A Prison for a Hero

I’ve always had a macabre fascination with prisons, and when I was formulating the story for HANNAH’S VOW, I knew I wanted a bad one for my hero.  It took some digging, but with the help of a family friend who worked in a local university library, I found the perfect prison in which Quinn Landry would suffer.

You see, he shouldn’t have been in prison in the first place, but his older brother accused him of murder and did some conniving with the local law, and before Quinn could defend himself, he was whisked across Texas state lines and thrown into a notorious prison in New Mexico Territory.

This penitentiary was based on the Maine State Prison in the early 1830s.  The convicts were housed in underground cells and sounded just awful.  The dungeons were one story high with no way in or out except for a two feet square opening above them, secured with an iron grate.  The convicts descended into the pits by a ladder, which was removed, of course, once they were down.

The pits were eight feet long, four feet wide, and nine feet high.  Sometimes, the prisoner was in solitary, sometimes he shared the cell.   There was no lighting, and at the bottom of the pit, only a small hole, one and a half inch in diameter, which allowed heated air in from the penitentiary’s furnace.   No privies, either, but a tub was provided at night so they could do their business.

During the day, the convicts toiled in workshops as blacksmiths, wagon-makers, shoe-makers, wood-cutters and tailors.  Some of the hardest criminals worked in a stone quarry.  The female prisoners spent their time in wash-houses under the strict eye of a female officer.

In reality, this particular penitentiary sold the fruits of the convicts’ labors at full market price, and convicts were fed well.  Their daily rations of beef or pork, bread, potatoes, and mush and molasses (breakfast) were surprisingly generous, as was their allowance for tobacco.   They were allowed visitors and attended religious services on Sunday afternoons.  For their care, the prisoners rarely died and hardly got sick.

But in fiction, Quinn had it much worse.  He lives for revenge.  It’s the only thing keeping him alive.  When he learns of drug experiments on the prisoners, he knows he could die next.  To right the wrongs dealt against him, he must risk his life and escape.   And Hannah, of course, is there as his very unwilling ticket to freedom.

Drug experiments on the incarcerated is not a new practice, and there are distinct advantages, if you will.  In modern times, the inmates are in a controlled environment, are available and usually healthy.  In addition, they have a choice whether to volunteer.  They’re informed and often paid for their trouble.  The reasons they volunteer are varied, and while that could be fodder for a whole ‘nother blog, suffice to say, Quinn didn’t have a choice.  🙂  And doesn’t that make for much more interesting reading–especially when Hannah is there to stir up a little romance between them?

HANNAH’S VOW is now available as an e-book, and for a limited time, only 99 cents!

Click here to buy a copy for your Kindle!

Click here to buy a copy for your Nook!

So . . . have you ever visited a prison or jail before?  What were your impressions?

How do you feel about drug experiments on humans, incarcerated or otherwise?

Let’s talk!  I’ll draw a winner for a book of her choosing from my backlist!

Pam Crooks
Pam has written 14 western romances, most with Harlequin Historicals. She has recently re-released four titles by ebook, individually and in a boxed set titled IN THE ARMS OF A COWBOY. More releases are HER MOTHER'S KILLER, a romantic suspense, and THE SPYGLASS PROJECT, Book One of her new Secret Six series, historical suspense set in the 1920s! THE BREWER'S DAUGHTER, Book Two. Next up - KISSES LIKE WINE, Book Three!

41 Comments

  1. Hi Pam. Great post and it reminds me why I always wanted to be a good girl :). I have visited Alcatraz and the pitch black solitary confinement cell was terrifying for just one second. That said, I am opposed to experimenting on people no matter who, or on animals. I suppose voluntary might be okay, but animals have no choice at all.

    Beautiful cover, and I’m so glad Quinn gets a happy ending!

  2. No,thankfully ive never been inside a real jail,we took a trip to alatraz once an wow,the prisioners now have it made compared to then,but its not suppose to be a fun place,,

  3. Hi Pam!

    HANNAH’S VOW is such a great read. And you did such a fantastic job describing the prison I felt sick to my stomach, so glad Hannah was there to “help” Quinn out.

    I’ve visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison outside of Laramie. I wanted to go there because Butch Cassidy did some time behind those walls. It’s an interesting place because the original cells still have the prison graffiti, and they’ve done a super job restoring it to give an accurate account of life in a territorial prison. I remember I couldn’t even look in the infirmary. Don’t know why but of all the places it creeped me out. If you’re interested in old prisons I’d recommend visiting this one.

