In preparation for our newest exhibition Connecticut State Prison Open Storage, staff at Wethersfield Historical Society encountered MaryAnn Ippolito Pilotte. Mrs. Pilotte kindly shared her father’s memoir along with objects and photographs. Francis L. Ippolito’s memoir left a lasting impression of the difficulty of being a prison guard. Below is the memoir written by Francis Ippolito about his experience as an Officer at the Connecticut State Prison in Wethersfield. The Ippolito family generously provided the memoir for us to share with the public providing a primary source document that illuminates the employment at the prison in Wethersfield in the mid 20th century. It must be noted that the following words are that of Francis Ippolito and do not represent the beliefs of Wethersfield Historical Society. This memoir does contain strong language, please read at your own discretion.
My editing has been very, very light as I wished to retain his diction and style, and much of his punctuation. This book, therefore, is a pilot edition, so to speak. He fully realizes that edits will be made in the future. Furthermore, he has many more things to say; they come to mind as he and I converse about various incidents. He would appreciate the reader’s feedback of any kind: questions, requests for further information, anything that would contribute to a fuller second edition.
The title WHAT KIND OF BARS? comes directly from dialog in the text and is indicative of his keen sense of humor and power of observation which permeate his recollections. This book is not so much one man’s memoirs of bygone days in a now defunct institution, rather it is in part, an anecdotal account of Connecticut penal history.
What Kind of Bars?
I don’t think any prison guard has ‘ ever to my knowledge written about a career in the “Pen.” I will make this effort. I became more convinced to write because of a Sunday feature article written by a staff reporter of the Hartford Courant. Sort of a half-time and half “mullarkey” thing that the average reader would believe and most would likely fall for it. Well, I will tell you, I did not. This bird being “Media” was in the driver’s seat, but I was not interested in his thrilling and chilling the public. Why? His story was about all the condemned men who were all under my wing as I was the officer in charge of what is known as condemned or death row. Eleven years of the time I spent at the Prison were spent here in this isolated spot.
These fellows came and went, some executed (by electrocution). I had these men, some of them, for a long time–appeal after appeal or stay of execution after stay. Almost every day we, well, practically lived together, 12 hours a day, 54 hours a week, yes, that’s right and I really got to know those men. At time, we would “kid” around.
I would like to mention now that this department was known as Segregation–isolated from the prison proper by a long corridor and two doors unlocked to gain entrance. It was called Siberia by the inmates. I shall explain–“Seg” was a small cell block, three tiers high, with five cells on each side. Men were sent down when they got into trouble, went to solitary first for ten days, and then down here to complete their 30 day penalty–no talking–no smoking–and no mattress during the day. They sat on their cell chair. Their bed was suspended by two hooks against the wall. A link chain held it up and they could walk around if they wished. Parole violators, upon being returned, stayed here for 30 days and we also had one escape artist steady and two others kept here because they couldn’t ever get along up with the men; constant trouble makers, let’s say. The bottom floor was for the condemned men on our side and a shower or stock room was on the opposite side. The steady “boarders” in Seg had all the same facilities as the men up in circulation such as lights, radios with earphones, smoking privileges, foot lockers, beds and whatever else. Only one of them, however, had the privilege of going to the “big yard” for exercise, accompanied by an officer who escorted him to and from for one hour a day from four to five in the afternoon. Harry L. was an escape artist, therefore the escort necessary. He was a model inmate and was eventually released. The other steadies had a half hour a day in our little courtyard just outside Seg. This courtyard was where the hangings took place before “the chair” came to be the method of execution. One of the steadies, Pete, was a pippin, a jokester and a diabetic. One day I decided to take a look during this exercise period inside his footlocker for possible contraband. (It was customary.) I lifted up the lid and I couldn’t help but get a kick out of what he had written right on top (NOSEY!!). Yes, it wasn’t meant for me, but I got even and never told him about it. He was soon transferred to the West End Extension just below the prison hospital as his condition was worsening and he was under medication for seizures. He was only about 25, doing a long stretch. He had a real bad one soon after he got there and died shortly thereafter.
John Bey, I think, had the record for solitary time. He also was a steady and a little hard to describe–odd, quite odd, so gullible that when other inmates told him to put coffee in his shaving mug, he did so. The lather was brown, but Bey thought it was normal. His goal was to lecture in Poland when he finished up his time.
I must state now that our desk was against the wall. Two officers on duty. Never was the time that both went for a walk around on an occasional (brief) patrol at the same time. That was law in this department. The condemned men were in their separate cells about 15 feet or so in front of us and never without surveillance.
When I first was sent down here, Pat Brady was No. 1 and I was No. 2. Pat had been here for years but soon asked to go out on the wall due to his age and imminent retirement. Soon I was No. 1 and Frank Drozd, a big, husky, ex-Army guy, was No.2. We teamed up like perfection. I’m going to go back soon as I wanted to describe this department to you first. That reporter’s story about these certain condemned men didn’t jive with what I knew and he didn’t, so I will discuss this later as I think I should tell you about how I got here in the first place. But being hot around the collar made it, in my opinion, to inform you first why I wrote my thing.
It was late 1941. Working in a factory–not steady by any means-¬I had been married only about a year or so. I decided to make a move if possible. I recalled the very lean years of the Great Depression-¬months at a time without a dollar in your pocket as a teenager. I had been attending 30 days military training (no pay), but at least off the streets. Learned a lot there (Government subsidized). Round trip to Fort Devens, Massachusetts paid for–that’s all. Even joined the National Guard, $1.00 a drill could go on and on, but• that was over as the factories picked up due to the war in Europe. Anyhow, I worked the 3-11:00 shift there.
of truth unless specified.
Yes, I did select the prison over the State Police for two reasons. It was closer to my town of Southington, 15 miles, and if you selected the State Police you were obligated to live at the barracks in remote parts of the State with very little chance to get home. You were in that case married to your job instead of your wife. Nowadays, they give you a cruiser to go home with and you go to your destination. What a difference! Only 30 or 40 years after my stint with the state, now that’s what I call an incentive. We never had such a setup so I had to do what I thought best. A telegram from Warden Ralph H. Walker came one day asking me to come up for an interview. We talked. I left right after he said, “K, I’d like to have you on our staff. Be prepared to start (after checking with my superior as to when to start).”
Two weeks immediate notice to my company which would be that I started on December 18, 1941, on the 5:45 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. A new officer always started on nights until a day opening came along.
Three of us got there, Bill C. of Danbury, J. Houlihan, and I. Seemed strange, I had been by the prison often; a big sprawling place with towers all around it, “manicured” grounds–ought to be since it was mowed constantly by the lawn gang–then there was the cove, a body of water in the rear of it, boats galore and a yacht club and lots of dock space.
Well, now’s the time–it was December 18th, and we three rookies were told what to do. We filled in each officer, grabbed a billy club from drawers just inside the main gate (or “turnkey”) and carefully followed the regular crew inside the waiting room as they lined up and faced the night Captain, our superior. We too lined up, which was a very strange feeling. The Captain (a bitchy thing) read from a slip he had in his hand. He was assigning the men to their respective posts for the night and then looked to us three and said, Mr. C go with Mr. so and so, and the same to us other two. Each of us was being “broken in” by the three officers he selected.
Then a bugle blew, that’s right. It was a signal that the day men were being relieved by us and for the inmates to stand at the bars of their cells to be counted by us night guys. It was the same bugle call that is heard at every horse-racing track. A chorus of “They’re off” was heard all over the place, and then silence; we went in and the day crew left.
I was assigned to the East Block with my instructor “Pop” Newbury, a familiar name to me as a Waldo Newbury, Pop’s brother and my father were friendly musicians in the home town of Waterbury. We got along great; he was my instructor until I could go on my own alone. That took less than a week.
He took the count with me on this East Block which housed 150 inmates, 40 on the ground floor, and 20 on each side. Then upstairs for three flights of stairs. The ground floor was called letter “F”; upstairs were “G, H, and I.” The other blocks were done too by other officers. My rookie buddies were hard at work too with their instructors. Then as soon as we marked down the count, we all in turn, brought our count slips to the Captain’s desk (in the visitor’s room) and passed them into him through a small opening so as for him to check and see if our count and his corresponded. If all was OK, back to our cell block we went. If it wasn’t the same as his, back you went for a re-count. We patrolled the block every now and then until supper time when the so-called “major domo”, usually a guy who had been there a while and knew all about the place, came and took over while you ate supper in the officer’s dining room, cooked by a trusty Ed Shelley. What a cook, every meal superb! To this day, restaurants I have been in played second base in comparison, and that’s the truth. Every meal a banquet–no limit either and the cost, $.17 a sitting for the officers, but it was included in my room and board since I lived there temporarily. At $29 a week, which was my starting pay. That, at the time, wasn’t too good or bad either. Paychecks out there in this era weren’t all that great. I elected to stay at the quarters until learned and got used to the job for my own good. I wanted to get home once a week or so. It was a tough grind but soon all was well.
Pop and I had to go out on the wall for the second half of that first night and the wall guy came into the East Block for his second half of the night. Ladies and gents, that was something else. A spiral stairwell up into that tower with a potbelly stove and a coal and wood bin chock full and you had to keep it going too! Jeepers, was it cold as you made rounds on the hour–narrow walking, slippery, low guard railing, front tower to tower pushing a button at everyone all around the back of that prison, five times a night –the guy you replaced did the same. The guys at the new pen wouldn’t believe me, I’ll bet, but it’s true and I can back it up too. A lot of old timers are still alive and kicking and, oh yes, as we plowed along up there, we had to bring along our rifle as well. Our overcoats weighed a ton.
One night in the summer (I was on nights for 10 months) a summer electrical storm came up on my first round (I had the wall trick the first half of this night). While going from tower to tower, still day light, lightening was bouncing all around me. Just a raincoat that meant nothing. When I reached the last tower before heading back, I called the Captain and explained the situation. Stay where you are till it lets up, he said. Was I relieved? Yes, it was wicked out there and dangerous carrying that gun and being in the open like that and all that lightening. It let up and back I went. When I did my second half inside at the East Block, I was relieved the Captain knew what the score was. He was a meanie though–just keep reading, please, and you will see what I mean. I guess ego had a lot to do with it. He wasn’t too fond of the young, new men since it was all merit system now. Before, it was who you knew. He was Captain Harry H. and when he was off, Asst. Captain Cassida took his place. When he was on, we were very content.
I had the first job down pat and Pop broke me in on the big block, the North Block, four tiers high called “A” (ground floor, then upstairs were B, C, D, & E, 40 on each side, a total of 400 cells.) Each cell had a bed, sink, “bowl”, a chair, and a small stool. I still have a stool and a bocci ball for souvenirs; when the prison was about to be demolished, I asked for and got them.
The North Block stint called for six hours inside and then you switched with another who had “the yard” outdoor patrol of the grounds with headquarters in the boiler room for the second half of the night. Two trusties ran the boilers–one of them wheeled in the soft coal and the other old timer Sonny Paige was the “big cheese”. For this important job as compensation for doing it well, they had officers’ meals. Sonny had a little pantry. I shall never forget the night I had an awful cold–runny nose, chills–all of it. Sonny said, Wanna cure that? I said, Of course I do; what’s your remedy, Doc? One minute, said he and shortly I had a monster of a sandwich in front of me. Eat it, he ordered. Not till I see what’s inside, I barked. He had tile biggest slices of onion you ever saw in it. Grinning, he said Eat that and bye, bye cold. Yeah, maybe me also–right now I’ll try anything and off I went at it. I was really wolfing it down as Sonny was watching intently–still grinning, waiting. Then suddenly I stopped. I had consumed over half it when I felt as though I had a fire in my stomach. Quick “Sonny, some water–my nasal passages were as though if there were any germs in the neighborhood they wouldn’t last very long. I kept on sniffing water up my nose which relieved me a lot. That cold was gone the next day, but it was a very long night. Sonny, you’re a dog, I said. Well, I tried to help, he said, smiling. And that he did.
