Archive for August, 2017

long after Ben Shahn and
Austin MacCormick began discussing The Rikers Island mural, Shahn
abandoned the original concept for the mural, which would have
emphasized more broadly historical developments in the history of
penology. Instead, the focus became quite contemporary. Shahn and
Block argued to LaGuardia, ‘The murals would have more force’ if
they examined only ‘prisons of our own time.’ As a consequence,
the ‘archaic’ side of the Rikers mural, the one featuring scenes
of retrograde punishment and inhumanity, was drawn not from scenes of
ancient ritual or obviously bygone moments, but from present-day
conditions. Shanh gave a sharply political edge to these observations,
consistent with his previous explorations at the intersections of
social injustice and the criminal justice system (in the Sacco and
Vanzetti series, and his series on imprisoned labor leader Tom
Mooney). His notes on the Rikers project show him deeply immersed in
contemporary criticism of criminal justice, including John Spivak’s
devastating 1932 account of the Georgia chain gangs, Georgia
; the 1932 Warner
Brothers film I Am A
Fugitive From A Chain Gang
and the movie of the same year, on which it was based, I
Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang.
also maintained a file of images related to the notorious Scottsboro
case, for which retrials were still ongoing.

final rendering of the mural reflects Shahn’s immersion in the
causes of social justice. In the center of the north end of the
mural, between the two long hallways, two prisoners appear in a
lineup. Standing somberly in front of an institutional setting,
bundled up in overcoats and visibly handcuffed together, they appear
to have been taken directly from similar images of Sacco and Vanzetti
that Shahn had prepared a few years earlier. Just outside the lineup
scene, homeless men sleep on newspapers with screaming crime-related
headlines partially visible, and a line of unemployed men confront a
‘No Help Wanted’ sign – all ironically juxtaposed against the
Centre Street courthouse and the words along is facade, ‘The True
Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good.’

mural echoed the manner in which reformers defined the harms of
punishment in terms of both body and mind. There were scenes focused
on the mistreatment of the body: images of southern chain gangs (in
front of what sharp-eyed observers would have recognized as the Morgan
County Circuit Courthouse in Alabama, site of the ongoing Scottsboro
trials), poor prison conditions, and even Delaware’s whipping post
(known as Red Hannah, a potent symbol of the forms of corporal
punishment still extant). Scenes of mental suffering appeared
throughout – images of hopelessness, overcrowding, and idleness. In
a preliminary sketch, ‘Prisoners in Bed,’ Shahn showed an endless
row of inmates packed together in dormitory bunks, restless,
disturbed, their individual differences washed out by the setting.
The program for his final sketches listed the scenes: ‘idleness and
the milling about of prisoners,’ ‘dreary, unproductive labor,’
and ‘overcrowded dormitories.’ All scenes seem to consciously
echo what MacCormick called ‘Peregoric Penology’: ‘As long as
these institutions were kept nice and quiet, with the prisoners
drifting in half or total idleness through the day and locked snugly
in their cells at 5.00 pm for 14 hours, their wardens perfectly
willing that the prisoners deteriorated like vegetables rotting in a
bin.’ The wall ended with a strong intimidation of a revolving-door
criminal justice system, with lines of released inmates queuing first
at an employment station, then into jail.

mural perfectly captured the
prevailing sense within reform circles in 1934 that tremendous abuses
and cruelties remained within the American prison system. Frank
Tannenbaum put it most forcefully: ‘Imprisonment is negative. It
takes all. It gives nothing. It takes from the prisoners every
interest, every ambition, every hop; it cuts away, with a coarse
disregard for personality, all that a man did or loved, all his work
and his contacts, and gives nothing in return.’ And few reformers
had seen more than Austin MacCormick. Since the early 1920s had
traveled throughout the United States making prison inspections under
the auspices of the National Society of Penal Information (NSPI), the
organization Osborne has founded in 1922, following a nationwide
speaking tour on which he raised funds for the new enterprise. The
purpose behind the NSPI was to conduct systematic surveys of prisons
and prison conditions, much like other privately funded surveys were
doing with other dimensions of the criminal justice system. These
surveys would, in turn, provide a basis for pressuring states to
reform prisons where reforms were needed, and to give an accounting
of best practices and standards to follow.

NSPI surveys (eventually organized and published as the Handbook
of American Prison
the first edition of which appeared in 1926) exposed horrific
conditions. Frank Tannenbaum made some of the NSPI-sponsored visits
to southern prisons, prison farms, and road camps. He incorporated
some of these experiences into Dark
Phases of the South
where he asked the reader to ‘believe the unbelievable’ regarding
the conditions of confinement. MacCormick reported from Mississippi
that conditions were ‘very primitive’ and that the dormitories
were ‘like the holds of slaveships…what goes on in there better
not come out in the light of day.’ In addition to ghastly
conditions of confinement, NSPI surveys helped demonstrate that
torture continued to be commonplace in southern prison systems,
including the use of the strap (‘fastened to a short handle so that
some of the clever boys can make it come down edgewise’), stocks,
sweatboxes, and similar instruments of abuse.

as the NSPI exposed the brutality of punishment in the South, the
surveyors cautioned readers against ‘the delusion that the rest of
the country is so much better.’ Throughout much of the United
States, the same conditions of confinement that had inspired
progressive-era indictments by Donald Lowrie, Kate Richard O’Hare,
and others remained stubbornly resistant to change by the early
1930s. The Wickersham Commission’s investigation of prison
conditions, published in 1931, revealed many appalling practices. To
his colleagues in 1933, MacCormick observed that many ‘rotten old
penitentiaries’ deserved to be ‘turned over.’

and fellow reformers tried to explain the consequences of brutality
and torture. Their writings harkended back to Donald Lowrie’s
progressive-era declaration: ‘You cannot make a saint out of a man
by confining him in a church, but you can make a devil out of him by
treating him like hell…fear has no legitimate place in the training
of men.’ The mechanisms of imprisonment generated cruelty, even
evil, all in the name of virtue and under sanction of the state. The
personal transformations it produced were damaging for both the
keeper and the kept, ‘the sufferer and the perpetrator both being
unfortunate souls caught in a vortex of passion and hate that drives
them to madness and brutality.’

