Travels Through North America, during the years 1825 and 1826
By His Highness,
Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach
The state prison, which, about fifty years ago, was built for a county jail, contained ad interim those prisoners which are intended for the new penitentiary. For this reason this prison is overfilled with five hundred prisoners; they were not sufficiently watched, and therefore often riotous. Through a misdirected philanthropy of the Quakers, who have also the direction of this prison, there are no guards on the walls, nor in the passages, and but five overseers go continually amongst the laboring prisoners, and their lives are often exposed. The inspector of the house, Mr. Swift, seemed no way to favor this system, which not only does not improve the morals of the convicts, but also seems to threaten public security. At this time there was a bad feeling among the prisoners, and they daily expected a riot. The Quakers themselves, in spite of their philanthropy, seemed to have no great confidence in the prisoners. In our walk through the prison with Mr. Vaux, it was evident from his countenance that he felt uneasy, and as the prisoners were assembled on the large stairs at twelve o clock, to go to their dinner, he ensconced himself behind the iron grate.
The female prisoners occupy one of the wings of the prison, and are employed in spinning, sewing, knitting and pulling horse-hair, platting straw, and washing. They sit in long warmed corridors, adjoining to the doors of their bed-rooms; ten and more sleep in one room, on horse-hair mattresses with blankets. There are also cells for solitary confinement established for them; in one of them, four weeks since, a handsome girl was confined that had been condemned for stealing, and affected to be a simpleton, deaf and dumb, but during her solitary confinement she began to speak sensibly, and with good understanding. The male prisoners inhabit the other wing, and have the whole yard to themselves, where there are several workshops. Most of the prisoners were busy in the yard sawing marble, others weave, are tailors, shoemakers, &c. and there are several good cabinet makers, who make very fine furniture for the stores in the city. All hands are busy: the invalids are mostly employed in pulling horse-hair. In the bake-house of the institution they bake very good brown bread, and each prisoner receives daily one pound and a half. The prisoners have a long subterraneous room for an eating hall, which is lighted with lamps, and receive daily good broth, fresh meat, and potatoes. They certainly live much better than many an honest man who has to maintain his family by his industry. A weaver was confined in the solitary cells, who, in a moment of impatience, had cut through his thread with a knife, because it was entangled. In each wing there is a separate nursery for the patients of both sexes. In spite of the great number of prisoners, great cleanliness is maintained.