Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dannemora Notes: The Clinton Prison

Dannemora Prison (known officially as the Clinton Correctional Facility and the only maximum security prison inside the Blue Line) is the third oldest state prison in New York, and the largest, holding about 3,000 prisoners. According to the Great Wiki, inmates there have included Tupac Shakur, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Beat poet Gregory Corso, mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, New York City Club Kid Michael Alig, Robert Chambers (the “preppy murderer”), Jesse Friedman (subject of the documentary Capturing the Friedmans), Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, Joel Rifkin, and a half dozen other serial killers. You can search for prisoners in Clinton, and New York’s other prisons here; there is a map of the state’s prison’s here.

When Dannemora was built in 1845 there were basically two types of prison systems. The Pennsylvania System, which focused on solitary confinement and penance through silent reflection, was the priority of the Eastern States Penitentiary (built in 1829). Dannemora was established on the Auburn system, which got it’s name from the older Auburn Prison where prisoners were kept in solitary isolation and absolute silence, but forced into prison labor that made a variety of goods and angered many New York workers. The Auburn system proved to be less costly as less individual attention was paid to prisoners (the Auburn system is sometimes referred to as the “Congregate System”).

You can find an outstanding history of Dannemora Prison at the website of the New York Correction History Society. Fires, riots, and rebellions at Dannemora are covered in this article by Andrea Guynup.

For further reading about the prisons interaction with locals, check out this short history written by Rod Bigelow of Chazy Lake which includes several unique photographs of the prison and this piece by the son of Ernest Blue, an Adirondack forester who established a forestry program at Dannemora Prison in 1912.

Historical records of the Clinton Correctional Facility (along with those of the former Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts which was located on the prison grounds) are held by the New York State Archives.

Photo: Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1871 photo of the stockade wall and gate at Dannemora.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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