Portsmouth, MacCormick had encountered a prison overcrowded with
wartime inmates, forced to house more than half of its men in wooden
barracks, guarded largely by other inmates. Touring confinment
facilities at California’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard with Captain
Clark Stearns (an ally of Osborne’s), MacCormick observed the men
being treated ‘like dogs’ in isolation cells called ‘coke-ovens.’
Locking up a man for twenty hours a day, MacCormick would later
write, ‘puts an intolerable strain on the physical and mental
health of every man so confined.’ The ‘vicious phases of Naval
discipline,’ disgusted MacCormick, who wrote to Osborne from
Guantanamo Bay, described a scene in which a boatswain’s mate had
been convicted of breaking and entering and was being led off the
shop: ‘We were all kept aft while he marched across the deck under
guard and went into the boat which
started him on this way to prison. It was all very dramatic and very
stupid and very ineffectual and unspeakably cruel.’

as MacCormick and others attacked the cruelty and waste of punitive
imprisonment, they firmly believed that these conditions derived not
from any universal
quality of the prison, but from case-by-case decision making. By
implication, the mitigation of cruelty was also a matter for
case-by-case intervention and control. There was no inherent defect
in prisons, not any inevitably positive quality. The 1929 NSPI survey
put it this way: ‘It is too sweeping a statement to say that
American penal institutions are steadily getting better…Waves of
public opinion, caused by general excitement over crime or by some
bit of local scandal of maladministration, cause temporary changes
for better or worse.’ It was therefore true, MacCormick argued,
that ‘an institution might be a fine place in 1930 and a bad place
in 1935; or it may be a bad place in 1932 and a good one in 1937.’

could not be changed by good intentions alone, but good intentions
backed with political influence could defeat punitive interests. The
critics of reform presented a formidable obstacle to changing
prisons, as they had for Thomas Mott Osborne. MacCormick reflected on
his mentor, ‘The prison field does not…attract his life, except
in rare instances. When it does, it often crucifies them.’ The navy
had been MacCormick’s most personal lesson in the politics of
punishment. Although he and Osborne enjoyed the patronage of Navy
Secretary Daniels and Assistant Secretary Roosevelt, they suffered
from officers’ resentment of the ‘soft’ treatment being meted
out at Portsmouth. 

Near the end of their navy work, MacCormick warned
Osborne of the animosity he and Daniels would face: ‘I can’t
impress upon you too strongly how great and widespread the hostility
to you is among officers. It is partly because of the way in which
they despise the Secretary. There is no other way of describing their
attitude toward him. He is accorded the same respect that
Emma Goldman and Berkman get when their names come into a
consideration – no more.’ Captain Joseph K. Tausing, former navy
director of personnel, unleashed a series of violent attacks on
Osborne and MacCormick in the Army
and Navy Journal,
a lengthy and public battle pitting Daniels and Roosevelt against the
navy brass and the Republican press. Under pressure, Osborne and
MacCormick resigned in early 1920; the next year President Warren G.
Harding’s newly appointed navy secretary systematically purged the
remaining elements of Osborne’s reforms.

spent much of 1924 helping Osborne and Colorado governor William
Sweet remove Warden Thomas J. ‘Golden Rules’ Tynan, in what
MacCormick later recalled as ‘one of the most
exciting and dangerous experiences I ever had in my life.’ Replying
to Osborne’s invitation to survey Colorado, MacCormick replied:
‘You bet I will go. Thrilled to pieces.’ ‘Hopelessly rusty on
prison work,’ MacCormick saw Colorado as ‘a great chance to get
back in the traces.’ The initial survey found Tynan’s prison to
be in bad shape, a mix of equal parts torture and corruption.

battle engaged, Osborne warned Governor Sweet that those who fought
‘crooked politics’ confronted two essential problems: ‘the
utter unscrupulousness of his opponents, and second, the ignorance
and indifference of right-minded people.’ When the State Board of
Corrections failed to act on the survey, Sweet brought charges before
the Civil Service Commission (for which MacCormick returned to
testify.) At one point, Governor Sweet (strongly anti-Klan in a state
where Ku Klux Klan activity was near a peak in 1924) arranged a
secret meeting between himself, Osborne, MacCormick, and the prison
chaplain (who also happened to be the local Klan leader). They
persuaded the chaplain to permit Klan members (virtually the entire
guard force) to testify at the hearing against Tynan.

weakness of the reform position in the state meant that neither
Osborne nor MacCormick was willing to take an administrative position
and ‘serve under a bunch of low-down trimmers like that prison
commission.’ MacCormick wrote to Osborne: ‘I am not a combined
Napoleon and Caesar. I would be badly handicapped, as you would, in a
state where we could not use a lot of people whom we know and trust.
Out there we would have to go it blind. Still, MacCormick observed to
Osborne, ‘We certainly kicked over the milk pail. If Tynan has time
enough he will prove every charge we made against him.’ In the end,
Tynan outlasted Sweet, but not for long – he was ousted in 1927
(though not until attracting national attention by barricading
himself behind machine guns to prevent legal papers being served).

like MacCormick took an expansive view of prison politics,
understanding that it included national, state, and local politics as
well as prison administration and staff. Reform politics could not
afford to stop at the prison gate. While MacCormick was at the Bureau
of Prisons, the bureau established the United Stated Training School
for Prison Officers, based at the Federal Detention Headquarters in
New York City; according to its director, ‘The School is not only
informative in the essentials of prison management, but is also a
test period to weed out inferior characters whose service in an
institution would be hazardous to the orgnanization.’ The school
eliminated one of every six would be officers who arrived during its
first two years.

