finding winston moore: the original psychologist jail warden.

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.”[1]

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.

[1] Rick Soll, “Winston Moore: Tough not enough,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1973, 50.

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hearing a voice for the first time.

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.”

https://archive.org/embed/popuparchive-1856627

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.

so you’d like to add jails to your prison history syllabus.

When I started working on the history of American jails, I read a lot of crappy corrections textbooks that gave me a perception of American jail history that was at worst distorted, and at best flattened. It’s taken me some time to wade through the dregs to get to the good stuff. As such, I haven’t really dealt with jails as I’ve taught courses focused on prison history. I think this is problematic as pre-trial detention and short jail sentences are perhaps the most commonplace experiences of incarceration in this country today.

While jail historiography is still rather emergent (I’m doing my part), here are some rich pieces that might help you to incorporate the history of local incarceration and pre-trial detention into your syllabus (or your scholarship!). I did not include books already listed on my prison history reading list. This is by no means a comprehensive or definitive collection of jail scholarship, but rather, it’s a selection of pieces that might provide opportunities for historicizing jails. If access is an issue, I am happy to make any PDFs that I have available to you upon request. If I missed anything that you like, let me know and I’ll add it.

A word of caution- if you use sources on Walnut St. Jail during the early republic, be advised that it continued to be called a jail while it was operating as what we would call a state prison. I don’t think this distinction is stressed enough in the literature that deals with the rise of the Pennsylvania system. This transition is explored briefly in Negley K. Teeters,”Caleb Lownes of Philadelphia : 1754-1828: Administrator of the First Penitentiary in the World- The Walnut Street Jail,” The Prison Journal 43, no. 2 (October 1963), 34-45; the texts cited in footnote 14 are also instructive.

Frontier jails receive brief treatment in Rothman’s classic Discovery of the Asylum. There are a number of articles on 19th century jails that tend toward straight forward descriptions of conditions. One example of this is Philip D. Jordan “The Close and Stinking Jail,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 60, No. 1 (January 1969), 1-9.

Timothy J. Gilfoyle, “‘America’s Greatest Criminal Barracks’: The Tombs and the Experience of Criminal Justice in New York City, 1838-1897,” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 5 (July 2003), 525-54.

This should be a go-to nineteenth-century piece for historians because it is actually written by a professional, contemporary historian. You probably already know it. It really gets at how nasty nineteenth-century urban jails were. If you’re assigning anything on nineteenth-century Northern prisons, this article creates sharp contrast.

There was a pretty significant discourse about jails in the early twentieth century. Many interesting pieces are in the public domain and are digitally available. A few of these include:

American Prison Association semi-centennial, 1870-1920. County jails ‘in the light of the declaration of principles of 1870 (New York: American Prison Association, 1920).

This anthology was produced by the APA for their 50th anniversary because they realized that they includes some great short pieces such as “The Abolition of the County Jail,” by Frederick Howard Wines that captures the spirit of the jail abolition movement (as does this piece by his contemporary, Edith Abbott) and an overview of the state of jails by John L. Whitman, a former warden of Cook County Jail.

Kelly Lytle Hernández, “Hobos in Heaven: Race, Incarceration, and the Rise of Los Angeles, 1880–1910,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 3, 410–447.

I have a soft spot for hobos in history (Hans Mattick, below, was a teenage hobo) and this article does not disappoint. Hernández connects the “white scourge” of hobos to LA’s first jail crisis.

Chicago Community Trust, Reports Comprising the Survey of the Cook County Jail (Chicago: Calumet Publishing Co., 1922).

This study was commissioned to show the jail as it was and inform the planning of the new Cook County Jail. It includes a good discussion of social scientists they understood criminality in regard to jails. It includes a lot of advice that the builders of the jail ignored (this jail still in use today as Division 1).

Joseph F. Fishman with Vee Perlman, Crucibles of Crime: The Shocking Story of the American Jail (New York: Cosmopolis Press, 1923).

Fishman was a federal jail inspector who travelled the country to see the conditions that federal prisoners were detained in at county jails. This book is easy to read, sensational in tone, and captures the “schools for crime” discourse about jails prominent in the 1920s.

Myrl Anderson, Jail Administration (Springfield, IL: 1957).

A mid-century jail manual from a federal prisons administrator. If you like that kind of thing.

If you know of a great interwar or postwar / mid-century jail text, let me know- I am working on my contribution but I would love to hear about more research on that front. You may find especially great primary sources on the career of Anna Kross, the woman who ran Rikers during the 1950s and 1960s.

