|THE PRISON PHOTOS DISPLAY CASE MYSTERY:
This wonderful display case hung on my wall for years.
I found it in a friend's garage in the early 1970s. It had been bought at an estate sale in Livermore, Ca. I have no idea how it came to California.
Nor do I know who the people were who sold it.
My friend was going to toss it in the trash. I rescued it!
Livermore, Ca., is the home to University of California Lawrence Radiation Labs. We figured someone who had worked there
New York City Penitentiary - Riker's Island
Cellblock - Riker's Island
Old Penitentiary -- Welfare Island
Cellblock - Welfare Island
Demolition of Old Penitentiary -- 1936
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brought the display case out from New York. But we don't know for sure. Just speculation.
I think one reason the case caught my fancy was something my uncle in Chicago told me in the 1960s. He was a history buff and told me about cells at Rikers Penitentiary that were made of metal. According to the story he told: Inmates were punished by being placed in the cold metal cells without any clothing to wear.
That was the first time I heard anything about Rikers, and it captured my attention. Then in the 1970s, I found the display case headed for disposal as trash in Livermore, California. I had to have it!
Later, as funny things happen in this world, I ended up working in a prison myself.
When I lived in Livermore, I owned a nursery school. Although it did a thriving business, I sold the school and moved to northern California to be closer to my parents who had moved to Chico, Ca.
I enjoyed the job very much, but have to admit that some of my success was due to my being quite naive. I literally didn't know the meaning of some of the stuff the men said to me. Most of the inmates treated me very well. I am a lady and acted like one, never trying to to be macho. I just did my job.
I smile a lot when I am nervous; I smile to cover that fear sort of feeling. The inmates called me "Officer Smiley!"
Anyway, I again hung the display case on my living room wall and had constant flow of visitors wanting to see it close up.
I finally left that great prison job and went back to school myself, acquired more credits and I now teach writing at Butte College in Chico, California.
So when I came across the New York Correction History Society on the Internet, I thought I'd ask if the society would be interested in giving this display case something like the tender loving care it has become accustomed to during its last three decades with me.
I am delighted NYCHS will provide it a good home in the archives that the society maintains at the Correction Academy.
In a sense, the display case is like a window through which one can look into another era.
I am glad that others with interest in correction history will have opportunities in the years to come to view it and be "transported" back to the mid-1930s when the photos in the display case appear to have been taken.
Perhaps someone looking at it will solve the mystery of how the display case itself came to be "transported" -- 3,000 miles from Rikers and Welfare Island.
Loris Ann Thomsen