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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

INSTITUTIONAL EXPERIENCES

of  PETER LUCKEY,” pp. 74-76. 

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