Check out my interview with Justice For All radio show where I get to talk all about Folsom’s 93. I had a great time chatting with host, George Yates.
I wanted to share this colorized picture of William M. Gray, Folsom’s 22nd execution. My son has been playing around with Photoshop, and this one particular shot has always stood out to him, so he wanted to see what he could do with it. Given the information surrounding Gray’s case, I’m not entirely convinced he committed the crime for which he hanged. I’ll leave you with his last words.
” . . . there could be no God, else an innocent man would not be hanged.”
I suppose it’s been quite a while since you’ve heard from me, unless you following my ramblings over at AprilJMoore, where I tend to stay busier. Folsom’s has been doing well and is heading into its second printing shortly, which is great news! I’ll keep you posted on that.
In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some additions to Julie Green’s Last Supper collection. You may recall a post I did back in April of 2012 about Julie’s work. On various dinner plates, she paints the last suppers of executed inmates. It’s an incredible collection of 550 plates showing a tiny glimpse into the final hours of a condemned prisoner. I had contacted her about the possibility of painting some of Folsom’s 93 last suppers and through information I provided coupled with her own research, she painted 18 plates.
#28 Jacob Oppenheimer, July 12, 1913
You can view the other 15’s last suppers at Julie’s website. Look for:
Ivan Kovalev: february 21, 1896
Paulo Kamaunu, June 19, 1896
George Washington Roberts, September 4, 1896
Alex Kels, January 4, 1924
John Geregac, January 16, 1925
Alfred Bollinger, October 9, 1925
Charles Peevia, August 27, 1926
Paul Rowland, September 27, 1929
Anthony Brown, January 3, 1930
Roy Stokes, January 3, 1930
Walter E. Burke, January 10, 1930
James Gregg, January 10, 1930
Aldrich Welsford Lutz, June 21, 1935
George Hall, March 27, 1936
Earl Budd Kimball, May 22, 1936
You can also see all 550 plates HERE.
I’m thrilled to learn that my friends at the Folsom Prison Museum are edging closer and closer to their dream of building the Big House Museum, that will encompass artifacts and treasures from prisons around the country. Jim Brown, Dennis Sexton, and the rest of the staff at the museum have made preserving Folsom’s history their life’s work and it’s wonderful to see them continuing to make strides toward this new endeavor. Click on the links below to learn more about the Folsom Prison Museum and the efforts to build the Big House Museum.
I know this may not be as intriguing as The Royal Birth, but I’m feeling pretty jazzed about my northern California book tour that I’m halfway through with. Just so that you don’t feel left out of all of the excitement, here’s a recap so far:
July 20th signing at Folsom Prison Museum. This is the trapdoor that the 93 men stood on, seconds before their deaths. (Thanks for the pictures, Linda)!
(My best Johnny Cash pose–trying not to smile)
The following morning, I made my television debut on Good Day Sacramento with “Chicken Man.” (Felix Sloper, not Cody Stark, Good Day’s fabulous host)
WATCH HERE (and see if you can spot the basted bird that makes a surprise appearance).
On Monday, I had my first radio interview . . . a quick 3-4 minute chat with Kitty O’Neal on 1530 KFBK NewsTalk.
Like the TV interview, it went by in a blur.
I took some time out for some tree hugging . . .
This morning I had the amazing opportunity to talk with Beth Ruyak on “Insight,” on Capital Public Radio.
You can listen in HERE and hear the huge, awkward pause I make when my mind goes blank around the 10 minute mark.
Thanks for the great support!
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 ’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 me and the family 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.
I just finished this autobiography, published in 1926, by Jack Black, chronicling his life as a petty thief, burglar, and opium addict. Black’s crime career began at the age of 15 and for the next thirty years, he shuffled in and out of jails and prisons, including Folsom. In fact, Black was in the midst of an eight-year term at Folsom when the infamous break of 1903 occurred. Though he didn’t partake in the escape, he and fellow inmates received the brunt of the guards’ anger over the break—in the form of the straitjacket. Guards P.J. Cochrane and Richard Murphy (called “Dirty Dick” by the prisoners) relished in using the torturous device.
“After the break Folsom was hell. The warden and Captain Murphy began taking revenge on friends of the escapees . . . Warden Wilkinson was removed and Archibald Yell of Sacramento, took his place. He had no experience and was forced to feel his way slowly. He had to depend on Murphy. This put him in virtual control of the convicts and his lust for revenge went unchecked. I was on the list and he soon got me.”
Cochrane, tightening the jacket, said to Black, “You fellows tried to kill me; now it’s my time.” Black endured the “bag” for over three days, lying on the floor of a dark concrete cell. This punishment caused disfigurement, broken bones, and even death to many California prisoners between the late 1800s and 1912 when Warden James Johnston banished it.