Hans W. Mattick, “The Contemporary Jails of the United States: An Unknown and Neglected Area of Justice,” in Handbook of Criminology, ed. Daniel Glaser (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1974), 777-848.

If I could only assign one piece on jails, this would be it. Mattick was a historically-minded scholar-activist who was regarded as “the architect of jail reform in Illinois,” a turn he took after working as assistant warden at Cook County Jail (full disclosure: Mattick is the focus of one of my dissertation chapters). In light of his legacy, this is a culminating expression of Mattick’s expertise. Mattick addressed the differences between prisons and jails, the history of American jails, the state of American jails in the 1970s (“if cleanliness is next to godliness, most jails lie securely in the province of hell” p.802), and the limits of jail reform in light of history. I would choose this over other works from the 1970s and the jail chapter in The Oxford History of the Prison

John Irwin, The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

This book remains the seminal criminal justice text on jails that depicts the San Francisco jail in the 1980s. The University of California has a new edition out with a great forward by Jonathan Simon. Irwin’s perspective was informed by his own experience with incarceration, which makes him an interesting historical actor in his own right.

John P. Walsh, The Culture of Urban Control: Jail Overcrowding in the Crime Control Era (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013).

This book is prohibitively expensive, but I think a selected chapter could provide students with helpful scholarly framing that would compliment contemporary news articles on jail issues at Rikers Island and Cook County Jail.

Loïc Wacquant, “Class, race & hyperincarceration in revanchist America,” Daedalus 139, no. 3 (Summer 2010), 74-90.

Wacquant situates contemporary jails within the wider criminal justice system and neoliberalism; I think this article is fine distillation of ideas he delves into in Prisons of Poverty. This article provides some interesting concepts for students to unpack.

UPDATE: 11/18/2016: “How Not to Build a Jail,” an article on the DC Jail from Reason would be interesting paired with news articles from the 1970s or selections from Goldfarb’s book. Also looking forward to City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 by Kelly Lytle Hernández, coming out in April 2017 from the Justice, Power, and Politics series at UNC Press.

questions about a jail reform discourse that centers on the mentally ill.

Image

screenshot from http://www.cookcountysheriff.com/

As has been noted elsewhere, we are in the midst of a prison reform moment. This is great! This is what we’ve been fighting for.* Still, I’ve been a bit troubled by the way the conversation on jails is starting to focus on the mentally ill. Don’t get me wrong. County and city jails were not designed to hold mentally ill people. They do not have adequate staffs to support mentally ill populations. The incarceration of people who are mentally ill and can only get access to resources through jails is abhorrent. I agree with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart that “Jails and prisons are the new insane asylums.” I agree with The New York Times that “The mayhem inside city jails is especially striking given the historic declines in rates of homicide and other violent crimes outside of them.” Are America’s mentally ill suffering in jails? Yes. Of course. This is not a question for me. I am glad to see that the media is finally paying attention to an issue that scholars and corrections officials have long known about (this article is a good starting point).

But, still, I find this emergent discourse on jail reform problematic and unsettling for a number of reasons. I have lots of questions and few answers.

1. What are we asking for when we talk about jail reform and the mentally ill?

If we take the mentally ill out of jails and put them somewhere else, do we really believe that will we have less violent jails, or smaller jails? If we provide adequate treatment for the mentally ill in jails to replace mental institutions, are we creating a new and disturbing role for local jails? Are we arguing for a reinstatement of institutionalization? If we accept that deinstitutionalization was problematic, how do we create new institutions and new perimeters for institutionalization that don’t repeat the damage done to the mentally ill in the past? Are we willing to fund these institutions? Are we willing to advance the notion present in the media that all mentally ill people are violent, or potentially violent? Do we want to pay higher taxes so that our counties or states can be custodians of these populations, or so that the federal government can expand Medicaid and other services? Do we expect jail reform for the mentally ill to be a panacea? Are the mentally ill pawns in a larger conversation about the inadequacy of government to respond to social problems?

2. How do we talk about jail reform with regard to those who aren’t mentally ill?

When we talk about jail reform for the mentally ill, are we erasing the vast majority of people in jails who aren’t mentally ill? Are we perpetuating the belief that people who aren’t mentally ill deserve to be in jails, particularly as they await trial? When we focus on the mentally ill, do we overlook the fact that jails weren’t designed to house anyone for a long time? Does this focus lead us away from simple, common-sense solutions that can dramatically reduce the jail population, such as bail reform for people awaiting trial?

