Excited to have contributed to this piece of important reporting- “How your local jail became hell” by Ryan L. Cooper of The Week. I am proud to be on the record that human dignity and constitutional protection do not come cheaply. Something I believe more strongly since talking to Ryan last summer is that bail reform and pre-trial services are essential components of the struggle to transform our nation’s jails, in large part because so much of the worst of the jail crisis can be avoided by not detaining people before trial at all.
If you’d like a reference for the statistic I provided about jail expansion in the postwar era, take a gander at Jails: Intergovernmental Dimensions of a Local Problem from 1984. This is one of my favorite sources for understanding the jail buildup that predated the War on Drugs.
If you’re coming to my site by way of Ryan’s piece, here’s a description of my dissertation research on the history of Cook County Jail and my takes on the jail construction conundrum, historicizing the Vera Institute jail report, and resources if you want to read more about jail history.
Anybody who has talked to me about my dissertation project in the last year has probably heard me talk about Hans W. Mattick. He was a criminologist who came of age with the “second Chicago school” of sociology’s emphasis on “applied criminology.” He was not one to hide out in his ivory tower; as such, he never finished his book on American jails (instead publishing it in an anthology) and didn’t publish many academic articles. As such, his work intersects with my project in that he worked as Assistant Warden at Cook County Jail early in his career and continued to study and advocate for jail reform for the rest of his life.
used for educational and scholarly purposes courtesy of the University of Chicago Photographic Archive.
His papers, housed at the Chicago History Museum, tell the story of a consummate scholar-activist. He was a neurotic chronicler who saved everything and meticulously annotated his papers, adding dates and commentary, always careful to point out when he was plagiarized (often by Cook County politicians and jail administrators) and when someone was lying (often Cook County politicians and administrators). Mattick’s writings have popped up in every collection I’ve looked at for the dissertation; he is perhaps the most dominant narrator in the first half of my project (from about 1954-1978).*
At any rate, I run into Mattick enough in my work that I feel an affinity to him. In Hyde Park, I’ve walked by the location of the slummy college apartment he lived in and the nicer apartment building where he took his own life. His handwriting has become familiar to me. I have gotten frustrated with him when I haven’t been able to find a document I know he would have kept (I eventually found it; thankfully his wife made sure a few straggler boxes made it into his collection after he died). Getting to know Hans Mattick has been one of the unexpected pleasures of my work.
At any rate, I was delighted to find that his appearance on “The Studs Terkel Program” has been digitized. Mattick was an advocate for Paul Crump, who was on death row at Cook County Jail (the presence of an electric chair at the jail made it quite exceptional). To be able to hear his voice (at last!) is one of the weird perks of being a twentieth century historian.
I like the way he says “rehabilitation.”
He pops up around 14:00.
*While I know it’s problematic that my window into the jail at that time is, in many ways, totally contingent upon what Mattick saved, it will always be more problematic that the Jail destroyed so many of its own records.
I have been slow to get around to the digital humanities- to be honest, traditional research methods have given me plenty to do as I charge forward on this dissertation. However, as I meet yesterday with a colleague who was seeing my project with new eyes, I realized that she, and I, needed a map we could use to show the past locations of the Cook County Jail, the Bridewell workhouse, and the House of Correction (the latter two were institutions operated by the City of Chicago). So I made a map, which you can access here. You can click the red tabs for dates and citations.
I sometimes try to describe the sensations of archival work to my junior and senior writing seminars at Temple. As I plan a lengthy summer research trip to Chicago thanks to the Platzman Fellowship at the University of Chicago, these sensations are on my mind again. Sometimes there’s the musty smell of old paper, the way tattered newspapers disintegrate if not handled gently, the sense of dread that comes with knowing I can’t get through all of the boxes. But the feeling I love best, and savor the most, is the feeling of opening a folder and being delighted by what sits on top.
That was the case with this article from a tiny magazine- my guess was that it was from a copy of Jet in the late fifties. It was in the first folder I opened of the Hans Mattick papers at the Chicago History Museum. This was the kind of document that made me smile as I took it in all at once. There was a radio station at Cook County Jail? The red type. Who was Tom Yen-lo Wong? He was so lost in the moment, totally consumed in what he was doing. Why was he in jail?
I haven’t found any other evidence that describes the radio station at Cook County Jail, or where it fit in the scope of other programs at the time. I haven’t been able to find any evidence that tells me more about the life of Tom Yen-lo Wong. But that sensation- of learning that somebody lived, that they made a difficult situation meaningful, that things in the jail were a little different than I thought they were- that is what I love about my work.