You know something, he was one hell of a catcher for our bas
eball team. It was wartime now and Red Branch, a good starting pitcher for the New York Yanks, was on the New London Coast Guard ball club that came up to play our team one Sunday afternoon. Branch didn’t give many hits, but one of them Sonny socked completely out of our ballpark (our huge recreation yard) at least 400 feet and he was a mighty happy guy. Our team had a good Won and Loss record. We had some real good players indeed, but they chose the wrong vocation. Prison was their choice over working for a living. To each his own, I guess.
Well, soon I had things down pat and was put on my own. You had to learn fast, it was expected of you. My first alone was the North Block and then the Yard second half.
While patrolling the block after lights-out, I was up on the top tier or gallery (either meant the same), you could see Hartford all lit up, and where was I? In here! I asked for it, and started to walk again. A new fellow stopped me and said, Say officer, I have an awful headache, can I see the doctor. I told him when I went downstairs I would tell the Captain. (It was best that you do such in case something serious developed. At least you made the report). As I suspected, when I told the Captain -tell him to go on sick call in the morning. Then he opened up his desk drawer and pulled out a box of aspirin, handed me two of them, and said, Mister–who happens to be me –we don’t give out anything else but these, and, with a twinkle in his eye, explained, unless his asshole is at least this wide, making a gesture, Need I say more? Notice he said Mister, as we were told to address each other as such, not Tom, Dick, or Harry.
The second half on this block was a stinker–you had to sit half way down in a hard wooden chair and get up for a round every hour. Loneliness personified (to hit it on the button)! At daybreak, you went back up front to wait for your relief. No, I’ve never even seen the new prison, but from pictures those present-day guards have a cinch and the starting salaries are astro. Cripe, we only got paid once a month besides. Maybe they do too, I don’t know. But, boy oh boy, not much of an income. You had to watch your step or go easily into debt. But, it still beat the factory. I soon work all the departments and all going well including segregation where I was to work for a long time. Something funny happened once when I was on duty there one night.
At this particular time, there were no men on death row but the desk was up against the wall so as to keep an eye on an inmate in the condemned man’s cell. Why? I was instructed to give this guy a light whenever he asked for one. Another Why? I was told that he was gay-¬a new inmate. The new ones were kept for 30 days quarantine up on “E” gallery North Block until they were processed. Now it comes to light. Each side of each gallery had an inmate sweeper who had a few chores, such as handing out soap, towels, sheets, tobacco, etc., to the inmates on their list. There was always one or two within sight in case of an extra chore to be done. But, when this guy came in and was placed (ideally for him) on the top tier with these sweepers acting as lookouts for patrolling guards, nary a one could be found as this guy took on all of them that he could until it was found out. Hence, to Segregation for him. Seg was often used to safe-keep guys from harm, as well as for habitual trouble makers, attempted escapers, etc.
Now then, here we go on this guy– believe it or not. This clown was really something. He fluffed up his pillow, took his blanket and folded it neatly on his chair, sat on it, and got right up and beckoned me over for a light. I gave him one and noticed half of it was in his mouth. He took a puff and took it out of his mouth soaked with his saliva, and as he did, he came out with this: You have the key to my cell, don’t you? If I haven’t, who has? Oh, come on now, open…See (pointing to his bed), all made up for you. I’ll sit on my chair, and we’ll make merry, OK? Smiling sweetly, he added, There’s no one here; it’s ideal. It’s ideal all right, you deadhead–get your ass into that bed before you wind up in solitary confinement. Do you know what that’s like? The answer was, No, sir, I’m sorry. I’ll go to bed. And he did.
A short while afterwards, Captain Hodgins came down for a visit. In this remote place, it called for visits because of just that. You could die down there and who would know it. No traffic at all. How are things? OK? I gave him a brief on this bird down here and he couldn’t hold back his laughter. I’m leaving, see you again later-¬took off up the corridor and I didn’t blame him either. He kidded (unusual) with me when I was relieved for supper.
Seg was a 12 hour inside job. It was also a one-man post whenever we had no one on death row. Well, so much for that–if I could only recall all that happened–odd things I mean–doing the best I can but the good part of this is not one word written so far is false. I wouldn’t pick up this pen if it were. I had finished this book a few months ago, but no one could read it but me (illegible chicken scratches) so I cast it aside until I finally made out. Almost called it quits, but I’m obstinate I guess.
I’d like to mention the risk of being a night officer. Scant help and some job or another, if you weren’t careful, could cost you your life. One night on the North Block with all inmates bedded down and locked up “safely”, one expert escape artist was able to obtain a hacksaw and a lead pipe. He selected a time when around midnight when officers were being relieved for supper, which meant one less guard around for a short time. He quickly sawed thru and waited for the patrolling guard to pass by. Too dark to notice the expert work of the cunning escape and as soon as he passed out the door came the desperate “Con”, pipe in hand, his arm raised to smash the guard’s head in–but Abie saw the shadow behind him and wheeled around to engage him unbelievingly coupled with a scream that could be heard all over the prison (at that hour). He was hit hard as he spun around, good thing he did. He dropped, badly hurt, as the alarm went off and all of the off-duty guards living in the quarters–some were asleep at that hour–responded to help out.
In this situation, all guards inside on duty counting the bells (alarm 57; five then seven indicated the North Block trouble) go at once–go back to your post as soon as possible. These numbers were memorized so as you knew just where the trouble area was. In a minute, the guys came running. The officers quarters wasn’t far away, just outside the entrance overhead. Some had slippers on and a pair of pants, about half a dozen (bachelors) lived here–very cheap lodging. The would-be escapee was just sitting and waiting to be grabbed, and he sure was, and given a damn good shellacking on the way to solitary. Abie was hurt pretty well, clobbered, but lucky he saw that shadow. I never saw him again. He was taken to the hospital and “repaired.” State must have compensated him in some way. I was off duty that night, home in Shouthington for a couple days off. That one I missed, but could picture it all. If that guy had gotten Abie out of the way, he would not have had too many more bars to saw to get outside and use a rope which he had to get over that wall from a vantage point to possible freedom. Now you can see why guards patrolled the grounds as I mentioned to you before. He had it all timed. To put it kiddingly, “his shadow was no reason for him to smile.” He was placed “after solitary” for a long time in segregation in the front row. Is it ever any wonder why?
Before I tell you about the upcoming day shift, I want to mention a couple of things about Captain Hodgins. One night I had the wall the first half and due in at 6:00 p.m. I had had the previous day off and was home that day. It’s so long ago, hard to remember why. I got a late start for work and usually took a sandwich with me–never with onions though! No time, and off I
went and I got there in time. We had a concession stand at the turnkey run by the day officer and he left his key to accommodate us night men. Candy, cigarettes, etc. My friend, Pop Newbury, was this post. I said I think I’ll call up (from my post). He’d got the spare officer to bring me out some candy bars to hold me till supper-time. Ouch, who answers the phone but my Captain friend who was relieving Pop while he went to the lavatory. Hear me out now. When I heard his voice, why stammer? I said, Say, Captain, is there a chance of getting a couple of bars sent out to me. I explained why. His answer was, as follows, sure, what kind of bars? Iron bars? No, two milky ways. Captain will send them out when Mr. Newbury gets back. Thank you, Captain. Don’t mention it, he said (the bastard). Man, he was a dog!
Bill C. was down in the mouth. He wasn’t able to be measured one day for his uniform–off duty–we had an odd schedule–this is when we were new here and he had a couple more coming up and he wanted to wear that uniform home so bad. When he finally did, he had to wait for a badge. How well mine was #13. I was going to take off a couple of days and so was he and I’ll be doggoned if he didn’t ask me if I’d let him take mine. I said sure, why not. Imagine that, we had one guy who used to wear his uniform whenever he went to the movie theatre in town, also while going downtown Hartford to guy a pair of shoes or stop and talk to a cop doing traffic downtown. I, in civilian clothes, was ashamed to go with him when asked to. Some people go ape over uniforms.
Bill and Houlihan liked the job, but they lived far away from Wethersfield like I mentioned to you before. If I had taken the State Police job, I’d have been in that same boat. So they quit and two more officers were hired. One was a real brown-noser and he and the Captain hit it off good (especially about fishing). The day shift needed a man bad. I had been on nights for ten months, waiting patiently for my turn.
The day chief must have simply asked for a man and my friend the Captain chose this guy over me. That’s where I draw the line. I couldn’t really blame the guy, I blamed the Captain. I immediately asked for and got an interview. I heard the Deputy Warden was a square shooter. All through with my night’s work, I waited for him. I was off this day, so I didn’t mind the wait. I introduced myself and he shook my hand and told me to come on with me to his office. Now my friend, what can I do for you, explain your problem. I just up and told him that I had been bypassed for the day shift. Then he made the following slip and I had him. He said, of course, you know working days is a bit more complicated than night work. My response was as follows: If I have been on the night shift for ten months and the man selected for the day shift was on the night shift for three or four months, I should think it would be much more complicated for him than for me. At least, that’s my humble opinion. He was concerned right there and he knew it too and seemed to give me a little credit for my statement. I added, if that’s my future to be bypassed, then I guess I might as well forget a prison career. I “acted” very disappointed. I was about to say, I guess this isn’t for me and guess when he suddenly said, Mr. I, you’ll be on the day shift by the end of the week. I told him I was 0ff duty and he added, you have a phone. I’ll get in touch with your Captain. I want you on days in less than a week, OK? Yes sir, and thank you for seeing my point. I do, yes.
The phone rang in Southington the next morning – it was Captain Hodgins. Mr. I, the Deputy want you on the day shift tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. I won, oh yes, I did, over that injustice he pulled on me. No more Hodgins, hot Diggity Dog.
The Day Shift
Yes, you were on your own. No teacher. You were expected to use your own judgment to the fullest, but you had men for bosses, Deputy Caswell, and Assistant Deputy Chase, both damn good men–no nonsense and the pressure was off. Before you went home, you looked at the schedule board for the next day to see when you were assigned. For a couple of weeks, you were put on utility -“hang around and get used to the place in the daylight”. Once in a while relieve an officer in one of the shops or whatever else.
One day, I was told to relieve our union representative as he had to go out for a meeting. He had the West End extension, a department which had diabetics, old men, and some guys on the border line, waiting to be looked over by the outside psycho doctor. About a half dozen took occasional convulsions. Anyway, I was finishing up the shift for Henry Couch. I knew nothing about the procedure and expected him to tip me off a little. Horsecrap! He simply tossed two bunches of keys on the desk and said, see you later. Each department had a runner whose job was to help the officer. Well, Smokey Joe Ryan was like a handle on a pee-pot. He knew what I was up against and said, don’t worry, I’ll steer you. Prison officials know their onions, believe me. All these runners were for the “screw”. What’s that?–prison parlance for prison officer, yes it is –to the inmates. They knew just what runners or trusties to give these jobs to and they had it made –never locked up, only at night for the night. Ed Shelley, the officers’ mess cook, naturally worked till all night officers were fed. Then he cleaned up, came in and went to bed. He had a lot of work to do what with cooking, serving, and then cleaning up, leaving the dining room in good condition for the day crew. They had a big crew and a lot of men to feed. Oh yes, if any officer brought a friend or relation in for dinner, the charge for them was also $.17. Imagine steak and all the trimmings for that price which was charged to you! Wow! We were allowed to give the barbers a pack of cigarettes and the shoe cobbler here and there you know, but never in excess. That could lead to trouble. Too friendly was dangerous, first thing you know they would want a “favor”, so Smokey helped me. Without these runners a guy would have it hard, being new on a job, but if it were not so you would just have to use your judgment as I had to so many times later on.