were also forced to confront their opponents’ powerful rhetoric in
public  debates over punishment – what MacCormick one referred to
as the ‘machine-gun school of criminology.’ One of the foremost
proponents of that school, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, assailed the
advocates of parole and rehabilitation as the ‘cream puff’ school
of criminology, whose views ‘daily turn loose upon us the robber,
the burglar, the arsonist, the killer, and the sex degenerate.’
MacCormick was in attendance for a speech in which Hoover assailed
‘sob sister warden, country club prisons, and convict coddlers’;
MacCormick later lamented to
a meeting of the American Prison Association that he ‘had to sit
within six feet of the speaker and didn’t have a gun on me.’

earlier, Donal Lowrie had observed that, as soon as he began making
his public criticisms of the prison, he had been accused of
‘sentimental twaddle,’ ‘maudlin hysteria,’ and ‘lackadaisical
neurasthenia’ – all suggesting a lack of true manhood. Prison
reformers were often attacked on the basis of their supposed
homosexuality or sexual practices. This had certainly been true of
Osborne, at whose 1916 Assistant District Attorney William Fallon
proclaimed: ‘We have numberless affidavits, testimony that we have
not introduced, that shows this man to be the worst kind of
degenerate.’ MacCormick knew that these charges had ‘hurt his
[Osborne’s] work immeasurably’ and ‘could never have been given
color if it were not for his decent and effective way of handling
perverts as he encountered them in prison. He did not side-step the
issue and paid for his honesty and courage with his reputation.’

fate of the Rikers mural gave Austin MacCormick and Ben Shahn one
more powerful example of prison politics. By early 1935, Shahn had
completed his sketches and presented them to MacCormick and
LaGuardia. By all accounts, the two men were well pleased with what
they saw; both stooped by Shahn’s Bethune Street studio to offer
their personal congratulations on a job well done. As publicly funded
art, however, the mural sketches still required the approval of the
Municipal Art Commission, and here they ran into serious trouble. The
commission, which had the previous year rejected a series of public
murals from Shahn on the subject of Prohibition, now attacked the
Rikers reform mural. They rejected the design, with its review of
harsh punishments, as too disconcerting to prisoner sensibilities.
Among art historians, the commission’s decision has been cast as an
act of aesthetic conservatism against challenging modern public art
(‘lugubrious and unpleasant to look upon’), which it certainly
was, but the rejection of Shahn’s mural was also explicitly about
the politics of prison reform. The commission branded the proposed
mural as ‘anti-social propaganda.’ Jonas Lie, painter and member
of the commission, argued that would ‘incite prison inmates to
further an anti-social attitude’ and to ‘increase their
opposition to law and order.’

art world bitterly protested the actions of the Municipal Arts
Commission. Audrey McMahon defended the mural sketches as ‘works of
high artistic merit.’ New York Times art writer Edward Alen
Jewell praised the mural’s depiction of a ‘New Deal in prison
life.’ Stuart Davis, in Art Front magazine, famously
attacked commission member Jonas Life: ‘We suggest that while the
Commission was thinking along the lines of ‘psychological
unfitness,’ it might have done well to look at its own painter
member. For, wherever particularly stupid and reactionary acts are
committed in regard to art matters, one seldom has to look far to
find the person of [Lie]…Jonas Lie has proved himself unfit to hold
a seat on the Municipal Arts Commission, or to hold any public
office, for that matter, outside that of a Fascist Censor.’

and LaGuardia tried to help Shahn fight back against the Municipal
Art Commission. Following the commission’s preliminary rejection of
the plans, in February, MacCormick went to so far as to persuade his
friend and colleague, the psychologist Harry Shulman, to conduct a
remarkable study of inmate reactions to the proposed mural. Forty
inmates were selected and shown some of Shahn’s drawings. They were
then given a questionnaire that began: ‘Here is a set of pictures
showing the good and bad sides of prison life. The small ones are
sketches and the large ones will give you an idea of how it will look
on the wall. This is planned for a mural in one of the halls of a
brand-new and modern prison building. The artist would like to know
what you think of these pictures.’ Inmates were also asked how they
felt about having a mural on the walls of a prison, what they thought
other prisoners might think of such a mural, and whether visitors to
the prison would have any interest in them. The four questions for
the forty inmates produced a total of 160 question responses. Shulman
reported to MacCormick that out of a possible 160 answers, 97 were
favorable, 10 unfavorable, 22 indifferent, and 31 left blank. The
positive responses were encouraging: ‘They will certainly brighten
the place up a bit and also give the inmates something to concentrate
on besides the walls.’

and MacCormick offered the survey results to the Municipal Art
Commission as evidence that the murals would not be overly disturbing
to the inmates, but the commission remained unmoved. In its formal
decision in May, the murals were definitely and finally rejected. At
this point, LaGuardia and MacCormick gave in to the commission,
formally abandoning the project. Theirs was a shocking decision for
Shahn and his supporters, and there is no clear explanation for this
reversal of course. MacCormick gave a statement to the press in which
he lamely attempted to explain his new reasoning: ‘Although a
number of prisoners submitted written opinions that were favorable to
the sketches, we found afterwards that many of them expressed
approval because they thought they were expected to do so.’

at the politics of public art in New York, Ben Shahn left both the
city and the prison project behind. It was never carried out. Shahn
and Block briefly attempted to resurrect the mural by bringing it to
one of the state prisons, but this seems not to have progressed very
far. The panels that composed the mural study were sold by weight as

– Joseph F. Spillane, Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2014. pp. 28-35

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Ben Shahn, studies for Riker’s Island Penitentiary murals, 1934-1935. Photographed by Walker Evans. 

All gelatin silver prints, donated in 2000 by

Bernarda Bryson Shahn to the Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.

