The Boys in the Bunkhouse, by Dan Barry

September 8, 2016

This harrowing story chronicles the decades-long indentured servitude of a group of intellectually disabled men that persisted until 2013. Journalist Dan Barry explains how the residents of a small town in Iowa interacted with the men who lived in their old schoolhouse, offering a mix of paternalism and kindness while failing to see the conditions under which the men were being kept. The story’s characters—the local Luth­eran church and its pastor, employees of the turkey company that exploited the men, and most significantly, the intellectually disabled men themselves—interact vividly. The narrative’s underlying question is unsettlingly familiar: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”