3. When we focus on the mentally ill, how are we talking about jail staff?

When we talk about  jail guards involved in brutality- either as victims or perpetrators- are we comfortable with the fact that corrections officers are among the lowest paid public employees? Are we willing to acknowledge that jail staff have a right to protect themselves in an incredibly dangerous work environment? Are we going to provide better support- psychological, medical, and social- for jail staff who bear the burden of negotiating the jail crisis on a daily basis? Are we investing in the notion that better training for jail staff can prevent violence, rather than a dramatic reorganization of the criminal justice system? Do we think that adding more psychological services in jails- and in turn, paying to attract qualified staff- would solve the problem? What happens when we think about jail reform as a labor issue?

Again, I don’t think jails should house the mentally ill. But I think if we are going to let the conversation about the mentally ill drive conversations about jail reform, we- activists, citizens, scholars, public officials- need to be clear about what we are asking for and the potential unintended consequences. In a neoliberal political culture that favors disinvestment from public institutions, what are the real possibilities for dealing with this issue? I have yet to see compelling, realistic solutions factor into these conversations.

Sustaining the jail crisis is expensive. Jail reform is expensive. What price are we willing to pay?

*even if the prison vogue reminds me a bit of Lee Bernstein’s analysis of the 70s reform moment in his fantastic book America is the Prison… another post for another day.

a brief history of class action lawsuits at cook county jail.

Big news lately- the Uptown People’s Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center are bringing suit in federal court with allegations of brutality in Cook County Jail. Brutality is an understatement- you can read the complaint, Hudson v. Preckwinckle, here. (here is a link to the Chicago Tribune‘s coverage)

A sampling of the complaint:

“A culture of brutality and lawlessness infects the jail and forces these men, all of whom are awaiting trial, to live under a constant risk of life threatening violence.

Officers slam people to the floor, stomp, kick and punch them—often while the individuals are handcuffed and shackled. After beating shackled men until they lose consciousness, officers will drag them by their chains, banging their heads on steel doors or allowing their heads to slam into the concrete floor. Officers often violently attack people living with mental illness—generally for behaviors that are manifestations of mental illness or in response to an individual’s request for a mental health evaluation. People who appear to be in active psychosis are frequently brutalized by mobs of officers for alleged “non-compliance.”
Officers also order the men to attack, beat and stomp each other—instigating violence between the very individuals that they are supposed to protect.”

Cook County Jail is certainly not the only American jail in crisis- I have previously noted that county governments, sheriffs, and jail administrators across the United States are playing the blame game when it comes to abhorrent conditions and overcrowding. Just this week, the mismanagement of LA County Jails has been contextualized in an important piece of reporting by Los Angeles magazine. The allegations at Cook County Jail are by no means unique in our moment of national jail crisis. But it’s important to remember that this particular institution has a especially complicated and long-lasting relationship with the federal courts system. My forthcoming dissertation deals with these suits in greater detail, but I thought it would be useful to briefly highlight two previous federal court cases at the jail. If you have questions or would like to know more about my research, please contact me at melanie [dot] newport [at] temple [dot] edu.

The first class action suit brought over conditions* at Cook County Jail came in 1968 as the case Inmates v. Tierney. Originally brought as a class action suit by a group of federal prisoners being detained at the jail, the group of inmates was expanded to include local inmates who shared an interest in improving the jail’s conditions. This suit was largely driven by eight deaths at the jail in 1967, which culminated in a series of damning reports by the John Howard Association and a Cook County Grand Jury that alleged racial segregation, violence, negligent and non-existent medical care. This was one of the first inmate class action suits brought on behalf of jail inmates, whose interests had previously been ignored because of the brief nature of most jail incarcerations and a wanting judicial interest in jail conditions that lagged behind behind prisons. Interestingly, this case was dropped because the jail claimed to have implemented so many of the grand jury’s suggested reforms- not least of all, firing the warden- that the Inmates lost a lot of ground in the case. Dropping the case meant that there was no enforcement mechanism for further reforms. During the 1970s, state inspections of the jail became more common, as did class action suits. Inmates v. Tierney, along with the scandals that drove the case, manifested a public expectation of outside oversight over jail conditions.

Another major case was Duran v. Elrod, resolved as Duran v. Sheehan in 1982. Interestingly, after adding 1,000 beds during the 1970s, the Sheriff had proclaimed “mission accomplished” at the jail. The early 80s brought a guard strike and a suit over continued overcrowding at the jail as it tried to keep pace with the rapid expansion of policing under the War on Drugs and punitive changes to sentences and bail. The outcome of Duran v. Sheehan was a consent decree that provided oversight over the jail’s population by the John Howard Association. To meet the demands of the decree, the county experimented with ROR bonds, which allowed individuals to be released while awaiting trial without bail. When the public rejected this solution because of a “tough on crime” mentality, the county expanded on a mind-blowing construction project that added 7,000 beds to the jail during the 1980s and early 1990s. Duran v. Sheehan encouraged a culture of accountability at the jail, although with a limited focus on population.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the utility of class action suits. As the usprisonculture blog noted recently,

the prison IS violence. Until, we are honest about this fact, nothing can end the routine violation of the humanity and dignity of prisoners. We cannot “reform” prison brutality because once again the prison IS violence in and of itself. We must end prisons to end the violence. It’s the only way.