The officers that lived in the quarters paid $29 a month for room and board, also room service, and were awakened for duty in the morning. Call it valet service, if you will. I would say so. Included also was free laundry, shoe repair, two barbers, no charge either. Most of them were bachelors in the officers quarters. Few officers elected to stay, some just to get their bearings, living in the quarters. Good deal! They made ends meet with no problem. We married fellows had it rough and got paid once a month–well, no one grabbed me off the street to work here, did they? It’s all in the game. Another feature for officers living in was 19 meals a month for a dollar a day. Let me tell you about one guy. He signed up for officers quarters although he lived only 10 mi1es away. It was not compulsory for one to sleep in the quarters, so he used it only for the grub deal and a place to relax during part of his lunch hour. He had a working wife, no kids, so why not, said he. At least I gather that for the price, he and his spouse must have had a mighty tiny weekly grocery bill. He even came down on his days off (shoot a little pool downstairs in our recreation room just off the lobby while waiting for each meal). My, what a cheap bastard! All he ever did was chisel cigarettes all day long either in the pool room or on duty. He liked being on utility because you were in a position to roam around more and chisel more. How can anyone be like that? I suggested to the guys to band together and one day I told him to buy a pack of cigarettes because we all do here. His chiseling stopped abruptly. I didn’t give a hoot, I was fed up with this guy. He didn’t stay too long anyway. No one shed any tears when he left. I should mention at this point that whenever the alarm went off and the off duty officers were in their quarters, (you couldn’t miss hearing it) they too ha
d to respond, if in their rooms. This was a plus for the institution and kind of made up for the reasonable (room and board), get it? One hand does wash the other, right?
I’ll tell you something. This place was an education. I say this first, integrity, otherwise take off that badge and go home. One guy paid dearly for going off the track, tell you later. Secondly, turn into a fox as fast as you could because some would try different things that if you didn’t clamp down you would be the goat but quick. Do your thing quickly as word travels fast that you ‘ re easy. This never happened to me. As time went on, I had every job in the place down pat. I spent a year or so as kitchen Officer (with two civilian chefs); that’s where I first got to know Joe (the chin) Taborsky, a man who later on became one of my charges on death row for a long time before he was executed for murders. That comes up later on. Joe gave me no problem during my stint in the kitchen. His undoing was his nemesis there by the name of Merritt. Joe was always belting him around and getting solitary confinement for it. I forgot how many times.
How about a change? One day the pesticide fella came down–a civilian accompanied by an officer, as always–periodically spraying here, there, and all over. Finally he headed over to the bake shop when the bakers had just finished baking racks of cinnamon n’ raisin buns, mmmm, what a pleasant aroma. I was standing around watching the man do his job as he headed for the ovens. “They ain’t no roaches in there,” said one of the bakers. I know there is, mister, he said opening the oven. He sprayed and holy Toledo, I didn’t think so many roaches could come out from nowhere. He looked at the baker but said nothing. Neither did the baker.
Our poor civilian chef–one of them, we had two. It was at the time of the Kentucky Derby that Bill Christy I’m told, he “borrowed” a thousand dollars to bet on “Native Dancer” an undefeated horse. That was a ton of money at that time. He lost by a nose–came second–had Bill played him for second, he’d have doubled his money but who knew he’d pay that well. Usually hot favorites pay little anyway for second place. Poor Bill, it hurt him bad. Soon after this, he quit, probably to earn more elsewhere to pay it off. Will never know. Never saw him again.
Something that used to turn me off was when the inmates had corn on the cob (from our prison farm). It was cooked in two huge kettles with one man on each side skimming off the borers (worms) with paddles. To count them, the borers that is, would be impossible (just a joke) couldn’t be done, but when the corn was served, the guys ate anyway. They didn’t care.
I was soon back up on the blocks as they wanted someone young, solid 185 pounds, tall and strong up where I could be of more use. All the departments were manned by old timers. I stepped in on them on their days off. There were about four or five guys like myself playing the same role. I was put on “the squad”. To explain it a bit, about seven of us burlies were called upon whenever a little difficulty was going on and had to be done and over with. If we were on different jobs, we were relieved “temporarily” so as to meet up front and have the situation explained. When he or they saw us coming toward them, the problem was over almost at once. It would take too long to go into too much detail but just an example or two I’ll give to you, such as the following things of this sort.
We were having Saturday afternoon at the movies this day. The inmates had an hour in the yard first, then to the chapel for the weekly treat. On a poll taken, Barbara Stanwyk was their “queen.” I saw this officer coming down towards me and yes, Assistant Deputy Chase sitting up in back wanted me and also “Pete” another squad guy. Go up to the hospital (prison). I have four men up there but they’re not enough. (On weekends some of the squad were off. No work in the shops on weekends). He said they can’t get the cuffs on this guy so as he can be transferred to Norwich (hospital) for the criminally insane. Get right up and help out and all of you go with him to play it safe. He’s like a tiger. Name was whatever from Terryville (real gone) only weighed about 125 pounds but jeepers, he was like an eel. Jim McIlduff, the parole agent, was driving the station-wagon. Now let me say this, it was uncanny, the brute strength of that little man about five feet tall. He was a mass of sweat and so were we as we got a cuff and a 1eg iron on one at a time. What helped us get the last one or two on was the fact that Steve Bednarczyk had him by the neck and one hand too near his mouth. The guy snapped at it and almost got it, he just missed slightly one finger tip. That drew his attention so that we were able to quickly slip on the last two cuffs. During the scuffle he saw one of his other fingers, got it between his teeth, and slowly bit right through it. Oh, was our Steve lucky. It would have taken 15 men to put a straight jack on that guy, he wiggled so–like an eel and we had a long way down from our hospital and then outside to the wagon. He battled us all the way to Norwich.
Not too long after that one we had another, only thing it was a weekday and all the squad was working and this guy was built like a “brick house”. By the time I got a relief and got up, I heard, grab it quick “Ipp”, my nickname, as the other officer was exhausted and losing his grip on one leg. I did grab it just in time. We were up close to the turnkey and I was lucky I didn’t, as the others did, have a rough time getting him up as far as they did. We got him out to the waiting wagon and he fought us all the way. Even when we got to Norwich, those experts down there quickly subdued him and put him in what is known as a wet pack. It tightens up as it dries out, they tell me, and even if you’re “gone in the head” you seem to in some way be terrified of it. I really don’t know, but there’s no more fight left in you when it’s taken off. Such a business, and for the money we got for a week’s pay. Well, life is funny. I thank the good lord for giving me a sense of humor. It helped me many a time on this job. I have a few more things yet to tell you, so keep reading.
This episode I’m about to tell you about is probably the most horrible thing I went through in my time here. One morning in the mess hall, there were two utility men on duty, myself and Mr. Parsell. Two men called in sick. B.S. We were really short-handed. I was given the Rug Shop and Mr. P. the Machine Shop. This being probably that he always worked that spot when the regular man was off. Same difference I guess, he was not here so Mr. P. was put, unfortunately, there. Had any other officer but he been on uti1ity that day, Deputy Chase who knows might have put me there and other guy in the Rug Shop. It would in that case be like the toss of a coin. God knows. Anyway, here’s what happened. I went to the Rug Shop and Mr. P. to his doom. What happened was as follows and follow me carefully.
Whenever an inmate was placed in a shop or an outside gang, he was taken there by a runner who presented him to the officer in charge of any department. He carried with him a slip signed by the Deputy and was put to work.
This day, three rotten bastards planned an escape. Since the machine shop adjoined the prison yard, its windows had heavy gauge wrought iron around them. It would have to be pried or cut so as to get through them, plus to anyone getting into the yard from the angle they would be in, they had a good shot to make the escape–with some rope thrown over the railing of the wall. Why so easy? The towers (2) were not manned, only during recreation. The three guys were to enter and kill the officer at once and then do their thing. Mr. P knew then that neither of them would ever be made a runner. Obviously, he was by his phone and managed to dial 22 (turnkey) and holler “trouble”. Beep, Beep, four and then six over and over (“machine shop”) code number. All guards brought their gangs in and responded to
that call. The shop inmates flew outside to avoid their own getting into trouble. By the time enough guards could get there, according to the guys working in the shop, Mr. P. was killed in about a minute or so. James McCarthy (the leader of this band of monsters) had picked up a three foot Stillson wrench which weighs about 25 pounds or more and repeatedly smashed it over Mr. P’s head. Later he was brought out and lain on the ground a while to await a medical examiner. I presume his head was smashed in like an eggshell. Guards and front office personnel responded, but soon we had a big number of us there at the shop. They knew they were foiled but refused to come out. Pipes, tools, anything they laid their hands on, were thrown toward the entrance to give us a hard time. To get into the shop you had to go down about five steps to get in. The pressure was awful and they were having a ball. The nearby tower guard, Pat Cullina was easily able to walk over to the roof of the shop with rifle in hand. He was able to lean over and to spot one of them near a window by the telephone. Pat let a shot go, getting him in the shoulder, but that’s all. They stayed away from windows after that. The Deputy could have sent an armed squad into the yard and killed the three of them, not knowing at the time if Mr. Parsell was still dead or alive, but he didn’t. They were sitting ducks for an armed squad, as they could see everything from the yard. The shop was at ground level with it. Anyway, gas was decided upon. Canister after canister. Would they come out? No. They smashed all the windows in the shop to allow the gas to go out.
Finally, masks were brought out and about 10 of us put them on. Just as the three came out grinning, they were knocked on their asses, handcuffed up, and “thrown ” into separate solitary cells far apart from each other. We had three solitary locations and they had no contact. That one creep who was shot was treated for his wound (not a bad wound ) , too bad. They spent some time in solitary and were soon placed in segregation. You know that was one day my number #13 was lucky for me. As I explained before, it very likely could have been me as well that day. The day they were taken out, they were put in seg condemned row to await trial for the brutal, cowardly murder of my co-officer Mr. P. These three guys had been sent to Wethersfield from Cheshire Reformatory (Anytime Cheshire couldn’t handle an inmate, they gave them to us.). Two of them were in their teens (that’s all Cheshire handled) and the other one was a stupid thing who linked up with the others (He had escaped twice.). If he minded his own business, he would be on the streets today. McCarthy was like a Cobra. To get to Cheshire all he did was plunge a knife into an old grocer’s body. More than 30 or 40 times I heard. Dangerous, oh boy! And the last one, Raymond Levine, just a plain wise guy.
This was the beginning of my long 11 year stint in Seg.
I was on utility when I saw them taking the three killers down there. I was called over to the hall keeper, Mike Joy, who told me two men are now needed in Seg. and to get right down there to work with Pat Brady, the officer in charge. He had been there quite a while and I was to be his working partner. He was in charge, unless he was off-¬then I was number one.
