Brooklyn Standard Union
June 9, 1907

Tuesday's Jail Delivery Attracts Attention to Historic Old Fortress
on Governor's Island -- Every-Day Life of the Military Prisoners
Confined There

Attention is once more attracted to Castle Williams, the military
prison on Governor's Island, as a result of the successful break for
liberty made last Tuesday by three prisoners.

The escape was one of the most daring in the history of the old
fortress, which for over a century has overlooked the waters of New
York Harbor. Of late years there have been an unusual number of
escapes from the old prison, which have been planned and carried out
in the face of tremendous odds. In several cases it was necessary
for jail breakers to swim across the channel to the Brooklyn shore,
a feat which has been accomplished on several occasions, the last
time in midwinter, with the water freezing cold. The majority of
escapes, however, have been effected as in the case last week, with
the aid of confederates outside, who supplied saws, etc., as well as
a boat to take the fugitives across the channel.

Castle Williams itself is an imposing structure, built in the style
of the old Spanish architecture. It is circular in shape, with a
large garden in the center, above which is flanked two rows of cells.

The garden is covered with closely cut grass and decorated with
pyramids of cannon balls. Everything about the place shines with the
appearance of militant care and were it not for the sordid life
within, with its compulsory obedience and its counted hours, the
lines (as printed) of a military prisoner at Castle Williams would
be far from a punishment.

The ground floor of the castle is used entirely for offices of the
prison sergeant, the dining room, the carpenter shop, laundry, bake
shop and kitchen.

The dining room has been enlarged to accommodate the growing
capacity of the newcomers and now has been extended to include three
rooms connected by huge archways.

Castle Williams has a physiognomy of its own and its boarders, while
not enjoying table luxuries, have many of the comforts of big hotels
to cater to human needs.

The cells throughout are heated by steam and lighted by electricity.
The baths are in excellent condition, and the prison fare, which is
always wholesome, is made a special feature at holiday festivities.
The menu for each meal is posted on the dining room wall and the
following is a sample of the every day fare.

Castle Williams, Monday, May 19, 1907:

Menu: Breakfast -- Fried bacon, fried potatoes, bread and coffee.
Dinner -- roast young pork, brown gravy, mashed potatoes, mashed
turnips, rice pudding, with milk and eggs. Supper -- Baked pork and
beans, pickles, bread and coffee.

The dining room is not large enough to accommodate the present
number of boarders at one time, and so the prisoners eat in first
and second calls to mess. The kitchen is a continuation of these
rooms and the bake shop opens off the kitchen.

When a prisoner enters Castle Williams, he is asked what trade or
occupation he pursued prior to entering the army and he is then put
to work in a position in which he can do the most good with his time
to serve. The overseer, Sergeant Lorenzo BELL, lives in the prison
and his office work is creditably transacted, bookkeeping and
clerical work being done with the accuracy and despatch that obtain
in large legal concerns anywhere, and all this efficiency is the
work of the prisoners. There are carpenters who are at present
turning out furniture which is used only by officers at the military
post; there are shoemakers who are skilled in their trade; tailors
who are put to work on the prison clothing; and each one at his
trade as in some big industrial school.

For the most part, the men are set to work about the grounds of the
reservation and some of the boys are at work in the officers' homes,
for which they are paid not only in money but in clothes when their
terms of imprisonment expires. The boys are always anxious to be
attached to duty in an officer's house; their food is better and,
take it all in all, they have more privileges than they would enjoy
while at work outside. There are 235 at the prison at the present
time and the great common cause of their desertion is drink.
Whenever the prisoners show rebellion to the order of discipline
they are put to work on the rock pile and a few of the obstreperous
ones are confined to the solitary cells or dungeons on the top
terrace, which are reached by a winding stair, in the tower.

The general cells are all built large enough to furnish twelve beds
and are perfect in ventilation and sanitation. Each cell opens upon
the inner garden, in true Spanish fashion.

Each prisoner is furnished with a roughly made cupboard for books
and clothes and the little keepsakes from home, and are all well
decorated with photographs. Castle Williams is now the proud
possessor of a military prison band that practices regularly every
evening and frequently gives concerts on the grounds.

On Sunday the prisoners in a body attend the services at the
Episcopal Church at 3 P.M., and enter into the song services with
keen enjoyment. They are not compelled to attend church but do so
voluntarily, and the close communion which exists between Chaplain
SMITH and the prisoners has helped to make many a hard place smooth.
There are stories of hardships, severe discipline and suffering that
only a sympathetic servant of God can relieve, and thus many of
these soldiers who have served with military distinction are
reconciled to the life made melancholy by what might have been. Many
of them are under the ban of military crimes that would be called
misdemeanors in common law, and sometimes the army is more merciful
than civil justice. One man must serve two years for killing a
Chinaman, and he was glad that he was tried by the army; another
went to sleep at his post and for two years he will regret that
civil law could not try him. When the prisoner has served his time,
allowing a deduction for good behavior, he is given a new suit of
clothes and $5 when he leaves Castle Williams.

Transcribed for the Brooklyn info pages by S. Anderson