A selection of photographic records of now lost large scale studies by Ben Shahn for murals intended to be installed at the new ‘model prison’ of Riker’s Island in 1935.  Although typical of Shahn’s work documenting the Great Depression, his murals were deemed too political for Riker’s and never installed. From top to bottom they show:

1) Down and out in the big city – the conditions leading to crime. #P2000.57 

2) A typical scene from a Southern US labor camp, meant to show the barbarity still practiced in American prisons – the implication being that Riker’s was a ‘new deal’ for inmates. #P2000.48

3) Prisoners in stalls, possibly at a work site. Again, another example of something that shouldn’t be happening anymore at a penitentiary. #P2000.47

4) A black prisoner being giving corporal punishment – that is, being tortured – at a public whipping in Delaware.  These displays of state power against (frequently black) bodies were actually revived in some Northern US jurisdictions in the 1930s, and like the above mural, imply that Riker’s discipline has moved on from this barbarism. #P2000.46

5) Prisoners being returned by guards to their cells from yard time.  A typical part of the prison routine, this mural appears to have been based on photographs Shahn took at the old New York Penitentiary on Welfare (now Roosevelt) Island. #P2000.55


6-7) Prisoners, from left to right, at school, learning automotive repair, taking tests, out in the yard, and in the back, playing baseball. #P2000.49 & #P2000.50

8) Prisoners receiving their visitors at the penitentiary.  #P2000.56

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Ben Shahn, studies for Riker’s Island murals. Oil and ink wash, 1934-1935.  

A selection of oil and ink studies by Ben Shahn for murals intended to be installed at the new ‘model prison’ of Riker’s Island in 1935.  Although typical of Shahn’s work documenting the Great Depression, his murals were deemed too political for Riker’s and never installed. From top left, clockwise, they show:

1) Man Drawing Blood
2) Three Men
3) Floroscopy
4) Woman and Girl

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Harold Lehman,

The Driller.

Tempera on fiberboard, 1937.  Part of a series of murals erected at the Rikers Island Penitentiary, New York. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the Newark Museum, 1966.31.11.

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“The Routine – The New Arrivals,” from Fred Allen, The Hand Book of the New York Reformatory at Elmira. The Summary Press, 1916. 

“He came, with eight others, on the afternoon train from  New York. Shabbily dressed, not very clean, his appearance​ ​advertised him for what he was, an “East Sider.” His sullen​ ​​eyes noted little of his surroundings; his listless air evidenced​ ​slight concern for his present condition, or hope for the future.​ ​Not much had there been in his life of sixteen years to incite to​ ​honest​ ​​living or elevated ideals of conduct. He had small​ ​​knowledge of books, and little desire or ability for sustained​ ​effort of any description. Orphaned, nearly five years since,​ ​his reception in his aunt’s family was not over cordial; hence,​ ​left in large measure to shift for himself, he easily drifted into​ ​bad company. In a moment of temptation, he took that which​ ​was not his, and as a consequence​ ​of his wrong doing was now​ ​on his way to the reformatory.

Upon the coat of the athletic young man who had charge of​ ​the group, appeared the badge of a transfer officer of the New​ ​York State Reformatory at Elmira. Standing upon the platform of the station with his prisoners, he was first to note the​ ​approach of a team of blacks, attached to a light, three-seated​ ​spring wagon, and driven by a blue coated official.

“All right, boys, there’s our hack; tumble in!” said the​ ​transfer officer.

The team steadily jogged homeward and was presently​ ​climbing the hill leading to the southern gate of the reformatory.​ ​The stern appearing prison structure with its massive, turretted,​ e​nclosure walls, by its very nearness, forced the boy’s attention​ ​and he glanced up at it.

Although habited to environments the reverse of favorable​ ​to honest and virtuous living, he had still to fulfil his first​ ​sentence as a convicted criminal, and he instinctively recoiled as​ ​he looked at the institution, high and gloomy in the fading light​ ​of the short, November afternoon.

The van arrived at the gateway. The transfer officer​ ​exchanged cheerful greetings with the wall guard, as the latter​ ​operated the mechanism of the gate. The boy, listening, envied​ ​these two, over whom hovered not the dark cloud which seemed​ ​to him to be approaching more closely with each revolution of​ ​the cogged, gate wheel. One, two hours would elapse; then​ ​these men would be stepping briskly homeward through the​ ​lighted streets, free and happy, while he— but the great valves​ ​of the gate opened, the driver chirruped to his team and the​ ​van moved leisurely into the prison enclosure.

The boy’s senses were now alert and he glanced quickly​ ​and anxiously at his surroundings. Iron gates, brick walls,​ ​everywhere. The gate through which the team had just passed,​ ​creaked as it was being closed; he looked back apprehensively​ ​and was not reassured as he saw it steadily decreasing his​ ​perspective of the outside world and freedom. Then it was​ ​closed, and he felt indeed in evil case. Again he noted the​ ​inexorable brick walls. Five years in this enclosure of brick​ ​and stone and iron! To a lad of sixteen, five years seem an​ ​interminable period of time. Would he ever live through them?

Another sinister looking gate, a combination of iron rods​ ​and bars, opened and closed upon them, and, as the van moved​ under the great, gloomy central arch forming the entrance to​ that portion of the enclosure known as the parade ground, the​ lad felt that he could scarcely hope ever to step forth to freedom​ again.

An open door, and beside it, a pleasant faced, blue​ uniformed officer, who glanced comprehendingly at the party,​ indicated that the travellers were expected.

“Only nine?— pretty slim for Saturday and coming on cold​ weather, too,” he remarked casually to the transfer officer.

“All there was,” briefly responded that official. “Lads,​ this is where you lodge tonight. Climb out!”

“There, there, Luckey, don’t look so blue!” he continued. encouragingly patting the lad on the shoulder as the group of​ prisoners, one by one, jumped from the wagon. “Elmira isn’t​ so bad if you look sharp and mind the regulations. Come​ along, boys!"​”

– from “THE


of  PETER LUCKEY,” pp. 74-76. 

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“Grass Fire Laid To Theft Suspect,” Toronto Globe. August 29, 1936. Page 11.
Police Seek Cattle Ruster Near Belleville 
Belleville, Aug. 28 (CP). – Police today blamed a grass fire which broke out on Anderson’s Island on Gordon Calvert, whom they are seeking in connection with theft of forty-five head of cattle from there last weekend.

