1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


FRW Memories Chapter Three
John McCurdy 2005

When the transfer of Paul Harris and Abie Hurst became known among the people of Alderson, an attempt was made to stop the transfers, A petition was circulated suggesting that the Town could ill-afford to lose such long-time residents. The Petition didn’t have a chance of changing the fate of the men. The Warden of the institution, Miss Nina Kinsella’s answer to the criticism was that those veteran officer’s skills were needed more at other prisons, and besides two young men from the area were being transferred into this prison to take their place!

I had gone to Ashland with the idea that in a few years I might be able to transfer to Alderson and I applied for a transfer almost on the day I got there. I was thoroughly confused when, while I was on my days-off in Alderson, several people whom I met on the street asked me how I thought I going to like working at the FRW. My answer was, as always, I’d like it a lot but I was afraid it would be some time before that happened. A call to the Personnel Office at Alderson confirmed that, as far as they knew, I was to report for duty at Alderson the following Monday. That was on a Thursday morning. Another call, this time to Ashland, confirmed that I was, transferred effective that Friday, to report to Alderson the following Monday. My wife and I were elated, of course, after all the years of working away from my home, I was at last, coming home!

I had a lot to do at Ashland, I had to tell Ashland College of the transfer, gather my dry-cleaning and laundry, check-out from the BOQ, settle several accounts and do, in one day, what had to be done. I immediately drove back to Ashland, the next day was a whirlwind of activity, paperwork, goodbyes, running here and there. The folks at Ashland was none too happy about the way things had been done. I found out later that they had gotten a call from the Bureau on Wednesday that I was to report to Alderson on the following Monday! Their protests were of no avail! They apparently did not even give me a telephone call to let me know I didn’t work there any longer!

I reported to work on Monday, I recall that Miss Kinsella, when I was taken in to meet her, said, “You’re awfully young,” and shook her head! I wondered if that was a very auspicious start. The Supervisor of the Male Correctional Officers, Charlie Keatley, just a short time later turned me over to Joe Henry Johnson, a man I would grow to love as a brother, even while I always exercised great care and wariness for all of his many tricks and ruses! 

Joe Henry Johnson had transferred from the prison camp at Mill Point, the previous year. One of his extra jobs at the prison was measuring and ordering the uniforms for the men of the Correctional Service. The dark grey double-breasted uniforms were made to order by the inmates of Leavenworth Penitentiary, rumor had it that they provided the same clothing to the Veterans Administration for the Burial of Indigent Veterans! Ashland did not order new uniforms for employees until their probationary year was completed, until then everyone got hand-me-downs! One of my uniform coats had a repair to a hole in the back that was the result of a stab wound by an inmate. Not exactly the sort of thing one wanted to dwell on too awfully much!

Joe Henry Johnson had the responsibility for much of my training the next few months. At that time the Male Correctional Officers, (MCOs), worked a shift that changed every week, morning watch, day watch, and the evening shift, I was Johnson’s shadow! I remember when he took me to the institution greenhouse, which was filled with flowers and newly propagated shrubs. He told me before entering that Katherine Kelly and her mother, Ora Shannon, worked there, Katherine was the wife of the notorious killer from the 1930’s, “Machine Gun” Kelly, who was serving a life sentence in Leavenworth or Alcatraz! Joe told me that Katherine was a manipulator and to be very careful around both her and her mother. I soon learned just what he meant! Both of the women were very engaging and answered my many questions very knowledgeably. Katherine insisted that I must see some of the dolls she made. When I said they were very nice, she insisted that I must take one of them for my wife. I just as insistently refused to do so. She feigned that she was deeply hurt by my refusal.

At the institution Hospital, which at that time was staffed by two Public Health Service Physicians and a Dentist, a registered Pharmacist and 6 or 7 Registered Nurses. Inmates received all their medical care including child-birth at the institution. One of the inmates assigned to the institution was Iva D'Acquino. Better known as “Tokyo Rose”! She was a very gracious individual, well liked by inmates and staff, She was quite different from Mildred Gillars , nee (Axis Sally), and Katherine Kelly, who were whining, demanding sociopaths and disliked by everyone. I was on duty several years later and released Mrs. D’Acquino.