    After the tour of the prison we headed over to the saloon, in the frontier town, for a bracing sarsaparilla and breathed deep of the free air. :o)

  4. I’ve never been inside a prison.

    As for drug experiments I’d go along with the people freely volunteering. As for animals, I believe that lab mice experiments have helped save a lot of people over the years.

    For prison movies, I liked Shawshank Redemption with Timothy Robbins and Morgan Freeman.

  5. Hi Pam, I went to Amazon for the Kindle version and you’ve got some great reviews! Congratulations!
    Just as a general rule, I try to avoid the inside of jails and prisons. 🙂 It makes me feel kind of sad and dark just to think about the ones of 100 years ago.

  6. Good morning, Tanya! You’re our early bird today!

    I’ve been to Alcatraz, too, and I was a bit disappointed in how it had fallen into disrepair. They say the prisoners learned to be great bridge players–and were quite competitive. Guess they had a lot of time to practice, eh?

  7. Vickie, it doesn’t seem right that some prisons look almost like hotels. The newer ones are NICE! Better than some peoples’ homes. I suppose some human rights activists got involved and demanded comfort for convicts, but like you said, it’s not supposed to be a fun place.

  8. Beautiful cover, Pam. Years ago a young relative of my then husband did 18 months on a drug charge. We visited him once in medium security. I would think the worst thing today would be living with the other prisoner and the things that go on. How could anyone emerge from that environment without being emotionally scarred?
    Just heard on the news about an incident in our state prison. A bunch of convicts got botulism poisoning from drinking liquor they fermented from dining hall food and brewed in a toilet. Yikes! That hard physical labor from the old days may not have been a bad thing.

  9. LOL, Kirsten. Loved hearing about your experience! I’ll definitely put the Wyoming Territorial Prison on my bucket list.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Shawshank Redemption was so-o well done, wasn’t it? It was one of those movies that I couldn’t quite shake off when it was over. Very powerful.

    Thanks, Laurie!

  11. Avoiding the inside of jails and prisons is good, Judy. 🙂

    I don’t think I was too far off in depicting Quinn’s prison as being accurate for the time. It was a hard life for the convicts–whether or not fitting for their crime is a matter of opinion, I suppose. And like today, I’m sure the guards didn’t have much sympathy.

    I’m glad you stopped by!

  12. I researched the state prison in Huntsville for my most recent release and was amazed at the pictures of the original building. It had gorgeous architecture. But oh the horror stories I learned about living in “The Walls”.

    The prison istself was rather a haven with medical facilities, a library, religious services, and workshops where an inmate could learn a trade. But the majority of the convicts were farmed out to labor camps (farms, quaries, mines, etc.) and were brutally abused by the guards and had atrocious living conditions. My poor hero emerged with a lot of emotional and physical scars after doing his time there.

  13. Elizabeth, great to see you here!

    I’m shaking my head about the botulism story. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, I suppose, but yeesh.

    I can only imagine what happens when a guard’s back is turned. The depravity must be awful. You hear about how convicts have their own code of morals. Child molesters, I think, are abused on the inside by their fellow convicts because even *they* think child molesting is unnacceptable.

  14. As a senior in high school I took Social Studies and the teacher always took his class on a trip to the McAlester prison in McAlester, Oklahoma. We even went on death row and saw the electric chair. The tour guide tried to get one of us to set in it but no one would. They stopped this practice a few years later when the prisoners rioted and burned part of the prison. This was many years ago.

  15. Hey, Karen! Glad to see you stopped by.

    Ideally, penitentiaries are places where prisoners can be rehabilitated. A relative term, I suppose, with a high failure rate. So it’s good that Huntsville can offer that, but yeah, it’s a tough one.

    Hey, friends – Karen’s new release is: TO WIN HER HEART, and it’s available now.

    Go out and buy it to read about *her* prison! 🙂

  16. I’ll bet every Social Studies class looked forward to that trip, Goldie. It was wise of your teacher to expose his student to that side of life. It’s brutal reality. I hope it saved more than one recalcitrant student and kept them on the road to an honest life.

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. Well I can’t say I have been inside a prison but my sister works for the prison system so I have been around one. She works in the food service and she says the prisoners have better food to eat sometimes then we do. She works with prisoners on a daily bases,I don’t think it would be something I would want to do and it would take a certain type of person to do this.

