Category Archives: Sing Sing

Sing Sing as a Factory during the Nineteenth Century

Three of the fundamental goals of the nineteenth century American penitentiary were the convict’s moral reformation, his employment, and the economic self-sufficiency of the penitentiary; in practice these goals conflicted and at Sing Sing the latter two took precedence over the former. Sing Sing during the nineteenth century practiced a version of the Auburn prison system corrupted by contractors incentivized by profits and prisoners who beat the system. During the day prisoners would work together in a congregate factory setting while at night they were separated and to be silent. In reality silence was haphazardly enforced and privileged or well-connected prisoners were able to avoid the harsh application of prison discipline. The factory labor system stripped away Sing Sing’s reform-oriented mission to reveal a single-minded pursuit of profits. Sing Sing as a penitentiary was punitive rather than penitent, and “treat[ed] the convict as a slave” who the wardens, superintendents, and contractors cynically forced to work in the pursuit of profits. Prison guards tortured prisoners who did not work satisfactorily; prisoners worked long hours at grueling labor; Sing Sing was a nineteenth century industrial plantation. Continue reading Sing Sing as a Factory during the Nineteenth Century