ItemSt. Andrews Beacon, Oct 24, 1889
An Old Prison
A Peep Within the Walls of St. Andrews Jail
The recent escapes from the County Jail, followed by the removal of Mr. Mark Hall, for nineteen years jailer thereto, have directed public attention to this venerable institution. St. Andrews' Jail was not the creation of yesterday, as a glance at its antiquated walls will readily show. It was constructed as far back as 1832, and, doubtless at that time it was considered to be a model prison in every respect. In these advanced days, however, it is very far from being what it ought to be, and there is little doubt that to this cause, as much as to the alleged carelessness of the Jailer, is due the numerous escapes that have taken place from time to time.
The immense blocks of granite out of which the venerable pile is built were brought all the way from Deer Island, Maine, in sailing vessels, there being no quarries in this neighborhood in operation at the time. The building itself is quadrangular in shape, two stories in height, with a low pitched roof, running down from the four sides. A little over one-third of the building was designed for the use of the jailer; the rest was for prison purposes. On the ground floor are the criminal cells, and from the glimpse we got of them in company with Sheriff Stuart, on Friday last, we would blame no prisoner for trying to escape from them. They are both small and dark and ill ventilated, and before they were provided with a water closet, must have been noisome dungeons indeed.
There are five cells on each side of the corridor. The cell doors are of iron, and the entrance is so small that a man, with a corporation on him of any size, would have some difficulty in getting through. Each cell is 6 x 8 feet in size, and is surrounded by solid stone walls, two feet thick. There is an aperture in the outside wall of each cell to admit air and light. These apertures are about four inches wide, by twelve inches high. In olden times, a large wooden plug was used to close them up, but of late years the wooden plug has been discarded, and a sliding window covers the space. An old fashioned draw-bar fastens each cell door. The corridor is, perhaps, five feet wide. It is entered by two doors. The first door is of solid wood very securely fastened. The second is composed of broad iron bars held in transverse sections. It is fastened on the outside by means of a modern prison padlock of ponderous size. There is no fastening whatever on the inside, so that when the jailer has occasion to go in, he must have some person to stand guard at the door until he comes out. Usually his wife or his daughter has performed this service but it is a dangerous job to ask any woman to perform, where there are desperate characters imprisoned. There is a low window at one end of the corridor, which admits light. This window was protected by thick iron bars, which were considered escape proof, but not many years ago, the prisoners sawed them through and made their escape. Since then, an additional grating of the strongest iron has been placed outside of this first grating, the latter having been repaired and he would be a bold ingenious fellow who could saw his way through this window now without detection.
Cutting for Freedom
Even with the old-fashioned grating it was no easy task to cut through to liberty. The prisoners who did this job must have been at their work for some time. They unravelled the yarn from their socks before beginning their task each day, and fastened it tightly around the bar above and below where the cut was being made. This helped to deaden the sound. For fear any noise from the sawing should reach the jailer's ears, the rest of the prisoners tramped up and down the corridor, whistling and singing, and making as much noise as they could, keeping a close watch upon the door at the same time. When they had sawed as long as they dare, the cut was closed up with soap and dust sprinkled on it to hide it from view. Then, having removed the yarn, the prisoners slipped off to their couches, no doubt to dream of sweet liberty. In this way they carried on their work until two of the bars had been cut through. Then, the cross-bar was easily swung out, and one by one the prisoners crawled out through this narrow hole, and gained their liberty.
The Debtors' Quarters
The second floor of the building is utilized as a debtor's prison. It is well lighted, and in comparison with the lower apartment, is quite comfortable, indeed. There are four cells on this floor. One of them is now being used by a female prisoner, who is serving out a sentence of twelve months for larceny. There are three males down stairs, Henry McIntee, awaiting trial on a charge of arson, Wm. Walker, serving out a term for vagrancy, and a debtor. Walker had the honor of letting himself out on one occasion, but he did not enjoy his freedom long, being brought back in about a week afterwards. He received an additional ten days from Judge Stevens for breaking Jail, his honor remarking at the time that he would blame no prisoner for walking out when he found the door open.
The Jailer's Goose Froze
Dark, ill ventilated and uncomfortable as St. Andrews Jail may be now, its present condition is ten times better than it was a few years ago. It is not many years since it was so cold that a goose belonging to the jailer froze to death in it. It is almost a miracle that the prisoners did not share a like fate. The walls had not been cemented for years, and the wind and weather had opened the interstices in the stone to such an extent that the building was like a sieve. Within quite a recent period the walls have been pointed with cement, and thus and thus the wind was prevented from whistling through the cracks and blowing the hair off the prisoners' heads as it had been doing. There is also a stove in the corridor and a closet for the prisoners comforts that a few years ago they were stranger to.
The Late Jailer
To talk of the Jail without having something to say about the Jailer would be like describing a church without mentioning the minister. Mr. Mark Halls, as has been stated before, has held the position of Jailer for almost twenty years. Whatever his faults may have been, none can say that he was never cruel or unkind to those unfortunates who were placed in his charge, and if he erred at all it was on the side of leniency. Had he been a man of less kindness of heart and a stricter disciplinarian, it is probable that escapes would not have been so frequent as they have been. It is the knowledge of this fact that has created a great deal of sympathy for him throughout the County, and the wish has been freely expressed that he should be reinstated and given one more chance. Mrs. Hall has been alike a mother to the prisoners, and has accorded them kinder treatment than they were entitled to. In other prisons the inmates have a stated hour for getting up from their beds to their meals, and if they do not rise at that time they either have to do without or take cold victuals.
In St. Andrews Jail, humanitarian principles have to a large extent governed the conduct of the jailer and his wife in this regard. It has ever been the practise to keep the fires alive until the last prisoner has arisen, so that his mug of tea might be warm and comfortable for him. No doubt in some people's eyes this would be considered an unnecessary kindness, and some might even be disposed to find fault with the jailer or his wife for it, but, under the circumstances, we cannot blame them. Situated as the jailer is, comparatively alone, there should be some better arrangement of the cells than exists now. As things are at present the jailer is comparatively at the mercy of the prisoners. There should be some arrangement by which each cell could be scoured without making it necessary for the jailer to go in and close each one. In addition to this, the means should be at hand to lock the corridor door from the inside, when the jailer has occasion to go in. If some such arrangements as these were carried out and a little more light provided, so that every object in the corridor could be distinctly seen by the jailer before entering, and the position of every cell door and prisoner noted, the number of escapees would be reduced to minimum, and a great deal of danger to the jailer's person removed.
A Youthful Jailer Appointed
Since Mr. Hall's removal, the jail has been in charge of Mr. Leonard Chase. Mr. Chase slept in the jail office, and took his meals at his home, which is only a few rods distant from the prison. His appointment was only a temporary one, however, as on Monday the announcement was made that the Sheriff had appointed his son, Louis Stuart, to be responsible position of jailer, and that it was the Sheriff's intention to move into the jail himself as soon as possible. Sheriff Stuart says that he jail is to be run on jail principles after this, so that intending "boarders" should bear this in mind. The man who tries to escape after this, need not be astonished if he is "winged" before going many yards.