We had these three guys for a while. There were appeals, etc., they had been taken to court, tried and convicted–sentenced to death in the electric chair. We still had it and they went to it. Today it is not the penalty for murder, although it is now in legislative hands again, but I don’t expect it to pass.
Let me tell you something, these three were bad apples, the average condemned man was a cinch–quiet, subdued, hopeful of a reprieve, and so on. These guys knew they were going to that chair under the circumstances. Too much caution, especially with (Mac) McCarthy, wasn’t enough. He was vicious–a borderline I thought–and built like steel. Once a day each one went into a small yard just outside of Seg. It was a small courtyard where hangings took place years ago. Two officers took them out (one at a time) for a half hour, we left our door unlocked so if anything went wrong that guy would have had four blackjacks over his head at one time and they knew it too, after that brutal episode. That was a bitch of an experience. Mac used to exercise in his cell day in and day out. I think he thought he was too powerful for a charge to kill him. I really did. To each his own.
Lewie was a nuisance. He would climb the bars like a monkey and gesture continually, but not when Pat was on. He gambled on me and lost. I told him to knock it off, or else. He figured, what could they do about it. He soon found out. I called Mr. Chase (Assistant Deputy) (Deputy Caswell was off) and told of the situation as anything like that in a place of q-u-i-e-t was no good for this department and if I let it go, everybody would fuss around at will. I’ll be down in a couple of minutes, said Mr. Chase. He called the prison hospital and informed the officer to get an empty cell to keep this guy Lewie in. I had created a new round-the-clock job for three men since we had just gone on an eight hour day. The wise guy could no longer climb bars and make faces because he’d be wasting his time. There was now a wooden door with a small opening for this guy until the day he took that final walk. An officer sat outside at all times. He had to eat his heart out, but he asked for it. Mr. Chase came down to get him. As he was opening the door, Lewie was doing his thing–right in the act. Get down off there and come with us (Mr. Chase brought an officer with him). Not a word, just a subdued grin. He got down and I unlocked his door.
Chase was a tough cookie, an old Cape Codder who had worked in Bridgewater, Mass. for 15 years, he told me before he came to Wethersfield and he had that “Old Salty” accent. One day he introduced me to his brother “Edgah”. As I mentioned to you before, break it off or in a sense, they’ll break you. You had to use your head but be fair at all times and use your judgment or you’d soon be called out on strikes. Even McCarthy, as the door closed on Lewie, looked over at me and said, you gave him a lot of chances, it couldn’t go on forever. Right Mac was, all I said.
Pat Brady was tickled about the incident and told me after they went he was going to ask for the wall until his upcoming retirement, and he did. YoU know, relief officers were important, tell you why. When I came back from my vacation, something possessed me to look over Mac’s cell. I found a cardboard box full of red pepper. I saw him eat many a meal but never saw him use that stuff, and I know it’s there and for a purpose. Can yoU guess? I removed it and didn’t say a word to Mac, and neither did he.
Cripes , I’ve had certain guards with me sometimes when one especially woould put his two legs on the desk and a stinking cigar in his puss, fall fast asleep and snore. Wow, I had to kick him awake. Did the inmates laugh! Another, wait a minute, if you please. After had retired, years later I heard he was promoted. Yes, it’s true; it’s who you know. Another, who became an official, used to goose a goosey inmate. That happened as he reached for his tray at suppertime and food flew all over hell. Very funny isn’t it, but true. Another one who later became a captain came in to help feed up the men. He was a real badmouth. I told him to tone it down. His answer–read loud. What the hell is this place, a cemetery? No, you stupid ass, but you’re not in charge of a place like this, or could you ever be. Once while working part-time for a security company which serviced banks, he was held up at gunpoint. He died real young, that guy did. And yet another came into feed up one day, and this is what he said to one of my condemned men. Smitty, I’d like
to watch them pull the switch on you. This was after the Mac, Lewie, and Tommy thing. I had Joe Taborsky then and he looked over at me and beckoned me over to him and his cell was after Smitty’s to be opened. Mr. I, please don’t open the door for me if that man is going to hand me my tray. I respect you, but if he hands it to me, I’ll shove it in his face and I want to see the deputy. I took the tray and motioned the asshole to get away, opened Joe’s door, and gave him the tray myself. Mr. R., are you nuts, I asked. I hope they never send you down here again, and they didn’t as I told Joe to put the complaint down on paper –same thing and bore more weight against that screwball, who was suspended at once. He never came back–he quit and of all things, joined the Manchester Police Department, they tell me. Oh boy!
Another odd one. A new guy came on the scene to work the 3-11 shift. “My” relief, he seemed like good material but when we went on the 40 hour week, much time wasn’t taken to check background. This would be done later after they were hired. It so happened that our runner in Seg, Gil, told the officials here he knew this guy and that he did time, sometime, when he was in the Atlanta Fed. Penitentiary. Out he went.
Now can you believe all this? This is why I am writing, you can see by now can’t you? Let’s add another one. Louis Del, the guy that took my place during my vacation, of all the guys–about four or five men were slapped into Seg. right after I was on my “leave”, three weeks off. They were found out about–contraband in their possession -and taken out of circulation until an investigation could be made. As usual, one always tells and when he let the cat out of the bag, Louie was with them every day while I was away. How ironical he of all the new men we have was the one chosen to take my place. Boy oh boy, he must have been in a sweat. Then the bottom fell out. He was arrested. This is what he was doing–liquor and pills, and I don’t know what else–that’s enough right there, isn’t it? And then the hungry for $$$ man would go down to New Haven (They all lived there.) and was paid off for his efforts. This was going on for some time. He didn’t need the money, for his father-in-law built house after house. He bought up all the land around the torn-down Hart ford Ball Park. Lou was well off, as he worked a little for him and rounded up some cheaper labor for a good thing that he had. Three guards worked for them once–a young plumber, an electrician, and a roofer. Nice going and still not satisfied was he. I told in this book once: integrity or get the hell out of this prison. Next thing you know, they’d have you bringing in a gun. Lou’s father-in-law was the caretaker at the same church our family attended–he and Lou passed the basket on Sunday. Yes, this is all true. Lou was out at once on bond (this puts the
frosting on the cake). I went, or we did, about a couple of days later with the kids and who is still passing the basket, yup, he was! And just outside was a stack of Sunday morning Hartford Courant’s with his picture on the front page, flanked by two detectives. Unbelievable isn’t it?
He went to court shortly and was given a year in the Hartford jail. It must have finished him, and know what? He didn’t live but a couple of years after that. He was only around 30–not much more. Wouldn’t that rot your stockings. Nothing against the Italian people, those guys that messed him up, they probably pulled that ~ compare stuff on him, as he was also the same nationality. There weren’t many of us (Italians) working here about this time. I was about the third one to come in here and the first one on the day shift, I think. Two others on night transferred to the State Police. On boy, they thought might be a good one for them too I guess, but when the first one approached me with a coma sta? I snapped back with “let’s keep it in English, all right?” That was that, as the grapevine took over quickly. In fact, my friends, I hold the distinction of being the first officer of Italian lineage to ever retire honorably from the Connecticut State Prison at Wethersfield. And–my father never even saw Italy as he was born in Baltimore, Maryland and lived as a young man in Alexandria, Virginia. My grandfather, yes, was born across the pond and he came over here to New Orleans less than 20 years after the Civil War was over. My mother was from the North of Italy -her father Italian and her mother was born in Prussia/Poland. He, my grandfather, met her in Poland while on the way back from Siberia where he and a few friends worked as stone masons wherever they could. He stopped at a little hotel in Pozman where her aunt took in weary travelers. He and she soon wed, with the assistance •of two interpreters. He then took her to his little home town just inside the Swiss-Italian border. How romantic. Checked up on my family trees as you can see and hope you go along with little pleasantry for a change, okay?
Too bad I had to mention that nationality thing because it just happened to be. Frankly, I don’t care what a person is and it fit in with what I said, don’t get palsy-walsy with the inmates because you’re headed in due time for trouble.
Know what, I didn’t tell you I worked two solid years when I first came on days. (Bucky Rogers also the same for him), without a weekend or holiday off. I was “finally rewarded with my first one”, Washington’s Birthday, la-di-da. When I hear someone say darn, I gotta work this Sunday, I grin just a tiny bit though. Not only that, but either turn and a half or double or more. OK, we’ll look at it this way, you asked for it, No, and I’m not sorry–maybe just plain stubborn. I’d do it again. I was deferred from the service because of a family and this place was bad off for men–very bad, but .sure enough, a telegram came from Unionville for me to report for induction. Before I could get things straightened so as to report, I got another telegram telling me to forget it. Adolf must have heard I was coming. So much for that.
A few items of interest–some were funny–was when almost in succession, three different men decided to escape (individually, I mean). One, the Warden’s personal gardener, got some money somewhere and it is said, according to a bus driver, that the man’s photograph was that of the man that got in his bus and he drove him into Hartford. They never saw him again, odds makers figured to Italy as his destination. Who knows? Another, our star pitcher (on the lawn gang) jumped into the Wethersfield Cove and started toward land. Eagle Eye Doolen spotted him from his tower and after a quick check, yes, one man missing–needless to say, our south paw star was allowed to swim across, but, to his dismay, into the waiting arms of about a half dozen guards. The third one, George, also lawn gang, made a real successful escape. He had money too. Probably after he quickly got away had a connection and was OK until (you see at this time there was no TV) he arrived at a coastal town in southeastern Connecticut. His undoing was this–at a bar–we still had radio though–he asked the bartender and a patron (who probably heard of a “skip” from Wethersfield) where he could possibly find a room overlooking the Sound. What a question with the war going on and he had excellent “German” features. I guess he was probably detained long enough for that bartender or patron (or both) to call the police. They thought he might be a German spy. That was all for him, I heard, in very short order.
My friends, I ask your pardon for my shifting here and there to give you all you’d really like to read and hear about instead of Chapter One, blah, blah, nothing; Chapter Two, also dull, so why not see it my way. I personally would prefer to hear about all these different true facts rather than to have them forgotten and never brought to light. Call ’em as I see ’em, must be a little umpire in me.
Well, time went on and soon the pardon board was to meet to decide if these three killers of Mr. P. would be commuted to life. When it was
the day of the set execution date, six of us took them into boardroom manacled. A tearful plea for mercy was made by the father of A. T. Governor Baldwin was the president of this group and tears came out of his eyes. He knew that if commuted, as sure as the Lord made apples, that a commutation was out. In no time they would repeat that kind of crime. Not an officer would have come to work the next day if they were commuted. Whole-sale resignation was certain. Would you stay? I’ll answer for you, No! Your life wouldn’t be worth a nickel. The hearing was over and back to Seg with Mac and Tommy, (Lewie to his special location). As usual, the Warden brings the news after the decision is handed down and I’ll bet it was 100 percent, thumbs down. The Warden came in and told them they were denied and that they would be executed that night (always around 10:00 p.m.) They merely shrugged, Tommy’s brother came down to visit and told him “If you must go, go like a man” and left. A portable screen was always used between the visitor and the condemned man (an officer escort, sitting close by). Mac’s people never came as he ranted and raved the last time they visited. His father, a little old gray-haired fireman, and his mother, sort of a big woman. They were to be pitied, so bewildered and unhappy that someone like this could be their son. Imagine him around the house! In the Deputy’s office where the daily schedule was made up, only a handful of experienced men took me and my partner’s place when off duty. It was made up by two inmates (office trusties) and they knew us all and exactly how to place the officers. Most of the officers had regular posts. No silly dopes that goosed inmates and made irresponsible remarks had those (uncalled for anyway). I wonder how many of you out there would take a job like this. I don’t think very many. It was like sitting on a keg of powder.
