This is where the Sing Sing Prison Museum community, authors, scholars, and book lovers can find recommendations, thought-provoking discussion questions, and access to conversations with authors and journalists about the deep-reaching ecosystem of the criminal justice system. This will be an opportunity for readers to expand their knowledge of the criminal justice system through works of fiction, nonfiction, and other mediums. SSPM will showcase a plethora of voices and perspectives to unlock the past and open minds.
In honor of Pride month, SSPM highlights two pieces of media pertaining to the experience of LGBTQ+ individuals within prisons. Focusing on the Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison by High Ryan and "Do You Know Who I Am" from the Ear Hustle podcast. Read more about both on our blog.
The Urban Underworld in Late Nineteenth-Century New York: The Autobiography of George Appo
This month we are honored to feature an autobiography "The Urban Underworld in Late Nineteenth-Century New York: The Autobiography of George Appo," by former Sing Sing incarcerated individual, George Appo, and edited by Timothy J. Gilfoyle. The book follows the first-hand account of Appo, a pickpocket and con man, who spent his early years in various penitentiaries and prisons in New York. He recalls his time in Sing Sing Prison, providing insight into corruption, corporal punishment, and incarceration.
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
The Ossining Public Library has kindly put together a LibGuide for Pride Month. You can read more about Pride Month and access relevant resources here.
Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration by Jerry Flores
From home, to school, to juvenile detention center, and back again. Follow the lives of fifty Latina girls living forty miles outside of Los Angeles, California, as they are inadvertently caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline. Their experiences in the connected programs between “El Valle” Juvenile Detention Center and “Legacy” Community School reveal the accelerated fusion of California schools and institutions of confinement. The girls participate in well-intentioned wraparound services designed to provide them with support at home, at school, and in the detention center. But these services may more closely resemble the phenomenon of wraparound incarceration, in which students, despite leaving the actual detention center, cannot escape the surveillance of formal detention, and are thereby slowly pushed away from traditional schooling and a productive life course.
Watch Sing Sing Prison Museum in Conversation with Jerry Flores
Also Available in Spanish
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Colson Whitehead writes the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. When Elwood Curtis, a Black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.