There are so many ways that class action suits fall short- Inmates v. Tierney was dropped and no one was held accountable; Duran v. Sheehan helped to make the jail as one of the largest correctional institutions in the world. Reform is a limited paradigm. A letter I found in my research further emphasizes this point, and even anticipated the outcome of Duran. In 1974, Alvin Bronstein, director of the ACLU’s Prisons and Jails project wrote,

“I am not very hot for cases that aim to imrpove conditions for pre-trial detainees. They do not address the issue of why pre-trial detainees are in jail in the first place, and too often the result is the building of a bigger and better jail. Nothing changes.”**

I relate to this sense of hopelessness. Change at the jail is slow, and many of the outcomes the inmate class sought to see remedied in 1968 remain to be seen. And yet, criminal suits and FBI investigations at jails are rare. Cook County politicians engaged in the blame game are dallying in shifting the onus for reform from the sheriff to the County Board President in unprecedented ways. After 45 years, class action suits remain the most promising mechanism incarcerated people can use to press reform. We need the federal courts because Cook County has continuously failed to show up for its citizens.

*as far as I’m aware at this stage in my research.

**Alvin J. Bronstein, “Letter to William J. McNally,” June 18, 1974, ACLU Illinois Division Papers, Box 648, Folder 2, University of Chicago Special Collections,  Chicago, IL.

it’s a crime not to get involved.

Here’s a great vintage commercial for the PACE Institute at Cook County Jail. Its central mission was providing elementary and secondary education- it was accredited through the local school district. This commercial emphasizes the job training, which as I understand it, was a fairly temporary element of their programming. The 1970s were a time when the jail dramatically increased its public profile through programming, perhaps most famously through concerts that brought B.B. King and other stars to perform there. It’s interesting to me that this commercial ran in a moment of deindustrialization- the sub-text here is that in spite of that shift, access to industrial jobs could keep people out of jail. In a neoliberal world where jails and prisons house many excess workers who can’t find a place in the legitimate economy, it’s hard to imagine a commercial like this on television today.

Transcript:

“It’s called a mug shot. Next to being the victim of a crime, it’s the most degrading experience there is. Did you know that a lot of the guys in Cook County Jail have been there ten times, and a lot more would have been through it again if it hadn’t have been for PACE. What’s PACE? It’s an educational organization working inside the walls of Cook County Jail. Teaching inmates how to do something more useful than jimmying locks or picking pockets. They help the men develop skills and trades that will help them find jobs on the outside. The fact is that only twenty-three percent of PACE graduates have returned for another mug shot. Compare that to seventy-five percent overall. And that means PACE is doing something for the victims of crime too. Write PACE, Cook County Jail. The way I see it, when you’ve got something like PACE that works, it’s a crime not to get involved.” (1978 PSA, via fuzzymemories.tv)

Here’s a screenshot from a 1981 report that shows the scope of PACE’s programs.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 6.08.58 PM

who’s to blame for jail problems?

Not long ago, a great story “Do we have the right people locked up?” from the Chicago Reader came across my Twitter feed. As a historian writing the recent history of Cook County Jail, I was disappointed to see that Cook County politicians are still hashing through the same questions they were dealing with forty years ago. The piece is worth reading on its own merits, but I particularly loved the graphic that illustrated the piece, part of which I screenshotted: Image

I took for granted that this genre of blame story was a Cook County thing. However, when my brother texted me this story from my hometown newspaper, the Tacoma News Tribune, “Tacoma’s shift away from jail brings hard time to Pierce County,” it occurred to me that the “who’s to blame” story is a common trope of jail reporting and editorials nationwide. Indeed, Googling “who is to blame for jail problems?” brought up a host of stories from the last month or two, from less populated areas in Alabama, Arkansas, and East Tennessee, to metropolitan areas such as Akron, Portland, ME, Spokane, WA, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, to name a few.

