Document 10: J. Louis Engdahl, "Kate O'Hare Reveals Medieval Jail Horrors," New York Call, 1 June 1920, p. 2.
This article from the New York Call, New York's daily Socialist newspaper, vividly described abuses by the foreman, prison matron, and overseer that O'Hare's censored prison letters could not reveal, as well as details of the "blind cell." In contrast to the coverage of O'Hare's release in the mainstream press, Socialist newspapers placed a great emphasis on O'Hare's new commitment to prison reform and graphically described the prison conditions she had endured. This article clearly documents the tremendous impact of prison on O'Hare.
Kate O'Hare Reveals
Medieval Jail Horrors________________
Ex-"Convict" Tells of Brutal Autocrats of the
Penitentiary, the Crippled Minds and the
Wrecked Lives of Her Companions in "Jail
School for Crime."_______________
By J. LOUIS ENGDAHL.
ST. LOUIS, Mo., May 31.--There was a high-power sewing machine with no one to drive it over in the back left-hand corner of the overall factory in the women's prison of the Missouri state penitentiary today.
The fact that today had been set aside by the national government for the celebration of Memorial Day did not mean that the unfortunate women, who last Saturday numbered Kate O'Hare among them, had a holiday. Memorial Day was not made for women convicts.
This year, as last, when Kate O'Hare toiled at her machine all day on Memorial Day, the convict women were lashed to their task.
At 6 o'clock in the morning they begin; toil until 11:45; 45 minutes for lunch; then from 12:30 to 4 o'clock; no talking, no resting, just work, work, work; for the state of Missouri and the United States government must have the overalls to sell at a profit to the Overman Overall Company.
Brutal Taskmaster Cowed.
The taskmaster in this shop is a mere stripling of a youth, Herbert Forck, now 21 years of age. He came into the shop at the age of 17, and with complete power over the lives of those unhappy women he was not long in developing the tyranny of a Simon Legree.
Only during the past year, when he came over toward the part of the shop where Kate Richards O'Hare toiled, did he soften his course and brutal language. But one day Kate O'Hare, when returning to her work bench from getting a drink of water, protested to the shop matron against the vile epithets this youthful brute used in addressing a colored girl convict.
"But he's a perfect gentlemen," protested this shop matron, an elderly woman, Anna Ganther, whose belated romance consists of an erotic infatuation for her young assistant in prison slave driving. Between the two, the women in chains suffer the tortures of the damned.
One day one of the colored girls started for the brutal overseer with a pair of long shears. Kate O'Hare stepped between just in time to prevent a killing.
A Prison Autocrat.
If the shop has its Herbert Forck and its Anna Ganther, than the call house has its "Addie" Brown, sent up for 15 years for murdering her man in St. Louis. She has already served two years.
"Addie" is the overseer, having the women at her brutal mercy when they are not in the shop. She missed getting a pardon some time ago when her pal was freed. Without hope of getting her liberty, she becomes increasingly bitter. Kate O'Hare, at times, was able to keep her temper in leash, but now this restraint is gone.
She has the tobacco concession, charging the girls $2 a bag for tobacco that sells for 10 cents; 50 cents for a package of papers, and matches at three for 10 cents. There is no other way that the women are allowed to get tobacco, and three-fourths of the punishment that is meted out to the women is for seeking to smuggle the "makings" into the prison.
"Addie" has another source of income in the revolting so-called sexual relations that she is able, through her power, to force even the white girls to enter into with their black sister victims of perversion. The privilege of two girls in a cell is one that can easily be bought from this agent of the United States Government in the handling of its so-called criminals.
Women Convict's Life but 2 Years.
When Kate Richards O'Hare was taken to her cell last summer, prostrated with the heat at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, "Addie" refused even to get her a drink of water. Kate O'Hare had to lie helpless in her cell until Emma Goldman came in from the shop at 6:30 o'clock and brought her a cooling drink.
Two years is the estimated life of a woman convict, and the work demanded in the prison factory is based on this estimate.
