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Sing Sing as seen from Hook Mountain, across the Hudson River

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison [1] in the Village of Ossining, Town of Ossining, New York, United States. It is located approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City on the banks of the Hudson River. Ossining's original name, "Sing Sing", was named after the Native American Sinck Sinck tribe from whom the land was purchased in 1685.[2]

Sing Sing houses approximately 1,700 prisoners.[3] There are plans to convert the original 1825 cell block into a museum.[4]

Contents

History

State Prison at Sing Sing, New York, an 1855 engraving

In March 1796, legislation was passed requiring the building of two state prisons in New York, one in Albany and the other somewhere in southern New York. In addition to the plan for the construction of the two prisons, there was to be appointed a "Board of inspectors," whose job was to "statedly visit the prisons, purchase clothing, bedding, raw materials for manufacturing purposes and to keep an account of the earnings and expenses of each prison"; the law also provided that the state governor and Council were to appoint a "Keeper, who was to be of some mechanical profession." No prison was built in Albany, but one was constructed in Auburn, beginning in April 1815 and opening a year later.

In 1825, the New York Legislature gave Elam Lynds the task of constructing a new, more modern prison. Lynds was the warden of Auburn Prison and a former Army captain. He spent months researching possible locations for the prison, considering Staten Island, The Bronx, and Silver Mine Farm, an area in the town of Mount Pleasant, located on the banks of the Hudson River.

Warden T. M. Osborne

He also visited New Hampshire, where a prison was successfully constructed by inmate labor, using stone that was available on site. For this reason, by May, Lynds had finally decided on Mount Pleasant, located near a small village in Westchester County with the unlikely name of Sing Sing. This appellation was derived from the Indian words, "Sinck Sinck" which translates to "stone upon stone".[5] The legislature appropriated $20,100 to purchase the 130-acre (0.53 km2) site, and the project received the official stamp of approval.[5] Lynds hand-selected 100 inmates from his own private stock for transfer and had them transported by barge along the Erie Canal to freighters down the Hudson River. On their arrival on May 14, the site was "without a place to receive them or a wall to enclose them"; "temporary barracks, a cook house, carpenter and blacksmith’s shops" were rushed to completion.[6][7]

When it was completed in 1826[8], Sing Sing was considered a model prison, because it turned a profit for the state. Lynds employed the Auburn system, which imposed absolute silence on the prisoners; the system was enforced by whipping and other brutal punishments. After Lynds left in the wake of a scandal involving the pregnancy of a female prisoner, conditions at the prison began to deteriorate. Fires and disease became common, and in 1861, the governor called in the Army to quell a riot.

A cell in the older facility

Thomas Mott Osborne's tenure as warden of Sing Sing prison was brief but dramatic. Osborne arrived in 1914 with a reputation as a radical prison reformer. His report of a week-long incognito stay inside New York's Auburn Prison indicted traditional prison administration in merciless detail.[9] He seized the opportunity to implement a complete set of reforms at Sing Sing, centered on what he called a "Mutual Welfare Society," a board elected by the inmates to maintain order and punish infractions of the rules. Initially mocked by the press, he won many converts, including the support of the guards.

Prisoners who had bribed guards and intimidated other inmates lost their privileges under Osborne's regime. One of them conspired with powerful political allies to destroy Osborne's reputation, even succeeding in getting him indicted for a variety of crimes and maladministration. After Osborne triumphed in court, his return to Sing Sing was a cause for wild celebration by the inmates.[10][11]

Another notable warden was Lewis Lawes. He was offered the position of warden in 1919, accepted in January 1920, and remained for 20 years as Sing Sing's warden — a position which had been filled by nine separate people in the nine years prior to 1920, one of those for only three weeks. What he found was a facility that had lost any semblance of order through decades of neglect and abuse. Records documented 795 male and 102 female prisoners at Sing Sing; a head count turned up only 762 and 82 actually present. "How these missing prisoners had left the prison or when, could not be ascertained," he said. Worse still, for one prisoner who had been incarcerated for five years, there was no record of admission or retention history. He was declared a "volunteer," and released on the spot. Also, more than $30,000 in cash was missing from prison bank accounts, and there was no trace as to where the money went. Lewis Lawes made many positive changes and put inmates in positions within the prison he knew he could trust.

For example, when Lawes came across Jimmy DeStefano on the prison roster, he recognized the name from when the inmate was a young orphaned boy running the streets of Little Italy with Al Capone and the Five Points Gang. Knowing he could be trusted and depended upon to do one of the most stressful assignments in Sing Sing Prison, he assigned him as the barber in the Death House. He remained in that position longer than any other inmate barber ever had. During the five years he was barber, he gave 46 men and one woman their final haircuts. The woman, Ruth Snyder, was executed for murdering her husband in order to gain insurance money. A New York Daily News photographer hid a camera on his ankle, and the moment the first jolt of electricity passed through Ruth Snyder's body, he snapped the most famous and only picture ever taken during an execution. This photo is still in demand today. Before Warden Lawes, documented punishments were brutal, and described a long history of abuse by both prison guards and wardens; this changed under Warden Lewis E. Lawes, who implemented historic reforms.

