Friday, January 27, 2017

State Profits From Inhumane Treatment of Prisoners Says Roy Trawick, 1917

“Roy Traywick Sprung Sensation at State Capital,” from the Monroe Journal, Union County, N.C., Jan. 26, 1917

Union County Man Charged That State Prisoners Are Inhumanly Treated, and That Gambling and Immoral Practices Are in Evidence at Prison Farm

Roy L. Traywick, a University student who served a sentence in the State penitentiary from this county, made some astounding charges against the penal methods in this State in Raleigh Tuesday.

Mr. Traywick, who is well liked and has many friends despite his misfortune, charged that the lash is used unmercifully in the penitentiary and also that gambling was allowed and immorality practiced. His charges sprung a sensation in Raleigh.

Mr. Traywick left here about 10 days ago, ostentatiously on his way to Detroit to work for Henry Ford, but he stated to a Journal reporter that he intended stopping over in Raleigh to ascertain if he could possibly throw any light on the way our penal institution is conducted.

Wednesday’s News and Observer carried the following account of Mr. Traywick’s charges:

“As the outgrowth of a remarkably graphic story written by an ex-prisoner in which are portrayed alleged frightful practices and conditions existing at Caledonia Farm, a State penal institution, it is probable that the Legislature will order an investigation of all branches of the State Prison organization.

“The ex-prisoner is young Traywick, a University man who some years ago was convicted of forgery and sentenced to a term in the penitentiary. He served three years at Caledonia and was pardoned in December by Governor Craig. The young man’s story was read yesterday by Representative Roland Beasley before a session of the joint committee on penal institutions.

“Among other things, Traywick alleges that prisoners are treated with frightful cruelty, beated at times unmercifully, ill fed and poorly housed. They, according to the story, are herded together and made to sleep together as so many sheep, negroes and whites, sick and well old and young, all huddled together without distinction. The lash in all its frightfulness is plied without compassion, sodomy and immorality rampage, disease ravages the unfortunates who fall under the pall of this great institution so profitable to North Carolina financially but so destructive to the moral fibre of those whom it seeks to correct or punish, he charged.

“Traywick’s article reads like a page from Les Miserables. Hugo’s Jean Val Jean suffered no more from his prison experiences than do the inmates of North Carolina prisons, if the young man’s charges are true. There is not noticeable any venom in Traywick’s article. He does not say that he, personally, was badly treated. His article he says was inspired by a desire to correct evils through which so great a number of his fellow men suffer untold injury.

“Traywick is vouched for by Mr. Beasley. He comes from the Monroe editor’s own county. For several days he has endeavored to have his story printed in the papers of the State. None, however, were willing to let loose such charges unsubstantiated by any but Traywick. Their view was that while the article is extremely interesting reading it might be greatly overdrawn and might work injury to competent and humane officials.

“Traywick charges that the profit accruing to the State from its penal institutions is a disgrace to the State. He says that such profits come at the expense of prisoners who are treated inhumanely in the great effort to make the farms pay.

“The joint committee heard Traywick’s charges with much interest. Practically every member felt that they were exaggerated but that they furnished sufficient basis to warrant the ordering of an investigation of penal institutions. Senators Brenizer and Holderness and Representatives Grier, Renfrow and Beasley were appointed a committee to make the investigation, subject to the action of the General Assembly.

“The meeting was presided over by Senator Wilfred D. Turner, ex-Lieutenant Governor. Mr. Turner said that it was his opinion that much of the existing evils in penal institutions was attributed to the State’s stinginess. This stinginess, he said, tied the hands of men who otherwise would do their best to reclaim to society the unfortunates sent to prison.

“Messrs. Beasley, Jones, Gregg, Holderness, Doughton, Grier and Brenizer and Edward E. Britton, editor of the News and Observer, addressed the meeting. All were of the opinion that an investigation looking to reform was needed.

“Mr. Beasley said that Traywick was actuated by none but purely unselfish reasons in making this charges. He was of the opinion that most of the charges were based on facts and that they made a thorough investigation imperative to the welfare of prisoners.

“Senator Jones was of the opinion that if one-tenth of Traywick’s allegations were true, the state must correct those conditions or doom itself to everlasting disgrace.

“’Prisoners are human,’ he said. ‘For God’s sake, if one half of these things are true, do something! I don’t believe that every man who goes to prison is degenerate. To force white men to drink from a common bucket with negroes!’

“Senator Gregg of Randolph, who won the heartiest kind of applause from the galleries when he defended the resolution of Senator Jones sanctioning Governor Craig’s Christmas gift to the convicts, told the committee that he had served as a guard at the Caledonia farm for 60 days, at the end of which time he resigned because he could not become a party to the treatment of convicts at that time—and he said the farm head was a good man. He would support any man or any party that would remove this condition from the State, which he characterized as a disgrace to civilization.

“Mr. Holderness thought that Traywick had exaggerated, perhaps, but that there was much truth in his statement and said the housing of convicts was a disgrace. He thought the statement that lunatics were worked overdrawn.

“Senator Holderness advocated the removal of the State farm from Raleigh as a business as well as a humane proposition and making the superintendent directly responsible for the prisoners. He did not wholly accept the charges as to food at the farm.

“Mr. Beasley said that he had known of other former prisoners who had tried to shed some light on the treatment State convicts and had been unable to get a hearing, and he was championing Traywick for this reason. He was impressed with his fellow citizen from Union and had undertaken to get the matter before the Legislature. A conspiracy of silence had existed through fear of criticism and he wanted some steps taken to see if the charges were true.

“Upon the motion of Mr. Doughton, the statement of Traywick and his supporting witnesses was ordered filed with the committee.”

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