The inmate barber came down in early afternoon as at 4:00 p.m. They would leave Seg. Four officers came down and Mac then Tommy given a “high butch” haircut. No, they are not shaven completely (baldy), not so. Tommy was moved just before 4:00 p.m. and placed in an empty cell in the West End extension (Nearby was the death chamber just down a flight of stairs from where he was). Guards stayed with him till his last meal and then they had to wait till 10:00 p.m., the zero hour. Six of us took Mac down to the death cell. My co-worker, Frank Drozd, and I stayed with him. Being as there was a triple that night, all three were here and there. If ever there was a longer six hours (from 4:00 p.m. till 10:00 p.m.) longer than this deal, I’d like to know what the hell it could be. A half hour break for supper for Frank and me with the help of a relief officer.
Mac lay on his bunk (exercising) oh yea, sure Mac (I muttered to Myself), just you wait.
About 8:00 here came the executioner, an appointed licensed electrician who tracked all over the country doing his thing. They don’t have too many anymore, but I think it’s on the way back. Well, he came down with the deputy to check out things. I heard a hum. The chamber was just opposite us but not visible to the man in the death cell. A 10-quart pail with a saline solution and a sponge were on a table as was a helmet with an oval opening on top of it, almost like a jai -alai helmet in appearance. He seemed satisfied with the mechanism and went back upstairs. He said he was going to retire soon. Forgot how much his fee was, and talking with him about who would take his place, he said there was no problem about that because in those days he made a lot of money.
Frank and I looked at each other and in seconds the upstairs door was opened several footsteps. The deputy led the media and witnesses, in almost silence, and motioned them to fill the pews in front of the Chair. Oddly enough the door to the adjoining machine shop was opened, the scene of the crime a scant 20 or 30 feet from the death chamber. How ironical to say the least. In a minute or two all was in readiness. The executioner by the mechanism, the timer (the parole agent), the deputy behind the Chair and the assistant deputy, Mr. Chase, waiting to apply an electrode to his knee (McCarthy’s that is.) It was my job, at a given signal, to wait for Mr. Chase’s signal to unlock the death cell, and, in unison, four officers as soon as they in readiness saw the signal, also stepped forward as I reached to unlock the door. I had the key every time I worked one of these things. As soon as the door was pulled open by me, the four officers darted in and two took him by the arm and out the door, the other two quickly behind them, and they headed for the Chai r. I then locked the door and Frank and I followed in and stood alongside the prison doctor (Priddy) and the medical examiner, Dr. Howard (my family doctor.)
It was a straight upright thing. As soon as he was seated down, both legs and arms were strapped down in a flash. His pantleg (right one) had been slit so as to accept the electrode by Mr. Chase. The Deputy, at the same time, soaked the back of Mac’s head with the sponge dipped in that saline solution. Split second timing and then applied the helmet (and a chest strap). Through that opening in the top of it, the Deputy affixed sort of a metal thing that was connected to a wire gadget leading to a cubby hole cabinet. Inside it looked like the back of a piano–as from where I stood I could see–like a cylinder. No Priest for Mac. Didn’t want any. I don’t think anyone would want to spend a minute in that death cell with that guy, although at a time like this you don’t think of everything. No, they don’t wear a mask, no, no, and no again in spite of what other people write or say. It’s a little black cloth that drops from the front of the helmet. It took lesser time for the actual execution that it did for me to write and think about what I write because I want to be exact lest I foul up things, OK.
Here it is, a gadget is pulled out–it is not a switch like you have for your electric lights down in the cellar. I guess it is called a rheostat wheel with a dial that measures the dosage. Standing alongside the executioner is the parole agent checking the time, so many seconds. The first charge, if one were not strapped in, would be enough, it seems to me, and would send him or her out of the chair, and then lurch forward, it is so powerful. Then sag when stopped. Then the second one straightens him upright and a strain at the straps begins, both hands crinkling up as the current is administered. About 15 or 20 seconds of this and it’s turned off. Only a couple I had witnessed took three jolts, if I recall correctly. Another sag and the execution is over. The shirt is ripped open and the prison doctor and then the medical examiner both with their stethoscopes check things out and if the person is legally dead, they both announce aloud “this man is dead.” Helmet is removed as are the electrodes and straps and the body is lifted onto a stretcher, wrapped in a prison blanket, and taken away through the machine shop and into a hearse (waiting). An officer accompanies the driver out the back gate to the front of the building where the officer jumps out. The hearse then goes away–no more escorting needed now.
Tommy was next. Not much use to repeat the same thing. Within 5 or 10 minutes. Down the stairs and guided in, he was administered the same thing. He looked subdued, a quick strapping in didn’t give him any time to even think. Over in no time. Don’t know what Mac thought as he too got quick action. I described it right?
Lewie was the next, grinning (a half one this time) and then all three executions had been done in about, all told, 15 minutes. I still think it is the most humane of all different methods used for capital punishment. Muse a minute–the gallows takes time, firing squad, I think one western state uses or did use the firing squad, and I think California has that cyanide pill way. I stand to be corrected but I believe I’m right that the electric
chair is the swiftest way. The swift way of strapping in and then the charge all in practically less than a minute because that first one hits the body -that’s it right there. The administering thereafter I think is making certain that’s all to this man’s existence.
Well, then we all dispersed and went home turning over the key to the death cell to Mr. Chase at the end. That’s how it is.
One reporter of the Hartford newspaper probably went to a tavern needing a stiff one after a certain execution. Will tell you about that one later. Well OK, now. This reporter wrote a thrilling story, pictures of him interviewing certain guys at their trials, etc. That’s OK by met but he had the public reading some things I didn’t go for. Such as Bill Lorain’s skin turning blue while being executed for cripes sakes. That night I was no more than four to five feet away from him and I didn’t see any blue skin and the executioner wasn’t doing his thing right. Horseshit, and he was so shook up at this that after this terrible bit of witnessing that he did, he headed for a tavern for a quick bracer. My grandson called me after reading the article and said, Pops, was this and that really so? Gee whiz, my answer was no, Bob, but he’s a reporter and can bamboozle readers just like that. You know many people read that exciting story while I fumed since I took care of those men, all of them, and it was my job to take them at that appointed time and stay with them right to their end. Some felt relieved that I was taking them instead of someone else. There were a few times I brought them back too (last hour reprieves and commutations to life imprisonment) but there were only about three that I brought back. I met a few men in public later that had a lot to worry about once. While on this media subject, one more gripe I had was then Bob Bradley went to the chair, puffs of smoke, etc., etc., nuts again. One puff and a small one from his helmet (top) was all.
I said all. Not uncommon, such as steam from a leg, but not like a person being burned at the stake.
Bill Lorain was funny at times. An avid baseball fan said to another guard and me, hey, see if you can do something about having the All-Star game (for the next day) piped down piped down to him. So, you read me? He swore up and down his partner did the shooting of the victim who they robbed. That partner must have thanked his lucky stars when at lights-out, 10:00 p.m., everyone knew what time the execution was. There was his partner in a cell on the North Block, and poor Bill, as I opened that door for him to come out, looked at the Warden and said “Warden, I didn’t shoot that man.” But the Warden said, “I’m sorry Bill, but you had a fair trial.” Downcast, Bill “went” to his maker.
Bob Bradley was a corker. He was the one I had that wrote to the Governor refusing clemency for two reasons; one, was he wanted no more time in a prison if he were commuted. He had done enough time. I want no more, he said and followed it up with, if I were ordered to accept clemency, first thing I would do would be to kill that rat up in circulation right now (his partner in crime). Then he said, you guys have been so good to me I wouldn’t want any of you to possibly be injured in trying to prevent me from doing what I’d like to do to him. Such a business he had been in making friends with people and promising them a “date.” Of course, a pit would have to be dug for the “barbecue” off the road a bit. Only thing is he wasn’t able to dig it -so the friend did, and after the pit seemed to be deep enough, Bob or his accomplice decided now was the time to clout him over the head ¬and then bury there. They then sold the guy’s car. That’s the way I got it anyway, but how many times have we heard of a murder where the victim was buried downstairs in their own home. From what I’ve seen and heard since I had been at the “field” I don’t doubt anything anymore.
He was a beaut. We asked him one day if he ever worked. Yeah, he said, not much though. I was always in jail. Best job I ever had was in Cincinnati in a sport house. He had it good, I met this guy and we split the room rent, supposed to anyway. Well, then he told us the very first time they went to bed, this guy commenced fussing around his “root.” He flew out of that bed because I was a-pounding the hell out of him. I gave him time to put his pants on and “got the hell out of there before it’s too late.” Never saw him anymore and lost my job cause I was pinched again, Bob lamented. How many prisons were you in anyway, he was asked. Too many, he said, but Arkansas was the worst, “they whipped your ass for anything.” Only one more thing about Bob before I mention his “last meal request.” The Rev. Gates–Chaplain here–and he played cards every day, I think, and the Chaplain never won, even during his last few hours in his death cell. Why did the Chaplain always lose? Next day we found out that Bob had marked the deck.
Bradley’s Last Meal.
Our civilian chef went all over trying to get frog’s legs for Bob. He tried and tried but to no avail. Sea-food restaurants and fish markets, high caliber restaurants, no stones unturned -just couldn’t get them and told Bob. That’s okay, he said, thanks for the try, and he settled for fried chicken, watermelon, and lemonade. Fearless, Bob went that night and thanked us all for his treatment while he was there before he died.
Five at one time (on Cd row). We only had three cells on the ground floor and as soon as the additional two came, we were in a position where the logical thing to do was to put the two senior condemned men on the first tier above, facing the desk. They were two good risks, as if anyone knew them well. Yours truly did, but subject to the approval of the Deputy. We did this and it worked well. Though if either of them had a visitor, the particular one was taken from his cell and put into an empty cell on the opposite side of the cell block.
Of course, the screen quickly moved over there as I explained before. The screen was a must and the officer sat about 10 or 15 feet away from the visitor and the condemned man. By phone we were told of the upcoming visit and by the time the visitor and officer came down, all was in readiness. Why the screen between them? So as not able to pass anything to the condemned man. It took away any possibility and wouldn’t be a wise thing to do as it would certainly jeopardize clemency possibility.
George D. was placed upstairs with Frank Z. George couldn’t read and write well and he kept busy learning and pestering me with, Hey Ipp, how do you spell cat, mouse, radio, telephone, etc. And by golly, when I took him for that certain walk on his night to go, he was granted clemency and commuted to “life”, oh, maybe about 8:00 or 9:00 that night. He smiled when notified and gave out with a big Yippee! And, oh boy, words of that sort and he frolicked all the way back to Seg as I escorted him for his final night in Seg. Early next a.m. he was transferred up into circulation. He gave me a big thank you and off he went with an escort up front. And then there were but four, but not for long.
Soon after Frank went to the pardon board and awaited the news about his fate, Frank came back from the board meeting and stood up at the bars of his cell. Soon the news. The Deputy Warden or Warden, I got which one did, it’s been so long. I do recall it was Mr. Cummings. He had been Deputy Warden and then appointed Warden when Ralph Walker retired. Anyway he came down and Frank couldn’t wait very much longer once he saw him come into climb those dozen or so steps to where he was in the corner cell. You’ve been commuted, Frank he said, and Frank sagged to the floor, saying, thank God, thank God–as he wept tears of probably joy. At a time like this, plain tears were more so in order. He was let out in the morning like George D. had been. He wanted to go out of Seg at once, but since it was too late in the day to transfer him, he slept his last night in Seg.
