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20,000 Years in Sing Sing Hardcover – 1942
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Lewis Lawes apprenticed at several Reformatories and prisons around the State beginnning in the early 1900's. In 1915 he was given the job as overseer of NYC Reformatory for men. It was eventually called the Prison without Walls. When asked to define it he said "We have morale. It's more effective than your strongest walls" Now this was still in the early 1900's. Warden Lawes had prison inmates guarding his home and family, consisting of his wife and 2 daughters. The 'guards' slept in the cellar. From the start on his new Job at the Reformatory he instituted the Honor System. Unknown in most other institutions. In another extraordinary experiment - a film company - this was in 1916 - approached him about making a film in the grounds. They needed 150 men as soldiers. Prisoners were used. Every bit of equipment, arms, (blank) ammo was returned and the filming was enjoyed by all. The movie was called "Brand of Cowardice" and starred Lionel Barrymore.
This did more to establish morale in the institution than anything. Trust. Thereby the name "Reformatory without Walls". In Jan. 1920 Lewis Lawes arrived as the new Warden of Sing Sing Prison. He would bring his values and ideas on prison reform with him. Hence his new name, the "Reform Warden of Sing Sing".
My mother's maiden name was Lawes, Lewis Lawes was a cousin, the family originated in England.
The book is full of stories of individuals who were worth knowing and understanding, even though they were behind bars. The author tells us of Mike the Rat Catcher, who taught the author that although everyone had written him off as incorrigible and unable to live unsupervised, no one had ever actually given him a chance to survive in the meantime. The book even tells us eventually what happens to Mike.
There are plenty of death row inmates, the worst of the worst - some 'human' in demeanor, and some not.
In the end, the book is an examination of ourselves. Wherein lies our sense of superiority? We are no different, and cannot justify treating prisoners as animals. But we must be cautious not to leave them in charge, either.