When they are in for long terms like "Addie," they are used for 18 months or less in the shop and then transferred to lighter work. "Addie" holds down her job because, in addition to her other qualities, she makes a good stool pigeon, informing on the women under her direction.
Only the women sent to prison for a year and a day or two or three years, are sent into the factory there to toil at breakneck speed.
Preacher and Doctor Fired.
"Real milk, I've seen it in the prison, but the girls never get it," said Kate O'Hare, in explaining how at attendant skims the milk before the convicts get a chance at it. One of Kate O'Hare's complaints to the prison officials was that the women were not given sufficient butter fat. This is explained by the petty theft of the cream.
Among the improvements that she was able to procure, Kate O'Hare mentions that the walls were whitewashed in a war upon vermin and shower baths have displaced the two tubs that the women were forced to use promiscuously, the healthy women as well as those diseased. As the result of Wasserman tests now being applied, it has been shown that 50 per cent of the women show positive reactions.
"I had the preacher fired and the doctor fired, and now I am after the matron," is the way Kate O'Hare comments on some of the innovations she brought about. The new preacher made a special visit to the prison Saturday to bid her good-by.
Horrors of the "Blind Cell."
Not until Kate O'Hare came to the prison did the women get any reading matter, nor did they have the use of the library because they might write love notes to the men convicts. Now they get plenty of magazines from the outside. Perhaps the greatest improvement that Kate O'Hare brought about was in the treatment of women in the so-called "blind cell" or solitary confinement.
When Kate O'Hare came to the prison, women were sent to the "blind cell," and sometimes kept there several days at a time. They were given a blanket and compelled to sleep on the cement floor. Once every 24 hours the victim was given a slice of bread and some water.
As the result of a protest to Joseph Fishman, U.S. inspector of prisons, who visited the penitentiary last September, a small cot eight inches high was built in the "blind cell" and the women given three blankets, two to lie on and one to cover themselves with.
Kate O'Hare told the story of one of the convict women, Minnie Eddies, sent to the "blind cell" for 21 days, dying as the result of her experience there. As the result of Mrs. O'Hare's protests, the present prison physician visits the "blind cell" every morning to inquire into health of the inmates.
The Sinister "Paddle."
While Kate O'Hare was in the prison events moved toward a better day. "The paddle" hung idle near the door of the overall factory to be carried by the women who were permitted to leave during working hours only singly. "The paddle" is made of six thicknesses of shoe leather, and, in the days before Kate O'Hare came to the prison, was used to flog the women convicts stripped to the waist.
This peculiar paddle had big holes bored in it, so that when it descended upon the back of its victim it raised huge blisters, much to the delight of the brute incarnate who wielded it. It is not in actual commission today, but it hangs there on the wall to be viewed by all. Perhaps it will be used again. Who can tell?
The Misery She Left Behind.
When Kate O'Hare bade farewell to her cell on Sunday morning she left a "dope" at one side of her and a murderer on the other. The memories of both will no doubt haunt her for a long time to come. It was the night that the Indian girl convict died, a victim of syphilis, that Kate O'Hare was kept awake through the long, weary hours, falling asleep at her machine the next day, the tireless needle piercing her finger.
All these things and more are on the pages that Kate Richards O'Hare turned in her book of life from April 14, 1919, to Sunday morning, May 30, 1920.
When Kate O'Hare left the prison on Sunday morning she said another chapter had begun, but in all the coming chapters and pages of her life there will be written down more of her struggle for the women behind prison walls.
Down at Jefferson City, this week, it is the old prison fare again; hash, coffee, syrup and bread for breakfast; stew and something else for dinner, and something just as bad for supper.
Missed by Many in Jail.
There is no Kate O'Hare there, with Comrades all over the country to send her nice things to eat, which she divided among the others as far as it went.
When one of the women gets sick, she is only given the regular prison fare to eat; there is no Kate O'Hare there to furnish delicacies and help nurse the patient back to health.
Kate O'Hare has been restored to her Comrades, but she is sorely missed by nearly 100 women convicts in the Missouri State Prison at Jefferson City.
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