  18. You’re such a sweetie, Pam. 🙂

  19. Have you ever been to the squirrel cage jail in Council Bluffs, Pam? That is one weird place!!!

    I also went to the state penitentury in highschool, there’s an uplifting field trip!!!

  20. I was in a old prison in Ireland, and let me tell you I went in and right out again. It was so small and stuffy and I am not good in small places when a lot of people are around me. I had push through people to get out and get my breath… So that is my one and only time in a prison…

  21. I visited the most dreaded prison in the old West-the Yuma Territorial Prison in Yuma,AZ on the Colorado River. The original cells and bars are still intact. It was known as “the hottest place to be inarcerated.” They had “hot boxes” where they placed the prisoners in boxes and left out in the sun for a time. In that area in the summer it is not unusual for the temperatures to be 110-118 degrees for days on end. Even at night triple digits are plentiful. Some of the meanest prisoners were there and only a few escaped to die out on the deserts trying to getaway.

  22. Never been inside but did watch (from a high rise at a distance) a prison go up in flames during a riot, back in the 60s and have read some grand jury reports of their inspections. Not a pretty picture.

  23. With my father having been a cop, I have seen what a jail looks like…. when they opened a new police sub station where I live, they let everyone tour the place… it was interesting to see. As for prison, never visited…

  24. Hello, Quilt Lady! Interesting to hear about your sister. So the food was pretty good, eh?

    I toured our local jail with my writers group, and they showed us the meals for the inmates. They were pre-packaged and didn’t really look like they’d fill a man’s appetite. Nor did they look all that great. Very institutional. Everyone got the same meal, and certain meals were served on certain days of the week, week after week.

  25. You blogged about the Squirrel Cage once, didn’t you, Mary? You’d think I’d have been there before since I’m just across the river, but I never have.

    Another thing for my lucket list!

  26. Oh, Kathleen! I would’ve loved to hear more about that Irish prison!

  27. Joye, ooh the stories that Yuma prison could tell! We’d certainly never get away with treating prisoners that way today. And yet, when you think of how the prisoners likely treated their victims, made them suffer and/or die . . . maybe, it was only right.

    An eye for an eye?

  28. Interesting, Liz! Now how did you get access to grand jury reports on those inspections? And um, what did they say?

  29. And I bet your dad could tell some stories, too, eh, Colleen? He probably takes it all in stride, just part of the job. 🙂

  30. Hi Pam! I’ve visited Alcatraz and the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie. Fascinating places! My most recent hero did time in WLT… it changed him for sure. Thank you for the insightful post!

  31. I visited someone in jail ONCE. When those door closed behind me, the hair on my arms stood on end.

  32. I too have visited the Yuma Territorial Prison…very interesting. When I was in college I toured Europe and we went to Munich, Germany and visited Dachau Concentration Camp from WWII. Once you have seen that place you never want to see any other place where people are held. That experience stays with you for a long time.

  33. A number of locations require, by law, inspection of and report on jails by grand juries. Google “grand jury report AND prison” to see some reports.

  34. I went to visit with a friend who had been sent to prison for stealing from her boss. It was very strange because I had been told what hoops I would have to jump through to be allowed in and out and I never had to do any of it. Was an aweful feeling knowing that I was locked in.

  35. I haven’t visiteda prison before but there are two kinds I have seen on tv that have given me shivers. One was an abandoned one thought to be haunted. It was empty and extremely eerie. Another was from a historical documentary on war and it showed prisons in the 1940s. Prisons always seem so barren and lifeless, the life sucked out of it. Very dismal. I’m cautious about drug experiements on humans because sometimes side effects can be years in the making. Something that seems okay a year down the line can be devasting ten years. It’s hard to drug the line and yet some experiments can lead to good.

  36. Hi, Vicki – was that recent hero-from-prison in MARRYING THE MAJOR?

    Which is out this month, everyone!

  37. And once was enough for you, eh, Estella? They’d make my hair stand on end, too.

  38. Oh, Jackie – a concentration camp! That has to be the absolute worst!

    I’d be just as profoundly affected as you–any of us would.

    Not sure I could go through it . . .

  39. So those grand jury reports are public knowledge, Liz? Who knew?!

  40. I hope your friend is living a more honest life now for her time spent incarcerated, Connie. Best of luck to her!

  41. Hello, Na! I think as long as the drug experiments aren’t too risky, most inmates are agreeable. They’re desperate for money–some have a deep need and desire to support their families.

    But yeah, if it’s something extreme, the side effects would likely be unknown.

    Thank you for stopping by!

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