|The truth about those spankings|
The World alleged that prisoners were being maltreated. One of the methods used by Zebulon Brockway, the superintendent of the reformatory, was the paddling of prisoners as one of the means of punishing them for infractions while imprisoned, although according to testimonies, it really was more than just a paddling.
In a August 22, 1893 World arcticle, one Michael Coyne (Inmate 4,024) claimed that during the beating, Superintendent Brockway caused him to go blind in one eye:
”I was paddled the first time at Elmira because I could not do my task, which was to sew twenty-nine umbrellas a day. While I was being paddled I looked around, and Brockway hit me twice in each eye. As a result I have lost the sight of my right eye, and that of the left is greatly impaired. I was punished daily for three weeks, until the doctor was called in. He said that it was impossible for me to do the work assigned to me. Such beatings did I received that I fainted many times, and then was picked up like a log and thrown into a large bathtub of water. In addition to the loss of my eyesight I suffered from a very severe kidney trouble as a result of the paddlings on my back, and since my release I have never known a well day.Other reports in the World alleged that prisons were strung up by the wrists so that their feet did not touch the floor before begin beaten, and that heated iron implants were used on prisoners. The Sun was having none of it. After all, think of the quality of the persons complaining about Brockway’s actions: criminals. The Sun quoted Mr. Brockway’s lawyer.
”I went to Elmira a tong, healthy boy, seventeen years old, and came back a total wreck, and now have to deed on other for my support. I have often wished they had ended my life instead of blinding me and sending me out to the world a wreck, as I am. When Brockway hit me in the eyes he said: ‘Now, you young devil, you can go to bed.’ It was thirty-six days before I could see anything, and since that time I have not been able to read.”
The utter break down of the World’s case shows that its attack has been one of the most wanton libels in the history of journalism. It had no justification in fact, and no other motive than sensationalism. Even assuming that Mr. Brockway had been guilty of maladministration, he wrong would be as nothing compared with the wickedness, the falsity, the malignity of the charges which have been made, and which threaten the very life, and have already seriously involved the good repute of an institution which it has taken years to build up, and whose fame, because of the excellence of its results, is world wide.William M. Ivins, Mr. Brockway’s lawyer, explained to the Sun who the prisoners were:
No one can be committed to the institution who has not committed a felony, no felon over 30 years of age can be committed, nor can any person whose actual prison record shows him to be a habitual criminal. The average age of the inmates is about 23 years. They have all been committed for felonies, and had that not been sent here would have been sent to Sing Sing, Auburn, or Clinton.The lawyer goes on for quite a bit, getting in a slam at the publisher of the World, Joseph Pulitzer. Why does Pulitzer care about these prisoners? Fellow feeling, according to Mr. Ivins.
Assault, highway robbery, abortion, arson, burglary, forgery, grand larceny, sodomy, rape, blackmail, false personation, and other like crimes of the greatest menace to society, the penalty for which is imprisonment from 2½ to 20 years, are those for which offenders are committed to the Reformatory,
To speak of these men as if they were children, of the same class as those who are committed to the protections and houses of refuge is a willful and mischievous falsification of the facts.
They are criminals in the fullest sense of the word, some accidental, some natural and incorrigible, and they constitute that part of the criminal classes whose management and control are the most difficult and present the most serious problems that are encounter in the entire field of penology.
A large proportion of them is habitually rebellious against all order and discipline…Mr. Ivins’s chief complaint about the World’s case was that “the World has not produced a single witness whose testimony is admissible, who is not a convicted felon.“ Funny how that happens in cases where prisoners are claiming brutality at the hands of the guards. Who did Ivins think would be testifying? Mr. Ivins let the readers of the Sun know just who was testifying:
The association of these people and Mr. Pulitzer is natural rather than fortuitous, as Mr. Pulitzer’s personal history shows.
Men who have committed sodomy and other unspeakable villainies, the penalty for which is twenty years in State’s prison, have been represented as cruelly treated, when transferred to Auburn or Clinton, when subjected to five days’ cellular confinement, or when roundly spanked on the buttocks with a light leather strap. The law says that the deprivation of personal liberty for twenty years is not too heavy a penalty for such iniquitous crimes, and yet kind-hearted women and men with flabby and disjointed sympathies who know nothing of the facts, and cannot realize the enormity of the offenses, have ben asked to believe that a few days of cellular confinement was an outrage and a brutality.Ivins also (most of the article was clearly written by Ivins) does note that young men arrested for sodomy and one other “crime” did tend to get punished more often:
Now and again there have been rare cases of a peculiarly difficult character, where the prisoners have been spanked more frequently, as in the case of confirmed sodomites, confirmed masturbators, persons attempting to break jail, or persons guilty of concealing weapons or committing assaults, larceny or drunkenness.In the Lawrence case, Justice Scalia noted that if the state couldn’t criminalize homosexual sex, they wouldn’t be able to criminalize masturbation either. Lots of people did a double-take on that one, but it seems that in 1890s New York, jacking off was a crime.
Ivins concludes the article by pooh-poohing the medical claims of the various inmates, claiming that they were faking their injuries, or claiming injuries happened at Elmira Reformatory when they happened elsewhere. Calling the Sun a “social parasite,“ Ivins said it should be held in contempt by the public.
Of course, the practices used at the Elmira Reformatory in the 1890s would now accurately be called cruel. And, of course, the law sentencing men to twenty years’ imprisonment for sodomy in New York is long gone. But masturbation?hr /> You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook.
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