Sing Sing Prison- History published 1841
"In 1823, the solitary system of imprisonment was abandoned at the Auburn prison, and was succeeded in 1824 by the present system of shutting up the convicts in separate cells by night and compelling them to labor diligently during the day. "in May, 1828, the convicts then in the old state prison in this city were removed to Sing Sing, and the old prison here was emptied of its inmates and abandoned forever as a prison.
The Mount Pleasant prison at Sing Sing is 33 miles from this city on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, and the ground on which it stands is about 10 feet above high-water mark. The prison grounds contain 130 acres, and the wharf is approachable by vessels drawing 12 feet of water. The prison, keeper's house, workshops, etc. are build by rough dressed stone. The prison for the males is 480 feet in length from north to south and 44 in width, fronting towards the west, or the Hudson River. This building is five stories high, containing a line of 100 cells in all . . .
The officers of the prison, or those connected with its government, business, interests, health, and morals, are : five inspectors, a principal keeper, agent, clerks, physician, and chaplain, 25 assistant keepers, and 26 guards. These, except the clerk,, are appointed by the Board of Inspectors, and hold their offices during their pleasure. The clerk is appointed by the governor and senate, and holds his office for four years . . .
In this prison the convicts are compelled to labor in silence - no conversation by word, look, or gesture being allowed between or amongst them. If any information is needed by the prisoner in regard, to his business, he modestly applies to, and obtains it of his keeper, one of whom is always near him in each department of labor.
The utmost harmony of movement in the various businesses conducted, and the most perfect order reigns. The whole internal machinery of the prison, with its more than 800 hardy convict laborers, resembles more the quiet industry and subordination to authority of a well-regulated family, than an institution for the punishment of hardened offenders.
The hours of labor are not more than laboring men out of prison generally labor. The food afforded is ample. The ration for each day consists of either 16 ounces of good prime beef, or 12 ounces of prime pork, 8 ounces of rye flour, 12 ounces of sifted Indian meal, and half a gill of molasses per ma; and three bushels of potatoes, or 40 pounds of rice, 4 quarts of rye in the grain for coffee, 2 quarts of vinegar, and two ounces of pepper to every 100 rations. This is all weighed or measure out each day the superintendent of the kitchen. The bread is well baked, and the provisions well cooked by some of the convicts employed for that purpose. Their provisions are put in small wooden vessels called kids, which are place on racks, one of which each prisoner takes as he retires from labor to his cell, in which he is locked, and where silently he eats his repast. If any convict requires more food, on making his wants known , he is supplied from the kitchen . . ."
Sing Sing Prison - History as recorded in 2006
Sing Sing is the familiar name of New York State's notorious prison, located at Ossining on the Hudson River north of New York City. The description of imprisonment as being "sent up the river" originated there. Sing Sing was constructed in the 1820s by inmate labor under the direction of the first warden, Elan Lynds. Initially the institution operated under the "silent" system. By night prisoners were confined to single-occupancy cells of less than thirty square feet. By day they worked together quarrying stone. They were required to remain silent at all times. When they moved about, they marched in lockstep with their eyes downcast. They were brutally whipped for any transgression.
The "silent" system was abolished at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1930s Sing Sing provided the model for gangster movies, which created vivid imagery of the harsh prison culture. New York's electric chair was located at Sing Sing, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed at Sing Sing in 1953.
Sing Sing remains a maximum-security prison for violent offenders. Most of the original structure has been replaced, but the first cell block is preserved and is listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites.
During the inmates' stays at the prison their lives were constantly filled with hardships and sometimes no rest. A normal day consisted of working for "ten hours and forty-five minutes starting at six in the morning and ending at six" in the evening. The other hour and fifteen minutes were spent eating and walking to and from work. "This work schedule was set during the summer days from May 15th to September 15th." As time passed from the summer days to colder winter type days the work hours were cut down to "eight hours and forty-five minutes or nine hours and forty-seven minutes" approximately. The hours they were not working they were locked up in their cells for the most part. It was hard for inmates to develop good work habits since there were no incentives or rewards such as good behavior time given to them.
The inmates would march directly from work to the cells where they would receive bread and coffee. In the morning they would receive hash and coffee; the hash was made up of the left over meats from the previous day and potato. Time and time again the inmates would receive this same food for breakfast and dinner unless instructed by a physician that it be changed for sick inmates to mush and molasses. Due to the type of food the men would get, during the winter many of the men would become sick. More than 100 men would suffer from scurvy and eleven died from Asiatic cholera and fifteen from tuberculosis in the year of 1854. Those sick and mentally unstable men were segregated in a completely different section of the prison called the "outer Ward". The "insane men were transferred to the Utica State Hospital but this practice was prohibited by the Legislature in 1854, because of the objection to mixing both citizen and criminal insane."
The weekends seem just as painful as the punishments they would receive when they behaved with misconduct. As soon as they would finish work on Friday afternoon until Monday morning they were locked in the cells. The only time that they would not be locked in the cells is when they would attend the chapel for a short amount of time. "In 1912 the first Sunday dinner was served in the mess hall. A year later soup or some other inexpensive dish was added to the daily supper of bread and coffee, and the meal served in the mess hall rather than in the cells, terminating at last a practice that had governed the evening meal for 90 years. Columbus Day, 1912, was the first holiday the men spent out of their cells."