I worked my first 12-8 shift with Joe Johnson. After the Evening Shift had left the institution grounds, We went to the Control Center in the Administration Building. We chatted a few minutes with the woman officer in the Control Room. Checked the Log Book for pertinent information left by the previous shift, and did a safety and security check of the building, with special interest paid to the refrigerators in the Staff Kitchen, (located at that time in the Administration Building), occasionally we lucked out and found good things to eat!

We would then begin the first of our two walking inspections of the buildings on the Upper and the Lower Campuses, a stroll of about 2miles each time! We used our “5 cell” flashlights to inspect the screens on the windows to make sure none were, missing, cut or torn, indicating perhaps someone had “flown the coop”! Johnson once found a bed sheet hanging from an upstairs window at the Maples Cottage, he phoned in to the Control Room that someone out there wanted to “make peace”, when asked, “why,” he replied, “Well someone is flying a white flag of surrender from the window!” The higher-ups were not amused!” However one took amusement where found on the midnight shift! We, (the MCOs), would assist the Officer assigned to Davis Hall to make her 3 and 6 O'clock counts. Davis Hall was the Maximum Security Building at the FRW. Inmates whose crime, or whose behavior at the prison indicated a need for a higher level of security, or, those inmates who were in protective custody for their own safety from other inmates, were housed there.

Vera Freeman worked the midnight shift in Davis Hall on a regular basis, she had a room and bath in Davis Hall that she rented year round. There were several building on the institution grounds that were Officers Quarters and some officers lived in them full time. In bad weather, or when, for some other reason, Mrs. Freeman did not want to drive to her home in White Sulphur Springs, She would remain at the institution and have a place to stay. When we would go to Davis Hall to assist Mrs. Freeman with the count, she always had a fresh pot of coffee or tea and a plate of cookies for us. We would eat and sip tea and chat and then return to business. We assisted with the count, unlocking the Cell or room door and opening it, staying ready for whatever might happen. The woman officer would then enter the room and make certain she “saw flesh”, if necessary the officer would make a noise and the inmate would respond by moving or making a sound, more than likely a curse or a more fanciful comment on her opinion of our Parentage!

Later we would pick up the woman who was patrolling the Lower Campus and go to the Maples, a cottage that housed the Dairy and Farm inmate workers, about a mile from the institution proper. While the woman officer counted and did the security check at the Maples cottage, we would check the Rear Gate and the Piggery, with special attention paid to make sure the newly born pigs were not being lain on by their mothers, although what we would do to convince a 500 pound brood sow to get up, I never knew! We would check the barns and the milk storage area, The large stainless steel vat containing the cool milk for the next days pasteurization would generally have a several inches of thick layer of cream on it. We’d get a paper cup and fill a thermos bottle just in case we ran into an apple pie somewhere on our rounds! That actually happened more times than one might think. We then picked up the officer and returned to the institution, at the Powerhouse Gate, the man would get out and unlock the gate, the female officer would then drive the vehicle through and we’d then close and lock the Gate. We would then check all the dark and silent building and around 4 AM go to the, newly-built, Central Dining Room and kitchens and turn on the ovens for the Food Service staff who would come on duty at 5 o’clock to prepare the days meals.

Raising the American Flag was the last thing we did before opening the Front Entrance for the day shift workers It was always properly folded and lying on the radiator inside the end door of Willebrant Hall. It was raised briskly to the top of the flag-pole just as though we had an audience. In the night-time the sound of the halyards clanking against the flagpole with a metallic almost musical sound was somehow reassuring. When the flag was lowered in the evening it was done slowly and reverently, folded properly and safely stored until the morning. There were no Flag-Burners working at the FRW.

.......To be continued