Some of the actors and factors to blame:

-prescription drug arrests

-unstable funding from states

– low staffing levels

-systemic problems surrounding parole boards

-former sheriffs

-county boards

-judges

-current sheriffs

-rival jails siphoning off inmates

-the recession

-debt payments on jails

These are not new problems, and all of them, I think, point to the problem that county jails sit at the nexus of multi-jurisdictional crime control efforts that involve too many stakeholders and too little accountability. For much of the twentieth century, counties tolerated jail problems as the status quo. It the 1960s, counties began to turn to states and the federal government for guidance and funding, or were forced to make changes by state jail inspectors and judicial intervention. The outcome of these shifts was that counties had to expand jail facilities beyond their governing capacities in order to keep jails in scale with the rest of the expanding criminal justice system. Few counties in the country can actually afford to operate their jails to meet current demands of policing; few counties have the expertise to manage large jail populations or to make sound long-term jail policy. The lessons of the past thirty years are clear: too many counties have used construction as a substitute for reforms to bail and bonds, policing, mental health, drug rehabilitation, education, job programs, and community corrections. Small time politicos can point fingers all they want, but change won’t come until counties shift their focus away from who’s to blame for problems in jail to meaningful and far-reaching reform and expansion of the services counties provide to citizens.

another source for online jail reviews.

another source for online jail reviews.

I hadn’t thought to look up jails on Google Maps until I found myself looking at the street view for Men’s Central Jail in LA. It’s no Yelp, but it’s still jarring to come across jail reviews when I don’t expect them. I still can’t describe why I find jail reviews difficult to understand- I suppose it’s because I think of online reviews as evidence of consumption. I also like to think that if I post an online review somebody associated with a place will read it. For some reason, I don’t tend to think of jails as sites of consumption or places that really mind if you think the food sucks. Perhaps the Consumer’s Republic extends to the most undemocratic spaces? Or is it that the democracy of the internet public allows anyone to write a review- as long as you are out of jail and have internet access?

Worth noting that not all of the dots are jails. Some are juvenile detention centers, others are sheriffs departments, some are historic sites. One of the dots in Wyoming is a dump.

“we can and must make it something else.”

I am occasionally surprised to encounter beautiful writing in my work. This quote comes from a 1945 essay in Prison World entitled “Jails: Yesterday and Today” by Leon T. Stern, then Secretary of Pennsylvania Committee on Penal Affairs of The Public Charities Association. An elegant reminder of Pennsylvania’s strong tradition of abolitionism and some of the same questions that face us today.

“The jail is the proto-prison from which all our local penal institutions have grown. We have called it jail, house of correction, workhouse, county prison, city prison, county penitentiary. It is always being attacked, always being abolished and demolished for its sins against the human spirit. Reformed it rises from its own rubble, flourishes briefly as a newly discovered institution, and soon is a jail again. It seems to grow of itself alone. The jail is made not of steel and stone but of our hates, our fears, our defenses and is destroyed and remade by our compassions when its iniquities become too great. When we have attained true justice the day envisioned by Charles Dickens may come, and the doors of the jails will be barred as firmly from the outside as we now bar them from the inside. Jail gates still close avidly on all we can herd and crowd through them.”

 

“The jail has not  been  abolished.  When we recall that ten times as many men enter the local prisons as find their way into state prisons and reformatories, the difficulties of abolition of the county jails become apparent. We can depopulate it, we can decrease the use of it; but we are not as yet prepared to have it disappear completely. There may be “something that does not love a wall.” But as long as we are not prepared to substitute completely other methods of treatment for reformation through imprisonment (discovered so victoriously by the great torchbearers of the past), it cannot fully ’abolish’ the jail. We can and must make it something else.”

speaking engagement: MLK at ESP.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Eastern State Penitentiary is my favorite tourist destination in Philadelphia. I got a membership because I take all of my out-of-town visitors there. Last semester, I took my students to ESP on a field trip. The header photo for my website is a picture I took at ESP. I have admired their recent efforts to highlight contemporary prison issues in their presentation of the past through the Searchlight series. I am elated and honored to be a part of their celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King on Monday, January 21st. Join me and actor Len Webb for a reading and discussion of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

WHYY’s coverage of the MLK events at ESP: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/arts-and-culture-everything/item/49680-to-honor-mlk-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail-will-resound-from-eastern-state-penitentiary

From the ESP website:

We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and the 50th anniversary of his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, with special readings offered several times throughout the weekend.

Why did the civil rights leaders of the 1960s choose jail time to demonstrate their plight? How did Dr. King’s letter—written in the margins of a newspaper and smuggled out of Birmingham Jail—create a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement?

Readings of the Letter:
Professional actors read Dr. King’s letter, followed by an informal Q&A on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 11:30 and 2:30[and 3:45] each day. Free to the public. Tickets available online or at the door, subject to availability.