. and William L. Richter Center last Monday evening about his book Boys in the Bunkhouse, the story of 32 men with intellectual disabilities who endured harsh physical treatment and low pay working in a turkey processing plant for more than 30 years.
Barry, a current writer for The New York Times, found his inspiration for the story during a visit to Iowa when he happened upon a small news article detailing exploited lives of 32 men working in a nearby turkey plant in Atalissa, Iowa.
“I wanted write about the men, not around the men,” said Barry. “I want people to have to have an epithet that people with intellectual disabilities belong. This wasn’t Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. This happened a few years ago.”
Barry added that writing the book changed him, as he is now acutely aware of the challenges people have with disabilities.
With this book, Barry said he wanted others to understand where our food is coming from, to convey that the men were the stories and wanted the audience to feel the vulnerability that these 32 men held on for three decades.
“I thought he was very engaging,” said Christina Sutphen, associate director of admissions at the university. “He became very candid about this topic and became very passionate about it.”
Students had their own responses to the speech as well.
“I thought it was very informative,” said Janayzia Johnson, a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communication. “Dan Barry spoke with a sense of humor that eased the crowd, but with a serious enough tone that conveyed the gravity of his book.”
Joseph Sánchez-Castro, a freshman who journalism and mass communication major said, “He explained how he wanted to convey, not only issues pertinent to mentally disabled people who are exploited, but the larger picture of society, which is that there are multitudes of people who are incessantly being taken advantage of. It made me feel empathy for these men. It goes to show that we must be grateful for all that God has blessed us with.”
Barry compared many of the experiences in Boys in the Bunkhouse to biblical references, along with many of the people in the book, like the social workers who helped the intellectually disabled back on their feet and lawyer Rob Canino who helped defended them.
“It’s very humbling opportunity to tell a story,” says Barry. “I’m a human being. I’m nothing more than that, and I want to know your story. These men are in their rightful place among us. There’s that question: are we our brother’s keeper, are we our sister’s keeper?”