Gymnasium

Programming Initiatives; Building Again

Charles L. McKendrick assumed the office of superintendent at Napanoch just before it took its first normal inmates, and left shortly after the last defective did. He oversaw the effort to develop a facility routine and programs appropriate to the "normals" and to adjust to the bad mix of two incompatible groups: "the young, physically strong with the old, feeble and decrepit."

McKendrick -- trained at Columbia Teachers College -- was able to secure funds to hire additional teachers and upgrade the facility educational program: three more general education teaching positions were added together with new positions of Arts and Crafts Teacher and Music Teacher. Teacher turnover, a problem for years, declined when the state adopted the standard public school calendar, with summers off.

McKendrick also put into effect a well-organized recreational program, a real need with the younger inmates who soon would dominate the facility. By the 1960s . . . McKendrick used the uniformed officers to significantly expand counseling activities. In his first year, eight officers agreed to advise and assist individual inmates with problems in adjustment. In 1961, a group of inmates approached the staff and requested help in breaking their drug habits. An officer volunteered to conduct regular counseling sessions for a group of 15 inmates; a second group was formed shortly afterward. In 1964, the facility psychologist began training officers in group counseling techniques. Upon completion of the training course, five inmate group meetings were begun, and by next year, there were 11 separate counseling groups in regular session. By 1968, staffs trained by the psychologist were offering 25 groups, including two drug counseling groups and five evening sessions.

In 1960 . . . the military drill program -- a point of pride for Napanoch for over 30 years -- was suspended and never resumed. And in 1968, another venerable Napanoch tradition, the making of aluminum ware, was discontinued, the market having turned to plastic products.

Building at Eastern had paused in 1935 with the completion of the gymnasium. There was no further construction until 1952, when a new cellblock (now known as B-3) containing 247 cells was opened, reducing to a small degree the decades-old dependence on makeshift dormitory housing.

The improvised dorms had never been satisfactory, but were especially unsuitable for the younger, more volatile inmates who were coming in. In addition, the hiring of more teachers and counselors brought a need for office and classroom space. Another need was a new chapel and auditorium. The top floor of the main building, which had served since the early reformatory days, was not only in need of renovation but a new location: the aging Invalid Squad could not climb the three flights of stairs and were deprived, by reason of disability, of access to worship and entertainment opportunities.

Planning of a $10 million construction and refurbishment program commenced in the early 1960s. Work on the new administration building, a one-story structure attached at the front of the main building, was underway in 1967. Work began the next year on a new mess hall, kitchen, school and auditorium, and receiving and store facilities. The new complex of buildings, completed in 1972, included aboveground corridors for movement in all weather to and from the housing and program areas. Soon after, the north hall was modernized to provide a spacious and comfortable visiting room, a medical and dental clinic, and up-to-date housing facilities.

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