1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


FRW Memories Chapter Two
John McCurdy 2005

In 1953-54 the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson was recovering from the effects of a Lawsuit by many of the Female Correctional Officers. As a result of the lawsuit there were hard feeling between the employees who had filed the suit and those who had not sued, but had profited by the suit of the others. There was also hard feeling among some of the Administrative Staff for the people who had sued!

A former officer named Cora Farley believed she had been deprived of pay for hours she had worked!  She hired a attorney named Petar J. Betar, from Huntington, who agreed with her and agreed to represent her for a sizable contingency fee. In other words, if they won he got a certain percentage and if the lost he got nothing. That tells you how sure he was of Farley’s suit!

The case revolved around the shifts and the hours worked by the Officers. The Correctional Officers duty began at 2:00 PM, when they were required to be at the cottage to relieve the Officer going off-duty. She was then expected  to supervise the activity in the cottage. The inmates were locked in their rooms at 10:00 PM. Only then could she go to the room and the bath that was designated in each cottage as the “Officer’s Room! There she was required to spend the night.  Around 5:00 AM she would go to the kitchen, make a big pot of coffee and awaken the inmates who worked in the cottage kitchen. At 6:00 the rest of the cottage was awakened and after they had breakfast in the Cottage Dining Room, she sent them to their work assignments around the prison. The remainder of her shift she spent supervising the Cottage Maintenance Crew and doing the reports and other tasks required. At 2:00 PM, she would be relieved by another Officer and after she turned in her keys and reports, she was free to go home until the next day at 2:00 PM when she would start the cycle again.  

The question at issue was whether the Correctional Officers should have been paid for their time spent in the Cottage between
10:00 PM one day and 6:00 AM the next morning! The government took the position that since the Officers could sleep between the hours of 10 and 6, they were not entitled to pay. It was shown that the Officers were often disturbed during those hours to attend to the needs of the Inmates or other emergency’s, they were not actually Off-Duty! The 6th. , District Federal Court found that the employees had, indeed, been deprived of just compensation for hours worked!

When one considers that much of the time worked would have to be considered Overtime in excess of 40 hours per week, it is easy to understand why the total cost to the Federal Government was in excess of $6,000,000.00. This was when a million dollars was a lot of money!

The Warden Nina Kinsella requested that the Chief Clerk, (the Business Manager) research the individual amounts that were owed the employees, (in a letter to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, James Bennett, giving the totals owed to the individual employee, she listed two groups: those officers who had sued and those who had not joined in the action, but who would, of course, profit from it! Saying in the letter that she hoped her “Loyal” employees could be paid first! That discloses the feelings of the Administrative Staff at Alderson about the suit!

As mentioned before the officers who had agreed to have Attorney Betar represent them in the suit had also agreed to pay him a fee of 33 1/3 % of any money received, A number of persons did not avail themselves of his services. They, of course, also were entitled to Back Pay, but did not have to pay Betar a dime! There was a considerable amount of resentment among the employees whose actions had, in fact, benefited the employees who did not sue. That resentment lingers on even today!

 A Male Correctional Office, Abie Hurst, an officer of the local prison Union, was reputed to have been active in soliciting the women officers to sign with Attorney Betar.  It has been alleged that he was hired by Betar to do so. Others have said that is not the case. In any event, as the suit became more and more a matter of concern to the Bureau of Prison, Mr. Hurst came into the crosshairs. His days at Alderson were numbered! It was shortly thereafter he was transferred to a Federal Prison in California.

In an attempt to avoid a charge of vindictiveness, several other employees were effected. Veteran Male Correctional Officer Paul Harris was transferred to
Petersburg and long-time Officer George Bare was told he must retire because of his age! There was no evidence that either man had been involved in soliciting any employee to join in the suit, however they were handy!

Abie Hurst and his wife, Helen; who also was a Correctional Officer, sold their home in Alderson, transferred and later retired   in
California. George Bare retired shortly after I transferred in, and died in less than two years. Paul Harris transferred to Petersburg and was assigned to Tower One on the Midnight shift, He did not like it! The story told to me at Petersburg, was that one night he reported that a line of elephants were marching, trunk to tail, down between the two tall wire fences that encircled the institution. He opened fire and shot several dozen rounds from the rifle in the tower. No elephants were harmed or found.  Mr. Harris retired shortly afterward and returned to his home and family in Alderson. 

The highest Back-Pay mount was in excess of $33,000.00! The average was in the $16,000.00 range as I recall without going to my files!  I recall  my Aunt Mildred received a substantial sum.