Black, considered an “honorable outlaw,” earning the respect and admiration of not just fellow thieves, but lawmen as well, finally kicked the crime (and drug) habit in the mid 1920s. He published his memoir in hopes of warning young men from becoming criminals and dope fiends. He also hoped to change the ways of prisons—show the institutions that the use of cruel punishments and the death penalty did nothing to deter crime; that it merely made men more vindictive and revengeful. Black became an outspoken advocate for prison reform and opponent of the death penalty.
“What, in a nutshell, is my case against the right people? I contend that more laws and more punishment will mean nothing but more crime and more violence . . . We need more emphasis on prevention than on punishment . . . The secret of the cure of crime—if there is one—is contained in a knowledge of its causes . . . The right people are working on the wrong end of the problem. If they would give more attention to the high chair, they could put cobwebs on the electric chair. They lay too much stress on what the wrong people do, not on why they do it; on what they are instead of how they got that way.”
Black, who took care of his friends and harbored no ill-feelings against his enemies, became the librarian for the San Francisco Call after leaving his life of crime. He wrote several articles for national magazines and penned many prison dramas for MGM. Fame and recognition soon dwindled, as well as his bank account, and it is said that in 1932, Black committed suicide by drowning in New York Harbor, although his body was never found.
I apologize for not posting more often, but I am engulfed in writing something else, namely, my book. Which is really a very good thing considering I have a deadline looming over me. I’m currently working on Folsom’s 19th and 20th executions; men hanged for their participation in Folsom’s first prison break that left a guard dead.
#19, Joseph Murphy
#20, Harry Eldridge
Thirteen men escaped that day in 1903. Only six were actually recaptured (one in 1910), one died from a self-inflicted bullet, and five never saw the inside of Folsom prison again. What happened to these men? It is rumored that a couple sustained injuries during the battles with sheriff’s men who pursued them, but no one recovered their bodies in the hills where they fought.
As a lover of fiction (both reading and writing it), it’s hard not to spin stories in my head about these liberated convicts. For a while, a trend in writing, seemed to be authors picking up the story where history left off—or where literary geniuses closed the chapter. Consider Ahab’s Wife, Mr. Timothy, and even Girl with the Pearl Earring. What’s the story behind the story, or in the last example, the painting?
Have you ever wanted to rewrite history? Other writers have proven it can be done. If you’re seeking an idea, sometimes looking back in history will spark something. Find a story that needs an ending and write it. For these six men who secured their freedom in 1903, their stories ended in some way or another, but they’re not told in newspapers or books. I’m thinking perhaps when I’m finally done sharing their tales according to the history books, I’ll work on writing the rest of their stories.
Self-defense for prison guards centers around setting things up so the guards rarely need to use self-defense.
In the beginning of modern law enforcement, this meant finding large, intimidating, violent guards and making sure they were the only people carrying weapons. That deterrence — combined with what amounted to carte blanche in using the weapons — kept guards reasonably safe by making sure people rarely started a physical confrontation.
As our society became more modern and aware of prisoners’ humanity, training changed its focus — but continued to focus on preventing altercations. Corrections officers received training in joint locks, defensive tactics and weapons common on the tiers — such as batons. In addition, they learned team tactics intended to stop a potential problem before it began. This ranged from how to avoid getting in one another’s way, up to spacing and psychological considerations to keep a prisoner off balance and intimidated.
Modern training incorporates concepts from military combatives, boxing, wrestling, judo and jui jitsu. It’s similar to what you might get in an applied self-defense course, with two major differences.
Focus on prevention — the bulk of corrections combatives focuses on setting up a scenario so you never have to become violent. This can include your positioning, the positioning of other officers, verbal redirection and the construction of a facility to give all advantages to the officers. Every once in a while a prisoner will decide to fight anyway, but this keeps most people in line.
Submission over destruction — aiming to get prisoners to settle down, rather than cause injury. The best example of this is the baton training. If you took a stick or baton class for self-defense, you’d learn to target the elbows, wrist, knees and head — areas that are easy to destroy that can take somebody out. In corrections training, officers learn to hit the upper arms, thighs and the broad planes of the back. These areas hurt, but don’t injure. Submission holds and joint locks take the same focus.
One final note is that the techniques officers learned are for the day-to-day control of prisoners. If a prisoner actively attacks a corrections officer, all bets are off. That officer is — generally — allowed to use whatever techniques he needs to get to safety. Retaliation is never tolerated, but if a prisoner gets injured while trying to injure a guard, that’s not considered the guard’s fault.