They said they believed he was hiding out in swamplands near Ivanhoe and set the fire so that remaining cattle on the island would be driven to the upper end, from which they could be driven to the mainland. Farmers extinguished the fire before damage resulted.

Residents of Ivanhoe were puzzled when they heard the cattle being driven through that village at night. They notified police and when an officer caught up to the herd a man said to be Calvert fled. Search of the district so far has been unsuccessful.

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“MAINE runs on tourists. In the basement of The Showroom, which is approximately 11 miles from the prison in Warren, I’m surrounded by rows of shelved inventory: toy boats with a gleam, a gumball machine shaped like a shocked clown, boxes of lobster trap keychains painted neon pink. The state’s motto, “Vacationland,” is written on picture frames. “The earnestness of the work shines through and the prices can’t be beat,” Travel + Leisure magazine wrote about The Showroom in a January 2015 guide to vacationing in Maine. On what the vacationer should purchase, they decide that the ultimate souvenir is a T-shirt that reads: Stolen from the Maine State Prison.

On Yelp, a customer from The Showroom named Alison rates the place five out of five stars. Other customers seem to agree: the prices are great. Vacationers want to find prices lower than anywhere else; they want a bargain that’s also a little taste of Maine. And it’s a program, they’re told, that “wants to put people back to work.” Americans want to vacation, but most of all they want to pretend to consume benevolently.Although I was told that the day-to-day work for MDOC Industries is determined by The Showroom’s needs, almost every prisoner I visit in the woodshop during April and November 2016 worked on a project commissioned by the state, city, county, or a private business or individual. One customer sent in photographs of their boat to have the prisoners make models; they would be given away as gifts. A stack of large signs to be hung in a public park were being sanded and finished. Buoy-shaped trophies were drying after being primed. In a few weeks, they would be bestowed upon winners at a race.
Maine Governor Paul LePage’s desk was being turned over for its second re-finishing. In the bottom of its drawer, all of the governors before him had left their signatures in pen and Sharpie.

On a few occasions I was told that The Showroom brings in around one million annually—a common figure often quoted in local papers—but that isn’t accurate. For the fiscal year of 2015, The Showroom generated $2,015,178, which is $24,569 more than 2014 profits, which were $78,345 more than 2013 profits. Many of the salaries for staff working within MDOC Industries come directly from The Showroom’s profits. And yet, because of low wages and the nature of the work, the prison often sees reductions to its official staff, which means there are many days and weeks when the shop is closed or significantly fewer prisoners are put to work.”

– Chelsea Hogue, “Hidden Costs,” The New Inquiry. August 28, 2017.

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“Beyond the triumph of the landings accomplished and the enemy
defeated, the D-Day literature has never found complacency easy to come by.
Some of the earliest commentators were scathing. Liddell Hart, J.F.C. Fuller,
Chester Wilmont were all critical of both the generalship and the fighting power
of the Allies. The 1950s and 1960s saw a wave of recrimination amongst the
leading commanders of the invasion forces, divided above all over by the
retrospective posturing of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. At stake was
more than Montie’s status as a great commander, in his disagreements with
Bradley and Eisenhower a more fundamental clash between hidebound British
conservatism and the dash and glamour of American modernity was
encapsulated. In 1983 Carlo D’Este’s Decision in Normandy not only adjudicated

this argument, but provided a compelling narrative of how the postwar myth of
Normandy and the controversy around it had taken shape. By then, however,
the currents in the wider historiography had moved on. The argument between
the Allies was displaced by invidious comparisons drawn between all of them
and their Wehrmacht opponents. Whilst the wider historical literature moved in
the 1980s to an ever more determined “othering” of the Nazi regime on account
of its radical racism, amongst the military intelligentsia the reverse tendency
prevailed. For analysts concerned to hone the “military effectiveness” of NATO’s
armies in Cold War Europe, the Germans were not just different. They were
better. As Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy the leader of the new breed of quantitative
battlefield analysts put it: “On a man for man basis, the German ground soldier
consistently inflicted casualties at about a 50% higher rate than they incurred
from the opposing British and American troops UNDER ALL

Inverting the terms of the earlier debate about generalship, Max Hastings
in 1983 arrived at the cruel conclusion that it was not Montgomery who had
failed his troops, but the other way around. As Hastings put it: “Montgomery’s
massive conceit masked the extent to which his own generalship in Normandy
fell victim to the inability of his army to match the performance of their
opponents on the battlefield.” “There was nothing cowardly about the
performance of the British army in Normandy”, Hastings hastened to add. But it
was simply too much to expect a “citizen army in the fifth year of war, with the
certainty of victory in the distance” to match the skill and ferocity of the
Wehrmacht at bay. It is worth remembering that Hastings concluded his D-Day
book shortly after participating as an embedded reporter in the Falklands
campaign, in which the highly professional British army humbled a much larger
force of Argentinian conscripts. And he did not hesitate to draw conclusions
from D-Day for NATO in the 1980s. Given the overwhelming conventional
superiority of the Warsaw Pact, the “armies of democracy” needed critically to
examine their own history: “If a Soviet invasion force swept across Europe from
the east, it would be unhelpful if contemporary British or American soldiers
were trained and conditioned to believe that the level of endurance and sacrifice
displayed by the Allies in Normandy would suffice to defeat the invaders. For an
example to follow in the event of a future European battle, it will be necessary to
look to the German army; and to the extraordinary defence that its men

conducted in Europe in the face of all the odds against them, and in spite of their
own demented Führer.”

