What was life in the prison like? Only few people can answer that question, but The Yuma Territorial Prison was not only a prison, it also had other activities which the prisoners could get involved in so they would not spend all day locked in a cell. For example a very important part of the prison was the famous Library which was built inside the Yum Territorial Prison. It was not a very fancy library, the prison could hardly afford books for the prisoners and for the people of Yuma to use.
This library did not only help the prisoners but also other people who were not inmates as well.
The library was filled with books once Madora Ingalls got people to donate books and raise money for new books. Another thing they would do to raise money for books was charge visitors who would want a tour of the place. They would charge the public twenty five cents for a tour of the prison.
Madora Ingalls was the name of the librarian in charge of the Yuma Territorial Prison Library. Ingalls felt as if the prisoners needed to get a good education rather than them sitting around in their cell accomplishing nothing at all with all the free time they had.
She was not really working for the library either everything that she did for the prison was only volunteer work, no one at all was paying her or obligating her to complete the duty of attending the Library and helping out so many prisoners(Yuma Sun, Territorial Prison Library as also Yuma’s fist, by: Darin Fenger. Sun Staff writer). The library was pretty small, it was only one room cramped with books on small bookshelves that covered the room. The advantage of having a library was considered a privilege that not many other prisons in the United States had.
This was not the best library in the world but it was better than others, it had a long table where the people could sit down and read, it had numerous bookshelves stacked with books, also there were three photos hung up on the wall which seem like it was three of our presidents. This prison was a gift you can say to the prisoners, most of the people living outside the prison did not really have as much as the prisoners did, except they were free and had total control of their lives. Prisoners also had the privilege of learning how to read and practicing their writing abilities, they were taught by the librarian in charge of the library.
Another luxury the prisoners had during this time was a hospital, with no cost whatsoever to any of the prisoners. Even if they only spent a year or a couple of months in jail, when they got out they did not have to pay for any medical bill at all. Imagine having medical attention twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, when people who were not even in the jail, people who were not committing crimes, innocent people did not have anything like it (Western Americana: History of the American West, Posted by Sue Schrems, Ph. D).
This prison was one of the best prisons at the time, prisoners had a lot of things that any other ordinary people could only dream of having, for being a prison is was pretty amazing. Also, the Yuma Prison was the first prison that had a generating plant that was established in the prison, this allowed prisoners and everyone else within the prison to have nice cooling system. Weather was not a problem in this prison at all, everything stayed fresh inside the prison during summer or winter days and any other time of the year.
This would also allow the prisoners to be in peace while they worked or while they were learning and doing activities. Even though they did have a bit of a bug problem the prison was not all that bad. A prisoners first job was to build the prison, it is pretty amazing how only a couple of prisoner had to build their own cell, a place were they would stay locked in for a couple of months, maybe years. After they built these cells they were suppose to share them with six other prisoners. Imagine living in a cramped up cell with six other people who you barely even know and who are criminals.
Prisoners also had jobs like making shoes and clothes, also they made stuff like canes and were allowed to cook. I think this was very good for the prisoners because at least they had something to do, instead of being in a cell all day or having to deal with a harder job than that. Another job they had was that they had to dig holes under the prison so that the water from the Colorado River could flow underneath the prison and help keep everything and everyone cool during hot summer days even though they already had a cooling system, letting the water flow under the prison was a huge help at the time.
The Colorado was a big advantage to the prisoners, this would provide them with water for them to be able to clean or take a bath when they were assigned to do so. Also they would allow them to make hand crafted items when every they had time to themselves, this meant they weren’t working, also these hand crafted items were sold by the prisoners. These items they hand-crafted were sold on Sundays after they would attend free church services that were held at the prison (Yuma Territorial Prison Arizona’s Version of Devil’s Island, Arizona Leisure, Vacation guide). This id not mean the prisoners also had a hard time just like everyone else in life. Although the prisoners did not seem to think the same way, it they did not like living in the prison, this was inferred because the prisoners even had names they would call the prison. For example the prisoners would call it “Devil’s Island” and “Hell Hole”. This was because it was not always all fun and games for the prisoners, all of them also had consequences for their bad and mischievous actions, for example if the prisoners misbehaved or did not follow a certain rule, they were sent to a hole dug into a rock hill which they called the “Dark Cell”.
The Dark Dell had no bed, they would keep punished prisoners there for days or months, the most an inmate lasted punished in the Dark Cell was one hundred and twenty six days locked inside without getting out, but of course the only reason they stayed alive was because of the food they were fed while they were in there. Also the inmates were kept form any activities that went on in the prison, for example they were not allowed to use the library, to make hand crafted items and to participate in Sunday church events while they were in the middle of a punishment.
The prisoners were terrified of being sent to the Dark Cell and even hearing all about it. The punishment of being sent to the Dark Cell included only were being served a meal of water and bread once a day. While being sent to the Dark Cell they had no privileges once soever, they were not allowed toilets or even buckets, they just had to do their business inside the small room where they were left alone(Ghost of the Prairie History and Haunting of America Haunted Arizona Ghost of the Yuma Territorial Prison).
The prisoners would receive a punishment that would involve being chained to a ball on the stone floor, this punishment was given to them when they would try to escape from the prison. Most of the convicts that escaped were found because they would pay Indians fifty dollars to find the prisoners and return them to the prison. Prisoners would have thought twice before escaping though, this is because the prison had a Gatling Gun that shot over six hundred times a minute, this gun was called “The Lowell Gun. Even though this was a prison and people died of hunger and other diseases like tuberculosis, no prisoner was ever killed intentionally. Out of all the prisoners who attempted to escape only twenty six out of the three thousand and sixty nine prisoners actually got away and were not found or punished(Paul&Alana’s 50 states or less, Yuma Territorial Prison, One of the West most feared prisons). The prisoners only had to deal with this for 33 years until the prison closed and was became a school. By reading all this information you can get a little taste of what a prisoners life was like living in the Yuma Territorial Prison.
1. Yuma Sun, Territorial Prison Library as also Yuma’s fist, by: Darin Fenger. Sun Staff writer August 16, 2008. Date of access: January 24, 2013 Western Americana: History of the American West, Posted by Sue Schrems, Ph.D at 7:18am. Date of access: January 24, 2013 Yuma Territorial Prison Arizona’s Version of Devil’s Island, Arizona Leisure, Vacation guide. Copyright 2000-2012 Az Leisure. Date of access: January, 26, 2013 Ghost of the Prairie History and Haunting of America Haunted Arizona Ghost of the Yuma Territorial Prison, Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. Date of access: January 27, 2013 Paul&Alana’s 50 states or less, Yuma Territorial Prison, One of the West most feared prisons. Date of access: January 30, 2013
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