Looks like it’s finally happening. Folsom’s 93 is still on course for a July release. I’ll be headed out to to Sacramento and the prison in July (more on that when dates are finalized).
Author J’aime Rubio spent four years researching and compiling just a few of the many chilling stories that came out of the Preston School of Industry in Ione, California. From 1894 to 1960, the reform school, often referred to as “Preston Castle,” garnered a cruel and murderous reputation. The Castle has been featured on several television shows including Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, among others, but no one has done more research and investigating than Rubio. In Behind the Walls: A Historical Expose of The Preston School of Industry, Rubio has uncovered countless true tales of what went on behind the castle walls that not only involve suspicious deaths and unsolved murders, but tales of unlikely triumphs from former wards. Truly, a fascinating read. My only knowledge of the school came from bits and pieces of my own findings while researching for my book. Two of Folsom’s 93 “served terms” at Preston:
#44, George Donnelly
Curiously, the document pictured above lists Donnelly as an Ione ward in 1884, ten years before the reform school opened. I suspect it’s a typo, possibly meaning 1894 instead. According to Behind the Walls, a young James O’Donnell was among Ione’s first seven wards in 1894. At this point, I can only speculate, but could this be the same man?
Then we have #53, Felix Sloper.
One of six children, abused by an alcoholic father who later abandoned the family, Sloper spent much of his young life in and out of prisons. He began with the Preston School of Industry, where he served two separate terms; one for seven years, one for two, and then escaped in 1914. (In January 1915, police arrested Sloper’s mother on a statuary charge after she married another man while still married to her childrens’ father. This earned her the nickname, “Sloper the Eloper.”)
Rubio, a former skip tracer, does a fantastic job unraveling these mysterious and often chilling tales, and bringing them to light, particularly the tragic 1950 murder of Preston housekeeper, Anna Corbin. The Preston Castle undoubtedly holds countless other secrets, but they’re no match for Rubio and her unyielding drive to seek the truth. You can order Rubio’s book on Amazon, or via her website. A dollar from each sale goes to the Preston Castle Foundation.
You can pre-order a copy of Folsom’s 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison’s Executed Men, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble due for release July 1, 2013. Yes, I realize that’s still a ways away, but I wanted to show that this book really does exist; that I haven’t been making all this up. But feel free to pre-order a copy to make it truly official.
My friend and fellow writer, Patricia Stoltey, is giving away a copy of the NCW Writing Planner that myself and Kerrie Flanagan, director of the NCW, have created. In between writing, I do illustration and this is the second year in a row I’ve created images for this planner. (You can see more of my work HERE). Pat is an amazing author and has published two mystery novels with several more in the works. I encourage you to check out her great site that is filled with book reviews, author interviews, and writing tips.
As contest coordinator, I’m thrilled to announce the Northern Colorado Writers are now accepting submissions for the 2nd annual Top of the Mountain Book Award. The contest is open unpublished works of fiction, creative/narrative nonfiction, and nonfiction. The contest is open until march 1, 2013. Winners receive a $100 and a framed certificate, as well as recognition at the NCW Conference April 26, 2013. Get the submission guidelines HERE and good luck!
This is Tom.
I met him when I was about two-years old, shortly before he passed away in 1979. Growing up, I knew very little about my great-great uncle; only that his wife, my aunt Betty, loved him beyond measure. She often referred to him as, “My Tom.” They did after all, spend forty-two years together. Their relationship, however, wasn’t exactly conventional. They met in 1937 (incidentally, the year of Folsom’s final execution) when she was seventeen. He was forty-six . . . and married. After Tom’s wife refused to grant a divorce, the two carried on an affair until 1968 when Tom’s wife died and the pair married.
Little is known about Tom except that he was a bookie, a self-described professional gambler, and that he had a “heart of gold.” I also know that during prohibition, he and his father smuggled bootlegged liquor to the Hearst Castle. My grandmother recalled a story he told about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Apparently, Tom’s father or brother, was the fire chief of the city. They enlisted Tom, a then-teenager, and his friends to help in the aftermath. With the streets in ruins, it was nearly impossible for horses and carriages to navigate the city, so on roller skates, the boys collected bodies and brought them to the morgue.
After forty-two years together, it’s odd to not have some recorded family history, but they weren’t the most forthcoming duo. Much of that had to do with the fact that Tom had a wife. Another, was Tom’s chosen “profession.” His circle of friends and acquaintances included Bugsy Siegel and he even become a silent partner in the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas with the legendary bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur, Anthony Cornero. Despite the ties to organized crime, Betty was always quick to point out that Tom “never crossed the line” into that world.
Sometime in the ’30s or ’40s, Tom made a trip to Folsom prison to collect money from an inmate. You couldn’t hide from a bookie in prison. I don’t know if Tom got what he came for, but he did leave with a box of mug shots. “The warden gave them to him,” Betty later said. They were placed in a closet and stayed there until the early 1980s. Tucked in with the pictures sat a 40-page text chronicling the history of Folsom from the early 1880s to 1943, presumably when it was written. Betty (who had a flair for drama) showed them to my family and I on one of our trips to see her in California in ’88 or ’89.
These photos were freaky and awesome at the same time.
We warily looked through the pictures, fearing somehow, the fiendishness of the subjects would rub off on us. Some had on bowler hats, others bowties. A few had their hair smoothly slicked back, while others appeared disheveled and unkempt. The pictures spanned a number of years, as evidenced by the mens’ evolving fashions and mustache styles. Some mug shots depicted a friendly, neighborly-looking kind of guy, or even a schoolteacher. Others fit the criminal stereotype with their shifty eyes and menacing stare. Many looked downright surprised or stunned, not unlike a typical driver’s license photo.
The pictures and document remained with Betty, but she supplied us with copies of the text. As I grew older, I stored Betty’s unusual treasure in the back of mind, recalling every so often that my great-great uncle visited Folsom prison once and brought back creepy photos of inmates. So anyway, that’s how the book began and with any luck, it’ll be available next spring from Linden Publishing.
I owe Tom a debt of gratitude for hanging on to these antiquities, because without them, I’m not sure these stories would have been told.
Two men leave a prison. One’s been released on parole, the other was exonerated. One has a $100 debit card, a job lined up, and a room at a halfway house. The other man has empty pockets, is unemployed, and hopefully some friends or family to give him a place to sleep.
As you might have guessed, the parolee has the money, the job, and the place to sleep. I suppose for the man exonerated, his freedom and a cleared record is all he can ask for, but what if that’s all he has? I came across this article regarding compensating those exonerated. Unless it was proven that misconduct occurred during trial, the accused cannot sue or receive damages from their wrongful incarceration—at least not in twenty-three states. The article focused on Robert Dewey, released from a Grand Junction, Colo., prison after serving 17 years for murder. “All I got was an apology.” Dewey has little family to rely on and is struggling to survive on food stamps. What’s more, he cannot work due to a back injury he sustained in prison. He also couldn’t receive job training in prison because of his life-without-parole sentence.
“I couldn’t take computer classes or anything else to better myself. Life without parole meant my ‘out date’ was 1,000 years in the future. They weren’t going to teach me skills I could use on the outside.”
The Innocence Project, other advocacy groups, and prosecutors across the country, are pushing for compensation laws, as well as funds for job-training, counseling, affordable housing, and health services. For more on Robert Dewey and the other 292 exonerated individuals, visit The Innocence Project.
I just returned from the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and I’m ready to jump into my new project, a historical fiction. I’m enjoying this reprieve from Folsom while the publisher goes over the manuscript of my book. Check out my post at AprilJMoore.