In the 1980s, whilst for liberal intellectuals Holocaust consciousness
served to buttress a complacent identification with the “values of the West”, the
military intelligentsia were both far less sanguine about a dawning end of
history, in which their role seemed far less self-evident, and far more ambiguous
in the use the made of the history of Nazi Germany. The most striking instance of
this kind of militarist cultural critic was the Israeli military historian Martin van
Creveld, who was not then the marginal figure that he was to become in the
2000s. His Fighting Power published in 1982 was at the center of the “military
effectiveness” debates that were convulsing the American army in the wake of
Vietnam.  Why van Creveld asked had the German army not only fought better
but held together in the face of overwhelming odds, why did it not “run”, why
did it not “disintegrate” and why did it not “frag its officers.” Creveld’s answer
was simple. The Germans fought well because they were members of a “well
integrated well led team whose structure administration and functioning were
perceived to be …. Equitable and just.” Their leaders were first rate and despite
the totalitarian regime they served were empowered to employ their freedom
and initiative wherever possible. By contrast the social segregation in America’s
army was extreme. “American democracy” Creveld opined “fought world war II
primarily at the expense of the tired, the poor the huddled masses” “between
America’s second rate junior officers “ and their German opposite numbers there
simply is no comparison possible.” On the battlefield Nazi Volksgemeinschaft
trumped Western class society.

If despite these devastating deficiencies, the allies had nevertheless
prevailed, the reason was not military but economic. Overwhelming material
superiority decided the outcome. Brute Force was the title chosen by John Ellis for
his powerful summation. It was a conclusion backed up by economic histories
that began to be published at the time. The Allies waged a “rich man’s war”
against a vastly inferior enemy. In the mayhem of the Falaise Gap, the Allies
were shocked to find the grisly carcasses of thousands of dead horses mingled
with the Wehrmacht’s abandoned armor and burned-out soft-skinned vehicles.

What hope did the half-starved slave economy of Nazi-occupied Europe have of
competing with the Allies’ oil-fuelled, globe-spanning war machine?

But it was not just the battlefield contest and its material background that
were being reexamined from the 1970s onwards. So too was the methodology of
military history and its mode of story telling. The juxtaposition of Carlo D’Este’s
Decision in Normandy and Max Hasting’s Overlord published within months of
each in 1983-1984 marks a moment of transition. D’Este offers a classic view from
the top, focusing on the high command. Hastings assembles his history from the
bottom up. His was, one is tempted to say, a social history of combat – organized
around the category of experience, intimate, personal and graphically violent. In
this respect Hastings followed in the deep footprints left by John Keegan’s pathbreaking,
The Face of Battle (1976). The image that Hastings painted was savage.
The struggle waged in Normandy was no “clean war”. Appalling death and
destruction scarred the battlefield. Casualty rates in the frontline spearhead units
of the Allied units ran well above 100 percent by the end of 1944. Hastings did
not deny the atrocities committed by the German soldiers he recommended as an
example for NATO. But he leveled the score by pointing out how frequently the
Allies armies shot both prisoners and men trying to surrender. Savagery began
savagery in a loop that was more anthropological than political.

And if violence was no longer taboo then this went for the civilians as
much as the soldiers. Since the early 2000s, a powerful new strand of literature
has sought to address the enormous collateral damaged produced in the course
of the landings and the way in which “liberated” France struggled to come to
terms with its profoundly ambiguous experience. Ground and naval artillery,
but above all air power wrecked French cities and claimed tens of thousands of
lives. Tellingly this research took place in the context of a wider and highly
critical investigation of the Allied strategic air war directed by Richard Overy. It
was flanked by a more wide-ranging inter-disciplinary enquiry into liberal
societies and war. In the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the
legal questions posed by a new era of long-range and remote killing, the question
hung in the air. Was the use of force by the Allied forces in Normandy
proportionate? Did it constitute a crime against the French civilian population?
The ambiguity of liberation is brought home most recently by Mary Louise

Roberts What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II (Chicago, 2014).
She describes how the bodies of French women were made the eroticized booty
of the soldiers of the “Great Crusade.”

In World War II, there was nothing like the conscientious objection
movement on the Allied side that there had been in World War I. But given the
scale of the violence that they were dealing out in the final stages of the war, it is
not surprising that at least some people spoke out in protest. Opposition to the
destruction being wrought ranged from outraged ethical criticism in the House
of Lords to the shock of a corporal in the 4th Dorsets who later recalled the
incongruity of bursting into a French home during house to house fighting:
‘There we were, wrecking this house, and I suddenly thought – “How would I
feel if this was mine?” In 1940 the British Expeditionary Force in France had
been under strict instructions to avoid all damage to French property, including
a prohibition on knocking loopholes in brick walls so as to create firing positions.
Now the Allied forces were reducing entire cities to rubble. But horrific as the
bombardments clearly were, research on the British side does not suggest that
revulsion was the general response. The war had to be won and if firepower kept
Allied soldiers out of harms way, so be it. Few allied soldiers apologize for the
material preponderance they commanded. Many of them clearly relished the
spectacle. For the commanders the war might be an end in itself, an opportunity
to write their names into the annals of military history. For the vast majority of
their troops it was a job to be accomplished. The Germans were to be defeated
with whatever means and manpower was available to crush them. In so doing,
the Allies may not have matched the military skill of the Wehrmacht. But it was
not merely brute force. The Allied war effort had its own logic – political,
strategic, operational, tactical and technical. Rescuing this logic from the
damning but tightly circumscribed judgments of the “military effectiveness”
literature, has been the purpose of two decades of revisionist scholarship.”

– Adam Tooze, “Blitzkrieg manqué or a new kind of war?: Interpreting the Allied Victory in the Normandy campaign.” Working paper, Columia, 2016.  

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course, the problem of the younger prisoner was hardly a discovery of
New Deal-era New Yorkers. The reformatory movement of the
nineteenth-century had first brought attention to the problems of the
young first-time offender, and the juvenile court movement had
focused attention on the judicial handling of delinquent and
incorrigible children. But a newer element in the reformist language
of the 1930s was the growing focus on ‘youth’ or ‘adolescence’
as a formally defined period of transition between childhood and
adulthood, as to use this period as a meaningful concept in criminal
justice practice. The problem of the adolescent in the thirties was
largely defined by the growing gap between the end of formal
schooling and the start of full-time productive labor, a concern made
more pressing with each pssing year of the Great Depression. Efforts
to bridge this period of enforced idleness gave rise to two
significant New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
and the National Youth Administration (NYA), both of which focused on
the problem of employment for adolescents after they left
public schooling. The American Youth Commission, organized by the
American Council on Education in 1935 to consider the needs of youth
(defined as between the ages of 16 and 24), concluded, ‘All aspects
of a health transition from youth to adult life depended’ on
successful employment and work experiences following school.

