Appo, an orphaned Chinese American, lived in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City. His upbringing taught him to do whatever was necessary to survive. At the age of 15, Appo was caught pickpocketing, charged, and sentenced to time on the school ship called "Mercury." Throughout his life, Appo was in and out of different prisons until the early 20th century.
His account of Sing Sing gives an insider perspective on prison life during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He describes a system of informal entitlements created by prison guards: the incarcerated people could pay and bribe guards to receive newspapers, tobacco, and even could be exempt from hard labor. Appo also discusses another administrative system in which, to cut costs, prison administrators would assign office work to inmates. This allowed them to manipulate records and change release dates for other inmates.
Through his description of corruption and corporal punishment, Appo raises the question: What is the purpose of prisons? Is it to reform incarcerated individuals? Is it to separate them from the general public? Is it to take advantage of cheap labor?
Read Appo's autobiography here: https://www.amazon.com/Urban-Underworld-Late-Nineteenth-Century-York-ebook/dp/B07L9F65LJ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2VSHTTR4UEO0F&keywords=george+appo&qid=1659373572&sprefix=george+appo%2Caps%2C63&sr=8-1