Eastern NY CF, Napanoch. [Photo taken 1990]

Still No.1

A review of a century of development at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility is an education -- not only in correctional theory and practice -- but also in the social and transportation history of Ulster County and the United States.

From the prison's front gate, an observer could have watched as the barge yielded to the locomotive, and the locomotive gave way to the automobile. Eastern's construction relied on the Delaware & Hudson Canal, which provided a means for transporting materials to the site. But in just two years, the 73-year old man-made waterway -- long a prime mover in the development of Napanoch and surrounding communities -- was no longer in use, having been made obsolete by the more efficient railway system. After 1902, when it at last reached Napanoch, the Ontario & Western Railroad was the primary means of transporting prisoners and supplies. The railroad would in turn also be superseded. Better roads, cars, and trucks closed the section of track running through the prison grounds in the 1950s, but provided the institution with an extraordinarily mobile and diversified workforce.

Eastern's imposing arclititecture suggested the State's profound faith in the truth and permanence of the program to be instituted there. The walls and turrets remain, yet the program proved to be anything but permanent. Four name changes in 50 years are testament to Eastern's readiness to accept new challenges. With the changes came a tradition of flexibility and adaptability.

Since 1973, Eastern has operated as a general confinement facility for males 16 years of age and older. But during these 27 years, Eastern has not stood still. . . .

Eastern has a "family" feel to it. . . . The family approach is seen in the facility's long-standing practice of keeping a roster of former employees, who are kept in touch with facility life through special events such as the annual steak bake for retirees. Retirees have played an essential role in planning and bringing about the program of events to mark Eastern's centennial observation. They were especially helpful in the preparation of this historical booklet. . . .

Inmates and staff go out into all corners of Ulster, Orange, and Sullivan Counties, pitching in for emergency snow removal, erecting road signs, setting up playground equipment, and painting churches, schools, and village and town buildings, and the community comes into the facility.

For a maximum-security prison, Eastern operates in a remarkably open fashion. Volunteers regularly come in and donate their time and talents to offer programming opportunities to inmates. . . .

Eastern New York Correctional Facility is not only the most prominent architectural structure in the area, it is a major purchaser of supplies and services from local firms. It is also a major employer, providing a living to about 600 employees and their families. Eastern's $23 million payroll tends to be redistributed among local stores, restaurants, and service providers who make up the community.

Since the days of Warden Silas Berry, institution officials and line staff have been active in community affairs . . . Walter Thayer was not only the facility physician, but also family doctor to a generation of area residents. Superintendent Charles McKendrick was for years active in local mental health associations, and also taught at local colleges. . . . Eastern's farm donates potatoes to the Ulster County Food Pantry . . . A group of prisoners formed a Delinquency Intervention Program to help young people by demonstrating the consequences of anti-0social attitudes, delinquency, and criminality. Another group of staff and inmates help the DARE program fund-raising efforts by making plaques; the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C. has recognized Eastern's contributions and requested assistance in a national anti-drug campaign. Other inmates with staff encouragement raise money by running a yearly marathon for the benefit of the "Tomorrow's Children" Cancer Division.

As the button says, Eastern is still No. 1."

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