MacCormick would come to embrace the CCC model and the transformative
power of work experiences. He observed the CCC youth ‘didn’t want
to go at first, they were pretty pale when they went, they didn’t
look much like workers, but when they came back they had esprit de
corps, their muscles had begun to develop, they stood up straight,
they were brown and a great many of them weathered some terrible
years in which they would have otherwise got into trouble.’ For
MacCormick, the CCC was one model of what the state could do to fill
the gap between youth and adulthood.

1936, MacCormick partnered with the Osborne Association in developing
a vocational demonstration project, for the purpose of placing youth
prisoners ‘in worth-while jobs, preferably on the basis of their
interests and their training.’ He recruited Viola Ilma, former head
of the American Youth Congress and author of And Now, Youth!, to
direct the demonstration. But the problem of enforced idleness was
not simply a concern after release, but a condition of
confinement as well. Here, the problem of youth idleness was linked
to the more general problems of prisoner idleness related to the long
campaign against for-profit prison industries. For the reformers, the
lack of productive labor produced a throwback to retrograde
conditions. MacCormick seconded the criticism writing that ‘nothing
has been more harmful and shameful in our recent penal history than
the idleness in our prisons for all age groups…the young prisoner,
particularly, needs to have his day full to the brim with work and
training, balanced by recreation and a variety of character-building
activities that use up his energies to the limit.’

push for engaging the energies of the delinquent adolescent was
coupled with an important, though little-remembered, effort to extend
the concept of the juvenile court upward into the realm of the
adolescent offender. Harry M. Shulman’s 1931 study of the
sixteen-to-twenty-year-old offender in New York City bluntly stated
that it was ‘without logical or scientific foundation’ to handle
young men in this age range in the same fashion as adult offenders.
MacCormick summarized the argument in favor of such an

Too many youths who should be given probation
are committed to an institution for  punitive reasons, while youths
who required institutional training are put on probation as an act of
misguided leniency…The surest way to reduce the margin of error is
by a thorough pre-sentence investigation. This should not only include
the complete information on the current offense and the offender’s
previous criminal record, but also his family history, his personal
history and community background, pertinent data from medical,
psychiatric and psychological examination, and so forth. The judge
should give careful consideration to all this material before passing

a coherent process, MacCormick argued, ‘the hapless delinquent is
passed from one to another like lumber through various processing
plants. Almost inevitably the mass-produced end result proves a
perverse failure, for unfortunately the delinquent boy is not
lumber.’ The cure for mass processing was to embrace the
individualized model of the juvenile court and dispense with the
patterns of routine characteristic of the criminal courts.”

– Joseph F. Spillane, Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2014. pp. 27-28

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Ben Shahn, “Cotton checker, Pulaski County, Arkansas.” 

Gelatin silver print photograph, 1935. 

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 2011. #2.2002.3104.

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“Rustler Suspect Has Fled County – Gordon Calvert Believed Heading North,” Toronto Globe. August 27, 1936. Page 10

“Belleville, Aug. 26 (CP) – Inspector Frank Gardner of the Provincial Police said today he believed Gordon Calvert, for whom a warrant has been issued charging with theft of forty-five head of cattle, is not in Hastings County.

‘We have not seen Calvert since he escaped Monday noon into the bush after he was seen driving the cattle from Crookston to Ivanhoe. The department is handicapped by lack of constables, many of whom are on duty at Cornwall, but I have called in two officers from Minden and Bancroft, and an active search will be made for the wanted,’ he said.

He believes Calvert hid on Monday night, and then made his way north. He is said to know the district well.

The cattle stolen from Northumberland County farmers were recovered by a police officer who had heard reports of a herd being rushed through Ivanhoe at night, and investigated.”

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“Camp Borden Sees Battle,” Ottawa Evening Citizen, August 27, 1937. Page 03.

“Camp Borden resounded to the sound of battle as the Royal Canadian Regiment staged maneuvers.  On one side of the sandy dunes were the ‘enemy’ (above) waiting for the attack.  The onslaught came with tanks (below).  But the sounds of fighting were limited to the rumble of war machines and barked commands of officers.  Rifle, artillery and anti-tank fire were imaginary and no cases of shellshock were reported.”

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August 26, 2017: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM Deconstructed dance. Music by Ciarra Black, Wetware, Karen Gwyer, german-army, Marie Davidson, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Punctum (Caterina Barbieri + Carlo Maria), Sanctums, E-Saggila + more. Check out the setlist below, tune in at 101.9 on your FM dial, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show after airing at cfrc.ca or on mixcloud here: https://www.mixcloud.com/cameronwillis1232/the-anatomy-lesson-august-26-2017/

Wetware – “When You Respond” Salpinx (2017)
Rosin-Handel – “Aural Excitement” Define By Example (1987)
German Army – “Oecussi” Pacific Plastic (2017)
Bellows – “Untitled #6” Strand (2017)
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – “Mirrors and Assassins” Two Orb Reel (2017)
Sanctums – “A Thousand Mile Stare” Migrant Workers (2016)
Dillon – “Nowhere” The Unknown (2014)
Hanz – “Count” Reducer (2014)
E-Saggila – “Oil Vapour Rises” Old Orders of Beauty (2016)
Punctum – “Glory Bitch” Punctum (2017)
Marie Davidson – “La Femme Écarlate” Adieux Au Dancefloor (2016)
Karen Gwyer – “Did You Hear the Owls Last Night?” Rembo (2017)
Ciarra Black – “Translation None” Pendulum (2016)

