Iraq prison guard tells his story in new book

Published 12:08 am Sunday, October 1, 2023

SALISBURY — Veterans who serve overseas witness untold hardships that affect their daily lives when they get back to the states. Each have their own way of coping with what happened to them, in both healthy and destructive ways. Salisbury resident Gene Bennett has been on a new mission since he left the military in 2011 and he just completed the first steps towards completing it.

Bennett is the author of “We Did Not Deserve The Crapper: The Prison We Entered But Never Fully Left” that recounts his time as a Baghdad prison guard and tales from his childhood. Bennett served in the Marines as well as the Army Reserves during his time in Iraq. He didn’t expect to put his experiences down paper, but he was encouraged to by the people in his life to share his stories with others.

“The thing about the book, it was a complete accident. I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination. Although people say I am a writer, I hate writing. It’s just an alternative to cursing people out,” Bennett said.

Bennett grew up near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is the son of a Vietnam veteran. Being a veteran himself, Bennett describes the complexities of having that in common with his father and that it’s still an on-going process that hasn’t been resolved yet.

“The father-son veteran dynamic, I’m done trying to wrap my mind around it,” Bennett said.

Initially, Bennett had no desire or training to be a prison guard. He didn’t even know what it was when they told him he was being assigned to that detail.

“As a soldier, as soon as you hear the words, ‘The needs of the Army…’ you’re in deep trouble. I was volunteered for that. They just said, ‘You’re going to Baghdad and you’re going to do detainee ops,'” Bennett said.

The prison he worked at had all kinds of offenders behind bars. Even kids.

“The juveniles were as proficient at murdering each other as the adults. The youngest kid we ever had in there was eight years old,” Bennett said. “I learned a lot about the darker side of the human condition.”

After he left the prison, Bennett was not the same. For the rest of his deployment he said he felt “numb” to what was going on around him. He tried to stay in Iraq for a longer period of time so he could continue to feel nothing, having to deal with the pain was almost too much. Eventually, one of his commanding officers basically forced him to go back home.

After he left the military, Bennett felt like he could still contribute to the well-being of veterans like him. When the idea to write a book about his time in the military first came to him, he reached out to his friends he served with to confirm with them that it was OK for him to do it.

“You have to be 100 percent behind this. If you are 99 percent behind this, this story dies right here,” Bennett said.

They all gave him their full support. Bennett then wanted them to fill in missing pieces to what he wanted to write to make sure everything was as accurate as possible. It escalated from there to the point where people who didn’t want to tell their stories told him several.

“The confirmations turned into collaborations. I was planting seeds that I really wasn’t aware of, that I was planning and they just kept coming with more and more details,” Bennett said.

A failed venture brought him to Salisbury in 2016 and he has been here ever since working on the book.

“I was dumb enough to think I was almost done with the book. I was barely even halfway done…I finished the book here, I made friends here, the place has been pretty damn good to me,” Bennett said.

The book is now complete, has been self-published, and is available on Amazon. After finishing the book, Bennett quickly learned the hard reality of publishing, but he seems to have found the right people in his corner now.

“You basically have to network and market your brains out and get really lucky to get the right person at the right time. My publicist Ross is amazing because he got me an actual, proper, competent Amazon consultant,” Bennett said,

Bennett hopes to write another volume in the future, but have someone else publish it next time.

“Getting published through a traditional publisher, to me, will feel like the atonement that I need,” Bennett said.

He also wants to release a cookbook and what he calls a “brick oven smoker” to give veterans a type of therapy that isn’t being offered by other entities.

“I’m providing something tangible,” Bennett said. “The plan is for the cookbook to get the veteran from his man cave into the kitchen and the brick oven smoker gets them from the kitchen out of the house.”

It has been a long journey for Bennett since he first joined the military in 1994. He has faced horrors and has made enemies, but he is still focused on doing what he can do to help veterans. By writing what isn’t always known by many, he creates a narrative that other veterans and civilians can grasp and relate to.

“I say the quiet part out loud,” Bennett said.