If you’re coming here by way of The Marshall Project piece I wrote about psychologist and Cook County Jail administrator Winston Moore, welcome! If you’re interested in learning more about Cook County Jail history, you can read an outline of my dissertation, as well as these posts which will tell you a bit about:
You might also be interested in the questions I have about a jail reform discourse that centers on the mentally ill.
When I first set out to write a history of American jails in the postwar era, I had no idea where to start. I started out looking at multiple cities and counties, trying to find a few that might make a good case study. It became clear to me that there are a lot of different kinds of jails. County jails, city jails, regional jails, state jails; single-site jails and multi-site jails; jails run by correctional professionals and jails run by regular folks. I felt a little like Goldilocks in search of a feasible dissertation project that was just right (i.e.: finishable and not too expensive to research).
I stumbled onto the story of Winston Moore as I combed through thousands of Chicago Tribune articles. That people in his time called him “the first negro jail warden” caught my eye– but then, over the ensuing ten years worth of newspapers, the story of a tough-talking, larger than life figure emerged. He didn’t sound like anybody I’ve ever read about– and made me wonder– why have I never heard about him? I decided I would do whatever I could to answer that question, and as a result, I built my dissertation around Moore’s exciting and tumultuous years at Cook County Jail. The Marshall Project piece represents three years of work and about 100 pages of my dissertation.
Moore was not an easy man to find in the archive. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department told me they don’t keep any records over ten years old. Moore wrote the occasional comment in magazines like Ebony and Jet, but didn’t publish much else. He seems to have left behind no papers. So, I had to search for him in Chicago’s archives. I found him in legal documents and official reports housed in the ACLU-Illinois records at the University of Chicago. I found him in the papers of his harshest critics– including the John Howard Association records and the Hans Mattick papers at the Chicago History Museum (fortunately, Mattick was something of a hoarder). I found him in the papers of activists who worked with him, through the League of Women Voters-Cook County papers at the University of Illinois Chicago and the Alliance to End Repression papers at the CHM. And of course, I found Moore back in the newspapers where I started. Chicago’s press was fascinated by his honesty and his contradictions and the roller-coaster drama of his administration.
Like all jail administrators, Moore was limited by his context– the War on Crime and the Urban Crisis made running a jail extremely difficult. He was limited by his own managerial capacities, his struggle to play politics, his staff, his budget. But most of all, Moore said the jail itself was his greatest limitation.
“The hardest thing to do though, has been to outlive this institution’s damn awful past. What we need most of all is a new history.”
As Nneka Jones Tapia takes the helm, I hope she’ll remember her institution’s damn awful past and I wish her the best as she makes a new history.
My piece is referenced in this Pacific Standard piece about psychologists running correctional institutions.
 Rick Soll, “Winston Moore: Tough not enough,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1973, 50.