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“During the more than two decades that Joe Arpaio served as sheriff of Maricopa County, overseeing the jail system, millions of dollars would be paid out in lawsuits over the deaths of inmates. In 1996, Scott Norberg died after being suffocated in one of Arpaio’s “restraint chairs,” after being descended on by “fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating [him].” They were, said an eyewitness inmate, “like a pack of dogs.” After the Sheriff’s Office was accused of discarding evidence in the case, including the deceased’s crushed larynx, his family received an $8 million settlement. In 2015, Felix Torres was pulled over on his bicycle for riding the wrong way up the street, and found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. While in jail awaiting trial, he was taken to the County Medical Center for severe stomach pain. Though Torres said he had a history of ulcers, doctors decided he had a hernia, and gave him a drug not recommended for people with ulcers. After being returned to jail, Torres, “spent the next few days crying, writhing in pain, and begging guards to help him or take him to the hospital.” Torres began “banging on his cell door and asking for help,” but an officer told him “You’re bullshitting… go to sleep.” On the night he died, Torres asked multiple officers for help, telling them he was dying. “You’re fucking faking it,” one replied. Torres’s family would receive $1 million. (And while it should make no difference, we might bear in mind that at the time of his death, Felix Torres was an innocent man.)

Felix Torres was the latest in what the Phoenix New-Times had begun calling Joe Arpaio’s “parade of corpses,” with “endless” numbers of court cases over “needless deaths and injuries in the jails.” Arpaio refused to disclose the number of deaths in his facility, despite evidence that inmates were committing suicide at a rate that “dwarfed” other county jails.

But it was not just those who died in Arpaio’s jails that suffered. Everyone did, because Arpaio made clear he wanted them to. Even though most of the inmates were legally innocent, Arpaio called them “criminals” and thought up ever-more sadistic treatments for them. First, of course, were the infamous tents: inmates would be forced to live without air conditioning in the Arizona heat, which reached well above 110 degrees. (At one point it reached 145 within the tents, causing the inmates’ shoes to melt.) Even the showers provided no relief; they were kept near boiling temperature. Winter was somehow even worse: the tents were unheated, but Arpaio would not permit warm clothing, not even a jacket. A former inmate wrote in the Washington Post that it was “freezing, achingly cold,” and that detainees wrapped their extremities with plastic bags. “I was in so much pain,” he said, that even now he cannot be cold without being reminded of it. 

Arpaio instituted chain gangs, and boasted that he had the first all-female chain gangs, soon to be followed by juvenile chain gangs. He took away every small comfort that could possibly make life in such conditions tolerable: no coffee, no cigarettes, no newspapers, no television. (Sometimes he permitted The Weather Channel “so these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”) He fed inmates meals that cost as little as 15 cents each, and was proud of the fact that the food was rotten and contaminated. Only two meals were provided per day, leading some inmates to lose unhealthy amounts of weight (a federal court eventually ordered Arpaio to meet USDA requirements), and Arpaio imposed a bread-and-water diet on any detainee found committing an “unpatriotic act.”

Medical care for those who suffered from mental illness was “dangerously inadequate.” Arpaio “tortured inmates who were on psychotropic medication by locking them in unbearably hot solitary confinement cells.” Those with physical vulnerabilities were mistreated, too; a paraplegic had his neck broken by guards and a pregnant woman lost her baby after officers left her in her cell instead of taking her to the hospital. It even took a federal court order to ensure “functional and sanitary toilets and sinks, with toilet paper and soap.” (Take a moment to visualize what happens when an overcrowded group of people does not have access to any of these things.) Arpaio introduced a policy that only those who could prove they were U.S. citizens could visit family in jail, meaning detained immigrants could not see their spouses or children. (At one point, an interpreter and U.S. citizen who worked for the county was also prohibited from entering the facility, because he was a Latino who could not instantly produce paperwork showing his citizenship.) 

None of this served any purpose other than furthering Arpaio’s attempts to build a brand out of callousness. “Jails are intended to be punishment,” Arpaio said (although jail aren’t intended to be punishment, because most people in them haven’t been convicted of a crime yet), and he joked that the facility was his own personal “concentration camp,” dismissing all concerns as “civil rights crap.”

– Nathan J. Robinson, “WAIT, DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY KNOW JUST HOW EVIL THIS MAN IS?Current Affairs. August 26, 2017.

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“Boys Sentenced to 10 Years and 20 Lashes – Found Guilty in Hamilton of Armed Robbery,” Toronto Globe. August 26, 1936. Page 09. 

“Hamilton, Aug. 25 (CP). – Two teen-aged boys tonight are awaiting a trip to Kingston, where the gates of the penitentiary will close behind them for ten years. Magistrate James McKay, in sentencing the boys for armed robbery of a drug store here yesterday, added twenty lashes each to the sentence.

Just eighteen hours after the youths robbed Kohler’s drug store of $40 they appeared before the Magistrate and pleaded guilty to the charges. They are: John Black, 17, of Regina, and Andrw Diak, 18, Millar Avenue, Toronto.

Black, who said he planned the robbery to get money for medical attention to an injured leg, pleaded for his pal. Before being sentenced he said:

‘The whole thing is my fault. My pal didn’t have much to do with it. I was in desperation and had to do something. I figured if I got caught I would at least get medical attention for the infection in my leg.’

Black declared he found the car abandoned on the highway near Toronto with the gun lying on the seat. He drove to Toronto, he said, and picked up Diak. Returning to Hamilton they planned and carried out the robbery there.

Questioned by Crown Attorney G. W. Ballard concerning the gun, young Black said he knew it was loaded, but purposely kept his finger off the trigger when pointed the weapon at Kehler, proprietor of the store. He said he realized it might have been discharged.

Diak told the Magistrate he had nothing to say before being sentenced. 

The pair remained stolid as the Magistrate pronounced sentence. The lashes are to be administered in groups of ten at least thirty days apart any time after the boys enter the prison.” 

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