The Prison in 1913

Contribution to English vernacular

  • The expression "being sent up the river" as a metaphor for being sent to prison stems from those convicted in New York City being sent up the Hudson River to Sing Sing.[12]

Theater and Arts Program

In 1996, Katherine Vockins founded Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) at Sing Sing [13]. RTA works in collaboration with theater professionals to provide prisoners with a curriculum of year-round theater-related workshops [14]. The RTA program has put on a number of plays at Sing Sing open to prisoners and community guests. The program has shown that the use of dramatic techniques leads to significant improvements in the cognitive behavior of the program's participants inside prison and a reduction in recidivism once paroled [15]. The impact of RTA on social and institutional behavior was formally evaluated by John Jay College for Criminal Justice, in collaboration with the NYS Department of Corrections. [16]. Led by Dr. Lorraine Moller, Professor of Speech and Drama at John Jay, The study found that RTA had a positive impact on prisoners who participated in the program, showing that "the longer the inmate was in the program, the fewer violations he committed." [17]. The RTA program currently operates at 5 other New York state prisons [18].

Wardens

References

  1. ^ "NYS Dept. of Corrections Facility list". NYS Dept. of Corrections. http://www.docs.state.ny.us/faclist.html. Retrieved 2009-07-04.  
  2. ^ "History of Ossining." Greater Ossining Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved on December 21, 2008.
  3. ^ Hub System: Profile of Inmate Population Under Custody on January 1, 2007. State of New York, Department of Correctional Services. http://www.docs.state.ny.us/Research/Reports/Hub_Report_2007.pdf
  4. ^ Village looks to create Sing Sing museum, May 22, 2007. Earthtimes.org http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/65218.html
  5. ^ a b Crime Library profile of Sing Sing Prison http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/sing_sing/index.html
  6. ^ "The History of Sing Sing Prison, by the Half Moon Press, May 2000"
  7. ^ Lewis, O.F. (2005), The development of American prisons and prison customs, 1776-1845 : with special reference to early institutions in the State of New York, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, pp. 109, ISBN 9781417964024   Google Books
  8. ^ "New York State Archives: Institutional Records: Sing Sing Correctional Facility"
  9. ^ *Within Prison Walls: Being a Narrative of Personal Experience During a Week of Voluntary Confinement in the Stete Prison at Auburn, New York (NY: Appleton and Company, 1914)
  10. ^ Denis Brian, Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison, 85-112
  11. ^ *New York Times: "Convicts' Carnival Welcomes Osborne" July 17, 1916, accessed Dec. 8, 2009
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ New York Times: For Inmates, a Stage Paved With Hope May 27, 2007
  14. ^ New York Times: For Inmates, a Stage Paved With Hope May 27, 2007
  15. ^ Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage
  16. ^ Program Objectives - Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage
  17. ^ The Impact of RTA on Social and Institutional Behavior Executive Summary Lorraine Moller, Ph.D
  18. ^ Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage
  19. ^ "Ex-Warden at Sing Sing Said to Seek His Former Place.". New York Times. April 9, 1914,. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9D06E1DA163AE633A2575AC0A9629C946596D6CF. Retrieved 2009-08-12.  
  20. ^ "Sing Sing's Warden, He Says, Must Remain and Complete Work.". New York Times. October 31, 1913. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9500E0D9133FE633A25752C3A9669D946296D6CF. Retrieved 2009-08-12. "It may be necessary for James M. Clancy, Warden of Sing Sing Prison, to go to court if he wishes to get rid of the responsibility of the office which he resigned on Tuesday. Superintendent of Prisons John B. Riley wants Clancy to continue as Warden for the present."  
  21. ^ "Relatives Hear Clancy Has Resigned, but They Cannot Confirm the Report.". New York Times. April 5, 1914. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9803E3DB163AE633A25756C0A9629C946596D6CF. Retrieved 2009-08-12. "Warden James M. Clancy of Sing Sing Prison left his office at the prison shortly after 2 o'clock last Thursday afternoon and has not been heard of since. Members of his family said last night that they were alarmed about him. They had read reports in the newspapers that he had resigned, they said, but had been unable to confirm them."  

Further reading

  • The Repression of Crime, Studies in Historical Penology by Harry Elmer Barnes. Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith.
  • Fifty Years of Prison Service by Zebulon Reed Brockway. Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith.
  • The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism by James McGrath Morris (2003)
  • Crash Out: The True Tale of a Hell's Kitchen Kid and the Bloodiest Escape in Sing Sing History by David Goewey (2005)
  • Miracle at Sing Sing: How One Man Transformed the Lives of America's Most Dangerous Prisoners by Ralph Blumenthal (2005)
  • Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison by Denis Brian (2005)
  • Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House by Scott Christianson (2000)
  • Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover (2000), ISBN 0-375-50177-0
  • A Good Conviction a novel by Lewis M. Weinstein (2007), ISBN 1595941622
  • 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom by Anthony Papa (2004), ISBN 1932595066
  • Lawes, Lewis E.. 20,00 Years in Sing Sing. 1st. New York: Ray Long & Richard H. Smith, Inc., 1932.
  • Sing Sing State Prison, One Day, One Lifetime, by Al Bermudez Pereira (2006), ISBN 978-0805972900
  • Ruins of a Society and the Honorable, by Al Bermudez Pereira (2009), ISBN 978-0578043432
  • Death Row Women by Mark Gado (2008) ISBN 978-0-275-99361-0

External links

Coordinates: 41°9′6″N 73°52′8″W / 41.15167°N 73.86889°W / 41.15167; -73.86889


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