US Prison and Asylum Conditions in the Late 19th Century
January 20, 2015 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm writing an article about someone who spent time in the California State Asylum and San Quentin prison around the middle of the last half of the 19th century. I'm looking for books or journal article recommendations that could help give me an idea of what life was like in these institutions specifically or similar institutions in general during this time.
posted by entropicamericana to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you already read Nellie Bly's reports?
posted by mudpuppie at 9:14 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not yet, but I'll definitely take a look at it. I'm not sure how much the experience would differ, but the person I'm writing about was male.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:31 AM on January 20, 2015

This link to some Longreads articles about stays in psychiatric facilities might be helpful.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:12 AM on January 20, 2015

Closest to your time period is Report of Committee on State Prison (text) which is a short report on San Quentin from 1857. There is also Report of the Special Committee on State Prison from 1855 (also quite short).

If you're interested in scene-setting, you might want to read Report of the attorney-general concerning the title to state prison lands at Point San Quentin from 1863.

If you want to hear what the wardens thought was going on, you might want to read the Biennial Report By California State Prison at San Quentin (text here). It's from a little later, 1905, but has a lot of useful details such as the items they had to buy for the jute factory there etc. A few other books not totally in the right time period but freely available on the web for background

- My life in prison - Glimpse of Prison Life by J Wess More a "lifer" at SQ

On to the Asylum options. There was a lot published in the time period you're looking at available online.

- Rules and regulations fo the Insane asylum of California (1861)
- Insanity and insane asylums By California. Commission in lunacy (1871 can't make this up)
- Biennial report By Southern California State Asylum for the Insane and Inebriates (1894)

As you can maybe tell, I work at Open Library and we have a lot of stuff scanned form the State Library of California so you might wantto poke around, check the box that says "ebooks only" and see what else you turn up with. Prisoner narratives in particular, are probably findable with more search effort.
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

You could also poke around the Online Archive of California to see what kind of primary source materials you could find.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2015

Jack London wrote a novel about a San Quentin inmate who survives torture by some kind of astral travel/past life experience state. It seems to have been based on interviews with an inmate.
posted by thelonius at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

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