Look Back: 1885 penitentiary visit continues

Many of the convicts make considerable money by extra labor, and they are allowed to purchase tobacco, cigars, fruits, books, in fact any article they may need. Many of them have their cells nicely fitted up and are apparently comfortable, and it is not an uncommon thing for a prisoner to have enough money to set him up in business when he is released.

There is but little punishment of prisoners under the present regime, but it can be thoroughly accomplished when necessary. The dark cell, the “rings,” and “the shoo fly” are brought into requisition for subduing refractory subjects. The “rings” are used to suspend a prisoner by the wrists and is one of the severest methods. The “shoo-fly” is patterned after the old-time stocks, and a man in them cannot move his head, hand or foot, while he is thus held stationary a steam of water from a hose is turned into his face, it is seldom used excepting in summer.

One of the ministers of Moundsville conducts religious exercises in the neat chapel provided for that purpose, each Sunday morning at 9 o’clock. At 10 o’clock the prisoners hold a prayer meeting, one of their members conducting it. These meetings are well attended and are productive of much good. The men enjoy it, as they can there break the silence of the week and hear their own voices after a painful quiet week.

Under the guidance of J.Y. Hornor, a former resident of Parkersburg, and Capt. John Davis, also of Wood County, guards in the prison, the party of which the writer was one, was shown through the entire institution. We arrived just in time to see the compact lines march in sections to the dining hall, which is a huge apartment with a stone floor. Along its entire length ran two tables, with benches on either side, and as the men marched in they took their places. In front of each man was his dinner. At a signal they all began to eat, and it may be imagined that 240 men would make considerable noise in the operation.

A tour of inspection was then made through all the shops, and places of interest in the penitentiary. A visit to the broom, whip and wagon factories is very instructive, as all of the machinery used is of the latest and most improved sort, and to those familiar with the old methods they are a revelation. Here too we found all of the prisoners sent from Parkersburg hard at work. A number of them recognized Sheriff Stewart and Capt. Mehen; some showing it merely by a smile others turning their heads, the latter being those who held a grudge against the ex-Chief of Police because he had been instrumental in their arrest, conviction and imprisonment.

To-morrow we will give a sketch of the Wood County prisoners we saw there.

The Parkersburg Daily State Journal

Feb. 23, 1885

To be continued …


Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.


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