George D. was give
n a job in the Deputy’s office. I’ll have you know he was rewarded for his intense desire to learn and it probably •bore weight when his fate was being decided, he was commuted early the night he was supposed to “go.” Well, who knows.
Next day Frank was taken out and put in circulation and I was back to having just three. Things happen fast, don’t they, but, man oh man, I had some of those guys for a long time.
Things were normal for a while as far as condemned men go -not too much doing until one day the telephone rang. Duke Del—–had gone over the wall. He had a rope and a hook and got onto the boi1er room roof from where he let himself quickly down to the ground unseen as the tower man couldn’t see him from his point of observation. Ipp, this is Deputy Caswell. I understand your hometown is Waterbury. Right, Deputy, why? I am sending you down a relief. Meet me in the lobby; we’ll discuss things there. OK, so then we’re in the lobby with the parole agents. How well do you know that town? A to Z was my reply. Then he explained what happened. (How could I know down in my “Siberia”?) Our job was to take care of those condemned men and the other guys down here for punishment and, of course, the steady “residents.” We had to go up two tiers to see what the weather was like; our barred windows were up so high.
Deputy Caswell said, do you think you can get this guy with the help of the Waterbury Police Department (detective bureau)? His grandmother runs a store on —–street. Know where the street is? Yep, I do know Deputy.
Well, she’s afraid he’ll come to her for money and thinks he will, and wants protection. Tell you what, go on down and have a talk with the Detectives. Keep us posted. The State Police will be informed; also our parole agents will be tuned in. Right now, his relatives are teeded off because of too many cruisers around and embarrassment. Do it your way. Knowing you, I’d bet you come up with something. With a grin he said, what can we lose?
Okay Deputy, I’m on my way as soon as I get myself a pistol from the arsenal. Who knows, if I run into him I’ll probably need one. I forgot to ask for a holster in my haste and a Colt .45 is a monster in your side pocket, so I stuck it in my blouse pocket and it sure showed. Oh, so what! I meant business. Finally, I met up with Sgt. Paul Moynihan of the detective bureau. He had contacted the across the street neighbors and one of them was glad to have me sit in her living room which had a window directly opposite where Joe Del lived with his mother and sister. His mother was Lithuanian and father Italian divorced. The grandmother I never got to see. Guess she probably owned the house. We kind of expected no soap: that day and I was getting a little tired. Sgt. Moynihan kept in touch with me and my authorities. I had worked part of that day before I was sent down here. I thought I could not keep this pace up alone. So I thought a bit and came up with an idea and so didn’t Paul Moynihan (same idea) ¬I would go to my folks’ house about a couple of miles away, get a few hours sleep, a little of mother’s cooking and then go back, but this time into Joe’s house. Leave it to me, if there’s something unreal or unusual, it will find its way to yours truly. Someday, maybe someone will hire me for a “jam” commercial. Fitting to say the least, of course “fruity” fits the bill.
Let’s get serious now and that it was. Joe’s mother welcomed me in, very cordial. I had a seat in the kitchen -she was told by Sgt. Payl that if it were possible he’d like to have me speak with her.
First thing I did was to ask her if Joe had contacted her. She said no, but I doubted her. I didn’t believe her, as he was foxy and so was she. He must have. So many hours had now passed, but he must have given her a call anyway. I think she wanted to see what I had in mind, hence her OK to let me in. She, when he called, would speak to him only in Lithuanian, but down deep she knew she wanted him safe what with every police station by now with his photograph and their officers alerted.
It rang, it was he, and as she spoke she seemed a little subdued as she looked at me. In between calls, his aunts and uncles came in and expressed themselves as such. We don’t like cruisers all over the place. I’ll see that the situation changes, I told them and Sgt. Paul M. slowed things down, which pleased them and they left. Every time that door opened…need I say more? Not a very good feeling, after all, I’m in an escaped con’s house and was that really him on the phone? Put yourself in that kettle. It was dark now and about two or three more calls probably. Is he still there, ma? How could I know? I know one thing; I’ve got to take a quick gamble.
Mrs. Del, you love your son? I know, but every hour he’s out there alone I presume, doesn’t really matter either, he is in danger of being captured and, in the process, if he were to resist or run from the police wherever he is, he is running the risk of very serious injury or much worse than that. Those last five words especially sold her. She started to cry, but I was telling her the truth. How could I know if he had a weapon? I couldn’t ask her because if he did, he’d never tell her, that’s for sure. The phone rang again. She composed herself and spoke to him. Joe had asked her to bring some money down to him in the morning, by bus to New Haven, and to meet him at noon in front of the Palace Theatre. In order to do this for him, he told his mother to tell me she didn’t want me around anymore as she was sick and tired of all this and wanted to be’ left alone. We shook hands and I told the tearful mother she was doing the right thing to tell me where he’d be tomorrow. I notified Sgt. Moynihan and he in turn contacted Wethersfield. She never went to New Haven and Joe was picked up–no problem–and Joe was then taken back to the prison and placed naturally in seg.
Is it any wonder why I write this “thing” of mine? I was given a couple days off to rest up. Boys and girls, that was no picnic. Joe always was as quiet as a mouse and it seemed funny to me as I once in a while patrolled our small block to see if all the guys were OK and there was Joe Del -yes, it seemed funny as I perused his cell–I was the guy who really got him back. Won’t ever know if he knew exactly who the officer was in his kitchen on his lust for freedom. A lot probably depended on how he stood with my runner.
He eventually went out and up into circulation and no doubt, found out up there. I don’t think he was anymore than 25 and I was stunned when I heard he died soon after this episode. I know one day Maurice Slattery, our hospital officer, had some trouble with him and the squad went up to get him to obey an order to open his door for some reason.
I think he was due to see an outside noodle doctor”. I was called up for the squad get-together to help out Slattery. I laughed when, upon seeing the squad, he walked a few doors down from his desk and said, Del, open this door, (which Del had barricaded with his cell furniture, his bed and chair) or, I shall be obliged to use fahrce”. (Slattery had a thick brogue.) Del looked and saw us and the door quickly was opened.
Maurice was so holy that if he heard any officers talking baseball, he’d scold them, and no betting even, just talk. Other things are more important to discuss than games of chance. One day, Officers Sullivan and Greene came down to Seg to take a condemned man out into the courtyard for his daily exercise (no weekends). However to get on, Jerry S had an ache–somewhere, I forgot. At this time, Pat and I were partners in Seg. When Pat was told just where the ache was, he jumped up from his chair and said, don’t let it take “holt”, that he had that “onct”. Capt. Hodgins once told Pop Newbury (on the turnkey), that it must be “fahrty” outside as he came from being outside for a little air.
The payoff was when I was on days a shod time. It was after lunch time was over. I was waiting with John Kevan at the
turnkey to be let into get back to work, he looked up at me and said, what’s a young fellow like you doing here, as some old timers like him didn’t care much for us “merit system men. ” Their click was thinning out. Mr. Kevan, I replied, since he had left himself wide open for the following remarks I gave to him, I can recall (lifting up one foot and showing him the bottom of my shoe), when the shoes I had on had a lot less leather to them to walk around with -that’s why. Oah, he said, (That’s Irish for “oh”.) Then I followed that up by saying (I only lived 10 minutes from the Prison at this time), I only live three miles from here. You came about 3,000 (miles away), so why such a question? He was embarrassed at my response and knew he met his match and seemed glad that the door had been opened to let us in. What a bitchy world we live in. Too bad so many people are either nosey and/or can’t mind their own business.
To give you an idea of what one of my co-workers was like (another old-timer), I recall the time the very first assignment with an outside gang (lawn). I thought I wouldn’t be told much about what to do when we went down to the lawn gang shed to change clothes. The “gang” put on their dungarees when they worked and back into their khaki (regular prison clothes) when through for the day. Now, I knew that my job called for to just follow at the rear of the column of the men as they trudged up to the hell of a big lawn with their mowers. But, when we
first came down, my officer in charge of this gang for years didn’t even look at me or give me one tip. All the bastard had to do was say: follow us to the lawn, walk in the rear of the group, and watch during the day that no one takes a walk, but did he? No, not a word. Took off with the men and left me in limbo, as far as he gave a damn. As usual, the runner said, follow em up boss. It’s a shameful thing to have to say, but if it weren’t for those guys, us young guys were up against it -needlessly. I didn’t let this bird get away with it. I told the Deputy this guy was for the birds. He laughed, and I knew why. Those old timers didn’t want to give us “kids” (I was only about 27 at that time ) a toe-hold on any steady job. What could the Deputy do? At least, I told him. Well, that particular guard never did accomplish what he wanted to and that was to retire soon and go back “hoam.” A bachelor–what else?–living in the officers quarters must have been loaded. With only a couple more years to go, he was awakened one morning to go to work and our trusty valet found him dead, newspaper on his lap. No, he never got to his native land.
It took me about 6, 7, or 8 years to get my vacation in the summer. According to seniority it went. Nine was in January, February, March, April, May, and on up, while these guys who never went anywhere, had no family, kept theirs in July, August, and September. A guy like myself with a family had to take those miserable weather months. Couldn’t take the kids anywhere in the summertime. A few of our relatives gave them a break in the summer. I thought it was just plain selfish, but I blame the “high command” for it. When we went on a 40 hour week, it was a big help, as with more men, the situation eased the situation for us young family men (vacation-wise I mean).
Well, we finally had ourselves a new Warden and he was a dandy. Hand-picked for the position (former head of the parole agents). He wasn’t for that job, let me tell you. A lot of ego, thought he was a great penologist. He promised this and that would be done and it was never done. This was his undoing. I remember when he was Deputy Warden–whenever I had a guy going against the rules in Seg, he did nothing about it. Not like Chase and Caswell before him. I had one guy over the heads (2nd tier) of the condemned men and he constantly raised a ruckus–the most insulting bastard I ever had in Seg. I made out a bunch of ignored reports. He reminded me a lot of Lewie. He’d holler down, I know all about you; you’re a member of the squad. These short timers gave us guards a tough time, especially with the mouth. They were the worst as they knew they wouldn’t be here forever, just, well, “pests”, but you can’t have that in a place like Seg because it defeats the purpose of having such a place. The Deputy couldn’t care less as it continued (bad influence for the others) but our runner must have told them. This won’t go on too much; Ipp will take care that, and they knew it too. Then one day the bubble did burst. I was getting so damn nervous since for years I never had this stuff but this guy who was too damn much made a very stupid statement. This is what it was: You can tell that Deputy that he and you are gonna be laying around here on a slab one of these days. I had a hunch he, the Deputy, wouldn’t go for that. He didn’t. When I called him and told him what he said, he told me to make out a report and send it down to him right now. ‘In 10 minutes he called me up and told me he was sending a couple of officers down to get him. He shut up like a clam when I opened his door and told him to go with the arrived officers. In the clink “solitary” for 15 days and when he came back, there was no more loud mouth. He did 15 more days with me and then out. This kind of stuff was bad. Cripe, I had been in Seg now over 10 or 11 years longer than Pat Brady: Constant vigilance can wear you down, plus different problems such as when I’d come to work, the night man would tell me so and so is kicking up a fuss. I could hear it as I was coming in: Did you make out a report on him? Answer was negative. I’d snap, why not? You can write too, can’t you? His answer was: I figured you would, being the one that usually takes care of things like this. That part is so true, but at least make out a report will you, why wait for me to give one?
