by Michael Lowrey
Ran across something today that I hadn’t heard of before. Seems that a century ago, a common means of house prisoners that worked in chain gangs was in big rolling cages. The Raleigh News & Observer explains the concept:
Before there were state prisons in North Carolina, there were cages.
From the turn of the century until World War II, wardens all across the state sang the praises of the revolutionary “Convict Cage.” The boxy, metal cages on wheels held up to 20 unlucky inmates each, providing a secure and easy way to transport chain gangs and leave them locked up in the field for the night.
Prisoners, naturally, hated them. Packed head to foot, convicts shuddered against the elements in quarters resembling a portable chicken coop without straw.…
One state prison superintendent, Julian Mann, estimated in the early 1900s that the average convict could expect to survive for only five years on a chain gang.
Few doubt him today.
“It would be considered barbaric today, of course,” said Eddie Shore, superintendent of the Yadkin Correctional Center, about 30 miles due west of Winston-Salem. “But for that time, it was probably considered good housing.”
Indeed, prison superintendents couldn’t say enough good things about the cages in their heyday.
In terms of security, they beat tents or stockades hands down, not requiring the constant presence of shotgun-happy guards.
Fascinating. Not good, and certainly not humane, but fascinating.