One of the worst things in Seg was when a guy would “blow his top,” pull his sink Or bowl off and slam it or them against the steel wall of his cell. What a noise! Holy Toledo. No wonder my hearing is lousy today. It wasn’t too long after that I began to feel off kilter and not good at all. I went to my family doctor who was the medical examiner for Wethersfield. He knew Seg and asked me how long I’d been there and whistled when I told him. He was then medical examiner at all the executions; we often stood next to each other during those not too pleasant at all things (if you know what I mean).
He told me one night after an execution -I hadn’t been feeling just up to par -he said, Hey Frank, you look worse than he does. I haven’t been able to get out of Seg, I told him. The Deputy Warden doesn’t care; it’s under control and he doesn’t give a hoot for anyone but himself.
At one point, he said why not see a psychiatrist and see what he thinks. He named a very eminent one. One day on a visit to him he said, I know that place you’re in charge of. I’ve been called to Wethersfield many times but that place and that length of time’ How did you ever last this long?” Get the heck out of there and ask to be put elsewhere, I don’t care where. Move around here and there and do different jobs. Sounds great, I told him, but the Deputy ignored my request.
Finally, a stroke of luck. A new Deputy was made when Cummings was made Warden. The new Deputy was a great friend of mine and in no time I was back up on utility–amen’ Hard to believe Frank Drozd became number one in Seg when I left, and I said so long and good 1uck. He laughed and said, Ipp, you take things too serious. I simply said, don’t forget buddy, you’ll be probably the same in time and you may have to take things serious. Yeah, he said, guess you’re right. After all, we worked awhile together and I taught him a lot and he knew it. When the other guy makes the decisions it’s a lot easier for you in the long run. Now he’s got to make ’em and I gave him a month as Mr. Segregation, but I didn’t tell him that. That was about it -a month (or less) that he met me at lunchtime and told me he was opening up a nursery business in Middletown on hi
s property. His father-in-law owned his house and a lot of land in front of it which soon became Drozd Nursery and supplies, or something like that–whatever. He gave his notice and that was that for Frank. He prospered there and we often went down to see him. He also opened a store on the same land and looked fine. But, one day, I went down there and saw three greasy looking guys. You know, the type (black hat and coat), standing by a phone, and I noticed it rang now and then and they answered–looked like bookies to me. Bet a dime they got into Frank -he did ask me if I knew of a good horse while he was working, and it was heavy work too, those sacks of fertilizer, lime, and such. He could have used some help or maybe he couldn’t. I still bet your boots those guys got into him. Could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Could be trouble with that type (money worries) well, ‘nuff sed. He seemed in debt. You know, in about a year he was dead. Wonder, was I right? We were a good team in Seg. I was sad to get the news when he passed on.
We’ll go back to the prison. It felt good to have that weight off my shoulders. To go out to that tower once in a while was good, only thing is I used to walk around that narrow walk up there when on nights like a spider and now, just sitting there in the day trick, there was very little to do, when in one certain tower you had to walk about 50 feet or so whenever a delivery truck or one of our own had to go out. Always both parties if a delivery truck was leaving and one of ours, just our driver, and if OK, look down at the “back gate” of the prison and wave an Ok to the officer down there to let the truck pass. That was of all guys John Kevan’s steady job. No wonder he was concerned about us new fellows, he had such a “racket.”
I noticed though with rifle in hand I’d wobble a bit when I turned to go back to my tower. What the hell, I thought, am I sick? Well the answer was, yes, even an inmate driver noticed me sway and hollered up, You sick, Ipp? I thought he’d probably remark to others about it, but I guess not. I figured I’d better get the hell out of there too because if that gun fell over the wall, oh boy. I called the Deputy and explained. He asked me if since the shift was about over could hold out, and I said yes. It was better that way as no one else would know. This isn’t good, so I took a job in the West End extension, the department that that p-pot tossed the keys on the desk and took off for his union meeting. Recall that? No problem now as I had done ever y job in that prison even before I went to Seg.
Most of the inmates I knew. We had about a half dozen diabetics, plus old men and the like, almost like an old man’s home. It was hard on the diabetics because of seizures and slow hospital (right above us) treatment. I called them together one day. They spent practically all day in the day room playing cards, dominoes, checkers, and the like–a harmless group. I made a suggestion and I kiddingly deputized them all. Fell as, for your own good, at the drop of a hat pin the one down that’s having a seizure and you all know what to do for each other, okay? Sure boss, great for all of us. By the time the hospital nurse is called down here and gets here, we’re better off your way. It worked like a charm. You had to notify the hospital to cover yourself though, in case something was real wrong but things went very well like this. The prison doctor liked the idea too, a little pressure off his mind and department.
I was better off than being on this wall anyway. I worked utility a lot and occasionally in a shop when someone was off on sick or vacation as well. Fortunately, I had my time in “if I became worse off” to go qualify for a medical pension, but at age 41, I didn’t want to since half pay isn’t enough to make a living, so I plodded on cautiously though.
My Damn Luck!!
I was working in the hospital one day and near the end of my shift (7:00-3:00), I got a call from the office and was asked to work from 4:00-5:00. It was “exercising in the big yard for the men” or “recreation hour.” How come? I asked, isn’t this unusual? Why me? My answer was, we’re a man short. I, at 3:00 p.m., was supposed to start my vacation time as of quitting time that day. I know someone copped out for today’s recreation period, and who do they call? Me.
I never refused once, any detail or order while at this prison. Maybe indirectly that is responsible for my feeling punk. But, this is the reason why they were short, I always maintained. A refusal to go inside for supper had been rumored as their demands were being ignored. The question was, would they go in or not? The grapevine said no. No wonder they were short a guy; I was teed off. I had an hour to zip home and tell my wife the trip to Montreal in the morning was off unless the guys went in for supper. I gave her my bill-fold, papers, licenses, etc., as who knew I might be in a rumble and to keep her radio on for information. I grabbed a half pint of whiskey and put it in the trunk of my car–might come in handy later on–to be opened after things were OK. Something told me to make a quick stop at the package store and make a purchase just in case I could use a stiff one. I did.
I got back in plenty of time and as they (the “jail house merchants”) came out for recreation, two or three of them had their wicker baskets under their arms containing candy, chips, cigarettes, etc. I said to myself, oh-oh, I’m in yet another dilemma–g.d. it-¬and cursed the situation. They weren’t going go in and they didn’t, until 3:00 in the morning. Oh, what a night that was!
We only had about seven men in the yard including the Deputy who never was in during recreation. We were spaced out along the wall, no one in the grandstand, (no use of putting a guy there). I was on the gate letting in or out “whoever”. The key to it was kept overhead in the tower and the tower officer would let it down whenever I needed it and then he pulled it back up by means of a rope with a hook on the end of it.
They were in number about 350 or 400. What the hell good were seven men? Just a formality, that’s all, under this circumstance. Many of them looked at me sheepishly and they all knew me as a square shooter who showed no favoritism and being Seg boss for years, I wasn’t
worried, but who the hell knew what could happen?
The worst elements were the new young inmates, short-timers but at least the “Committee.” Their chief was in solitary confinement and they demanded him out. Five o’ clock came and the bell rang to go in. The key was sent down to me and I opened the gate, a formality was all that turned out to be. They all came up to about a hundred feet or so and stopped, then just turned around and scattered. They said nothing and down came the rope after I locked the gate and up went the key. Each tower soon had two guards and the long night ahead had begun. All the deputy could do was to give word to us guards in the yard to “hang in there.” Boy, I said, why couldn’t this have been 24 hours later? I’d have been in Montreal, but I’ve always had a lot of luck, mostly bad though. I was pooped and it wasn’t even dark yet.
The Governor, Ribicoff I believe, was in Texas on business and about a half dozen state policemen were sent down to help in case of trouble. What the hell good were they against these odds? Might just as well leave us few in the yard and let it go at that. All off duty guards were called in but stayed on the other side of the gate. They could see the goings on and none of them envied us inside that gate. Only way they’d probably be used was if we in the yard were getting a going over. Plus armed guards were stationed in those four towers and only if necessary would they ever fire their weapons, only at last resort to save us from harm. The state police sat in the prison lobby having their pictures taken by the townspeople who had listened to the news and came over. I heard a piece of logic and that was if the state police came near the gate, they’d
be seen by the inmates who probably would get a little excited about that, so let well enough alone.
It was getting dark, the weather was in their favor and they prepared for a long siege. Then it was dark and our spot lights from the towers were stoned-out. The portable one did no good -same thing. It soon was like a bottle of ink out there. Sex was rampant, both oral and sodomy. There were two or three really getting the works. Getting close to the spot of this “orgy area” figuring if they saw the Deputy coming they would stop. No dice, he was told by the guys doing it to “get the hell out of here.” Very soon, though, they stopped. Why? Because one guy was bleeding so profusely rectally that he was in very bad condition. He was carried up to the gate and they demanded he be sent to a hospital in Hartford. This was granted and he was taken inside. I didn’t know the outcome on him; I was busy enough with my own problems without worrying about that guy.
I got to thinking about the time I was in the years back and stationed in the grandstand (only three of us in the yard that day during the shortage of help). One by the telephone, one on the gate, and myself. Cold, man was it cold and I had to bust up a fight. One kept looking at another’s poker hand. (They played for cigarettes). I saw he had been warned to get lost but wouldn’t. Pow! Did Johnny Burns ever get a punch in the mouth. They broke as I moved in, my hat flying one way and my club (you had to carry one) also went flying too. No problem, I retrieved my hat and stick. The tower guard had called in (no alarm necessary as Ipp was bringing them both in to face Mr. Chase). I explained the scene and he put them both into solitary because the one that got socked instigated it. Go back to the yard, he said to me. You two follow me and they did, that old buck taking them both down (alone) and neither daring to resume the fight. Mr. Chase was a damn tough and brave man. So that was that. Boy that was a long time ago.
Getting back to the disturbance, it was just starting. They began to chant “We want the Warden” over and over and it took a hell of a long time for him to decide to make an appearance–not in the yard, they’d have wrung his neck, I think. He was up safely in one of the towers. It was now about 2:00 a.m. Hope you’re still with me.
He sure was pelted with debris when he stepped out onto the wall catwalk about five feet from the door amidst a chorus of boos. Imagine all those guys giving him such a reception. The conversation from him to the inmates wasn’t very clear so it was decided (why–I don’t know) to have one of the officers in the yard come inside the prison and get
the loudspeaker from the arsenal and bring it out to His Honor. I’ll give you one guess who was elected? Yes me, who the hell else! Why not an officer outside the gate, why me? Is it any wonder I was getting feeble. I’ll never, as long as I live, figure that one out.
Now this is all I had to do. Go inside, get the speaker, and bring it out to the yard and walk with it diagonally through that black as ink place, kicking bocci balls that were all over the place on my way over -pleasant task? Answer, no! Bocci was a big sport here and when I retired I took one home as a souvenir. It’s still in the trunk of my car for about 30 years now. I had heard that before my time, in anger, a guy bit another guy’s ear off as they argued over the game.
Well, I had to get that loudspeaker in and soon I reached my destination. Anyone could have clouted me on the way over but didn’t. The walk back to the gate seemed easier as they all milled forward to get an earfull. Now that I think of it, I can bet a dime on it why they picked me to go across that yard with that horn. My experience probably was the case. It was no simple chore for the guys who were in the yard with me, and that goes for the guys standing around outside the gate. I’ll let you figure it out. Whenever these people needed something of me, they never hesitated to ask and I never hesitated to say yes. I guess that’s the answer on this one.
That Warden didn’t speak very long–let me add, what with the barrage and cursing of him. Some penologist was he! One demand they had made, and it is close to 3:00 a.m. now was that their leader Leroy N. (the one that lopped Abie over the head in his escape attempt), well–he was in solitary and the inmate terms were to release him or we stay right here in this yard.
Suddenly I heard a cheer louder and louder. Why? The Warden ordered him out of solitary. When he reached the gate, escorted by officers from outside the gate, and I let him in, they went “haywire”. He entered, fist raised, shouting, we whipped the Yankee bastards.
At this point, the Deputy ordered us, one at a time, to leave the yard until he was “alone”–a very courageous man, I’ll tell you. You know in this game, you find yourself in all situations. Hey, you’re in it, anything could happen, and that is the way it works. Whether you have guts or not, only you yourself know it. You’re in a mess and have no choice -it’s not a case of deserving a citation, which all of us did get in a couple of days. If you were scared inside, the best you could do was obey orders. You had no other choice, so that’s it in a nutshell. In the yard this recreation period as they came up to the gate they said, we’re going in, and they did. What a night! Worked all day 11 hours in that damn yard and finally ready to start my delayed vacation. I couldn’t. The very next day as I was exhausted. Wouldn’t you be?
Damn, if I wasn’t called up and to work at a double execution the day after that disturbance. This time, being off duty gave an absolute no. I was a little heated up. I simply told them I was out of gas, besides anyone else could be assigned to that for a change. I shouldn’t, being on vacation, have been called at home at all. It actually took me a few days before I was able to take that long ride. A lot of work was involved with the kids going on our first decent (month) for a vacation. I had persevered and finally had the seniority. Well, we had a good trip, especially in Quebec. I had worked part-time (needed the money) as a door man in a theatre in the French section of Hartford and learned a few words in French. What a job we had trying to get a tuna fish sandwich at a refreshment stand. No English spoken there. We didn’t get it.
A guy who ran a grocery store, one of those guys who was everything but the mayor of the town was here. He spoke fairly good English and while talking he asked if I was French? No, I’m of Italian decent, I said, whereupon he in jest said, Aha -where is your knife? We all laughed and that quip has never been forgotten (over 30 years ago it was). Great time and good to get home so as to relax a little before the next -who knows what -at the “Bastille.”
I’ve got to mention that going out to my car at 3:00 a.m. after that trouble in the “big yard”, no one was around to see me open the trunk and fish out my jug. If ever I could use a couple of good stiff “belts,” it was then only because of the serious problem we had had. I downed half of it and saved the rest till I was almost a mile from home, hoping it wouldn’t foul up my driving. It really helped me as my nerves were “stinko.” I stopped and finished it all and took right off for my back yard before I got in some kind of trouble (like taking effect) you know. Was home in a minute or two, as a cruiser at that hour could be nearby. I had shoved the jug under the seat just in case. Luckily, my drive home was A-I. If I had any further distance to go, I’d have waited till nearer home. Got into the yard and gave myself a sign of relief. Old number 13 was home safely. Lights in the kitchen still on. My wife told me she listened to the radio. Was it bad? she asked, and I replied, yes. You know I didn’t even get pickled with all that half in that short time. Just a welcome mellow feeling. I diluted it with a lot of water right away, glass after glass. What a nig
ht! Maybe because my nerves were so jangled, I could very easily get looped anyway, I didn’t and after answering a few questions, it didn’t take long to fall asleep.
The vacation was over and it was nothing but utility now as I was a sick guy. The doctors told me to put in for a medical retirement as my condition was not good, very unsteady and in this game, you’ve got to be tip-top at all times -not just 50-50.
I just walked around the place and worked the meal times in the mess hall. Twice a day–breakfast and dinner–you had to stand up against the wall, about 10 guards in the place, spaced off two in front, and four on each side, as the inmates ate. One guy had to count them and check back with the Deputy in the back of the hall, always counting these guys for this and that and the other. Man, it was like an oven in this place in the summer time and in fall uniform too. Inmates only had their shirts on. The sweat just ran down your legs, in fact, down all of you.
On the Saturday morning shower thing–tier by tier, about 60 at a time, the men took their weekly shower until all of them had been showered up. I had this beauty of a detail once in a whi1e. One of us at the entrance and one of us at the end of the bathroom. I mentioned the mess hall and the heat; this was worse–steam, steam and then more. Good thing they only had this thing once a week and, yes, we were in full uniform also. It was tough, I’ll tell you.
Another real bad part of duty was when assigned to the catwalk, a spot jutting out from the block where the guard could see that if any man left his cell he had to head for the mess hall. It had a double railing. I held onto both of them as the drop was about 50 feet to the floor. After chow it was back again to see that they all went into their cells. This was a bitch on wheels. A day or two later I had the same job and wobbled to the entrance of the mess hall where I was noticed by Mike Joy and Cap Williams who were in charge of mess that noon meal. I simply said, I ‘ m sick and better go home while I’m still able to. They agreed.
I took some sick leave as a middle ear problem was fouling me up. Off balance and still have it to this day. I came back and they gave me a break by sitting up in the hospital with a new condemned man who had killed a police sergeant in New Britain at a meat packing company. He shot it out and was shot himself around the spine and was crippled. His name was Frank Woj… (long Polish name and very hard to pronounce). He was an ornery cuss, a real cop hater. He had to lie flat at all times and was sentenced to death in the chair.
What a sight he was and so many times I heard him say, aha! I am innocent and I shall prove it. Nuts. Always in a nightgown, he’d never wear a pair of pants again. Looking at his right leg, which had become so much thinner than the other was awful–the sores, infections, and whatever were a most horrible sight to behold. One day, his wife came to visit him and he uncovered the bad leg. She winced and turned away from it and he sneered -as she did and then smiled. I paid no attention to their very brief visit (about two minutes at the most), barely saying goodbye. Even in his condition he felt, by his talk, he’d someday win his appeal. I had retired when he was executed. By some method, something was rigged up to accommodate a position by which he was able to be strapped in and executed. That was a good one to miss out on. Really they all were!!
It was a boring job with him, but I was able to sit down. One day he said to me. Hey boss, why don’t you retire, you look too sick to be in this place. I can’t yet, Frank, but soon. He said, oh, I see, smiling. I read about his demise months later.
You people out there have been told about what life as a prison officer can be like. For some, no problem, for me it was one, that is, the “differential,” which prompts me to bring up an issue I saved for the climax of my life as an honest, hard-working individual, who gave nothing but good public service to the people of the State of Connecticut. I even forgive the gentleman who, when •screening candidates for a Captaincy which I applied for, asked me how I could know anything about the prison if I, as a Segregation Officer for so many years, never got around to see what makes the place operate. I told him I had every post in the prison before I had ever been assigned to Seg. Maybe if I ever found cut his name, I’d let him read this book.
The two guys that were picked for captains could not even tie my shoes. I don’t know who selected them (that board) to select anyone. But, you can’t fight city hall, they saw. They picked two alright, one –the bird that goosed my inmate in Seg, remember? And the other had nothing–just nothing, at all. The two of them were on that relieving shift I mentioned to you, while the regular men were going to lunch and the like, not much more than bodies around the place. Did the man on the examining board that asked me that foolish question ask them the same one? The only way they could have beaten me out when the final scores came out was this way: Any man that was an ex G.I. was given
five full points extra credit added to his final score. It seemed odd that five ex G.I.’s finished ahead of us three that had actually more prison experience by far. Those exams, when I tabulated, are decided by a fraction of a point in most cases. We three were beaten by five points apiece. They should have told us (no one unless you’re an ex G.I. need apply)–but no. This was rampant after the war was over. Soon a Senator from Connecticut stepped in on this unfair practice. Too bad I wasn’t inducted that time; I was called up and then the call up was cancelled (I mentioned this previously too). Of us three non-G.I.’s, I finished first and those five preferred applicants would have finished as the last five instead of the way it did, but that’s life. I suppose it sounds like “sour grapes”, but I always told you like it is and was.
I went up to the retirement commission, my friends, and soon I was no longer a prison guard. They and I discussed my career and illness and with proper information given to them by my doctor plus the reviewing of my career, they unanimously sanctioned my retirement and soon I was Officer F.L.I. Connecticut State Prison (retired).
The only thing regarding anything to do with a prison that I had done after that was a lecture and a question and answer thing twice for the benefit of a high school class whose thing was to try and get some sort of information regarding what went on inside a state’s prison. The more authentic, the better for them, since they were working on a certain subject whereby if getting the true facts from a person like myself, it would be most appreciated. The teacher who knew my daughter very well asked her if she would speak to me and possibly get me to meet with her class. My daughter taught at the same high school in Newington and still does as does my son-in-law. She said she’d ask me, and only for her did I go down. The kids were elated and fired question after question at me. Of course, the inevitable one, Who pulls the switch? They got their answer. Not like the electrical switch in most buildings “up is on and down is off.” They knew all about me and my stint in Seg and death row and that’s just what they wanted, an authority on the questions they would ask. They knew I knew my onions. That 45 minute or so period went so fast for them and they asked their teacher if I would please come back one more time. She asked me and I agreed, much to their approval. They were tickled pink.
I asked them if they would like to “simulate” an execution and be the “cast.” I would assign both girls and boys, equally, and they’d really learn something. An overwhelming “yes” was the answer. There were plenty of volunteers and I quickly set things up with them. A boy student volunteered to be the doomed one and right down to the blackboard were the rheostat dials, mechanism and all. They follow
ed my instructions to a “T”. They were absolutely great and attentive. These kids had a ball and boy they can sure put you in a spot if you didn’t exactly know your business. If those kids didn’t get an “A” or close to it, I miss my guess. They all thanked me as well as the teacher who looked on so proudly. Maybe there are such things as toughness, etc., in the high school classrooms but I saw not one iota of it. In my book, they were a real “classy class”. I wasn’t sorry one bit that I went down there.
I just want to mention one more thing to you out there before I close. One day on the way out (my shift over), as usual I was nailed at the gate by a Captain who said, Whoa Ipp, someone got away from the prison farm and we’re sending up a group to help them out up there (here ‘ s that ‘I want you’ again) , yes. Call home and tell your wife. OK, what else. This was before my health problem got worse. My uniform should have been like that Uncle Same thing, red, white, and blue, pointing his finger. I was always elected without being voted for -try that one on your grand piano. Anyway, went upstairs for a gun and off we went. I said, Captain, not Ipp again, cripe almighty, whaddya gonna do when my time is in, hire me part time? He laughed.
Lying in the tall grass around midnight with a farm guard at an intersection, clothes damp with the evening dew–How poetic–a car approached and we stepped out. Get in the car boys, we got him. What the hell was it but my beloved friend Deputy (farm) Hodgins whom I had hoped I saw the last of.
“Ipp” he said grabbing and shaking my hand, How the hell are you? I’m OK Deputy, but under my breath I said “you bastard”. When I think of the times he was so rotten mean. We were so glad to hear of his promotion to the farm. Well, this was the last for real. He was no good for even himself, I had to get this one in before I closed, but you can’t think of everything and often times things came up that recollected and didn’t want you to miss out on. I think you’ll agree that things can be a lot different from T.V. or the movies. It is a lot different than watching a guard locking a door or looking out of a tower. Agreed?
Francis (Frank) L. Ippolito with wife Mary M. Ippolito on November 1990 at age 74 at the 50th anniversary reception at Hawthorne Inn.