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 an Amazon Bestseller for western romance!

Available in your favorite format!

Amazon | iBooks | B & N | Kobo


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?

Be sure to leave a comment.  My Filly sister, Tracy Garrett, is giving away a $25 gift card to iTUNES, AMAZON or B & N–winner”s choice!    

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!
Updated: October 8, 2013 — 2:53 am


  1. When I was a sophomore in HS the Student Council (student government) went to the grand opening of a county jail. Everything looked so shiny and new but it was scary. There were identification check points and sheriffs with guns and electronic lock in boxes. I knew I never wanted to end up in there. I’m claustrophobic.

    Drug experiments !!! Who knows what they were given. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

  2. Hi Pam! I’ve visited two prisons . . . the first was historic Alcatraz and I still get chills thinking about it.

    The second was an open house at a brand new jail facility in Los Angeles. My uncle was with the Sheriff’s Dept. and worked there, thus the tour. The facility wasn’t anything like Alcatraz, but jail is jail. No privacy. Cells. The sense of being watched. Haunting!

  3. I went to a county jail while I was in high school. One of our substitute teachers worked there and took my class there for a field trip. We went past the men prisoners which stared at us through the glass. It was like a big room for the prisoners to play cards or other games, read and sit around and relax. We were given a tour of a floor that they were in the process of building, so we saw how big the cells were and how the prisoners showered. It was a scary and interesting experience.
    Drug experiments on human, I guess it would depend on the reason why the inmate was in jail for. At least they get a choice not like the animals that they used for the drug experiments.

  4. No, I have never visited a prison before but always thought it would be interesting to go and maybe have a chance to witness to the inmates letting them know about Jesus Christ. I’ve just never lived close enough.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  5. I once visited prison cells in Ireland. They were much like you described in your post. But the cells were much smaller and I was so claustrophobic I had to turn and get out of there… When I saw the movie Invcitus, and they showed the prison cell where Nelson Mandella was imprisoned, it brought me back to that visit.. I shudder every time I remember that visit..

  6. Laurie, sounds like that visit really made an impression on you. It certainly depicts a life most of us will hopefully never see. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Vicki, I went to Alcatraz, too, during the RWA conference in San Francisco. I’ll never forget it. I was sad that it’s fallen into disrepair. It’s such a big part of our 20th century history.

  8. I’ve never visited a prison or a jail. I think If I had the opportunity I’d be interested but I’d probably have a panic attack and not be able to go in.

  9. Becky, thank you for sharing your experiences. I so would *not* like those prisoners staring at me when I walked by. Kinda creepy. But I imagine they didn’t get many student visitors.

  10. Interesting perspective, Cindy. Many inmates have seen the light of Jesus while incarcerated. I suppose they’ve lived such hard, hopeless lives and don’t have anything left except to turn to the Lord.

    Very admirable of you!

  11. Visiting a prison wasn’t on my list. Rather avoid that type of place. Your post was fascinating.

  12. I have never visited a prison nor have plans for one. But have heard a great deal about it from lawyers whose lives are filled with this drama.

  13. Yes, I unfortunately have visited my cousin in jail before he went to prison. It was REALLY small. Not sure why we needed those phones to talk to one another. We could hear each other better without it.

  14. Kathleen O, I think the older prisons were much harsher than they are now. They were never designed to give prisoners comfort. Much different than now when some penitentiaries are downright nice, all in the name of prisoner rights.

    Thank you for visiting today!

  15. Hello, Pearl and Diane! I’m waving at you. 🙂 Thanks for joining in.

  16. Interesting article. I once visited the Old Yuma Territorial Prison in Yuma, AZ It was an interesting tour. That was where the worst of the criminals were sent because of the stark conditions there.
    Your book sounds very good.

  17. Amyc, I hope your cousin is doing better in his life. Thank you for stopping by.

  18. It is a fascinating subject but I’ve seen and read enough about any prisons to know that I surely would never want to be in one (shudders). The most I’ve ever visited were local jails with only one or two cells which were just temporary housing so not too bad considering but I still wouldn’t want to be there very long lol.

  19. Your post was very interesting and unique. I have not had the opportunity to visit a prison but would find them daunting and difficult to deal with.

  20. NO, It gives me chills thinking about prisons or human expermints. I like romances with ex-convict heroes.

  21. Joye, I would *love* to visit the Yuma Territorial Prison. It truly was the worst of its kind at the time. Supposedly fitting punishment for the men incarcerated there. Thanks for mentioning it!

  22. Jails are different than prisons, certainly, catslady. Whenever I think of a two-cell jail, I think of the one on Andy Griffith where the local drunk slept it off. A rather friendly place to be in Mayberry!

  23. Good morning, Anne. Visiting a prison is certainly thought-provoking. I don’t know how anyone could walk away without subconsciously putting themselves in a cell and imagining what life would be like behind the bars.

    Definitely incentive to be a law-abiding citizen!

  24. Anon1001, I LOVED writing HANNAH’S VOW, and Quinn Landry is probably my favorite hero of all I’ve written. The book is an Amazon bestseller and reviews have been excellent.

  25. The only prison I have ever visited was Alcatraz. It sounds very tourist but it was such an eerie feeling. As we went through the jail cells I just had such a sad and creepy feeling all at once. Even though the prison is just a tourist thing now, you could still feel the power it had. Thanks for the post!

  26. My grandfather was a lawman back in the 1920s 1nd 30s. The township had one jail cell so women were often housed in his home, and depending on the danger to his family, in the ice house or wash house. These were really plush holding cells and the ladies were treat well according to the stories my grandmaother told.
    Another jail that I visited was the Womens prison here in Nebraska. I had a friend who spent time there and I felt called to listen to her side of the story. My visit was not uncomfortable, in fact I had been told that my ID would be checked several times but was not checked once the high fences and barbed wire was made for a little disstress but we were treated very well.
    Drug experiments give me the chills, but I guess if the prisoners are given all the facts they can be helpful….BUT not without permission.

  27. Never personally been inside a jail or prison… only have seen things on TV… did not know about the experiments… kinda creepy.

  28. I read Hannah’s Vow and loved it. I visited the prison at McAlester, Oklahoma when I was a senior. That was a requirement when you took Social Studies. However, after the riot they stopped that practice. This was when we had the electric chair. We got to see it and the tour guide tried to get someone to set in it. No one would.

  29. I’ve never visited one, but an husband of a friend was on a construction crew that went to the Indiana State Prison. Everytime a saw blade broke, they had to stop work & find every piece. Most anything can be turned into a weapon.

  30. Cori, you are so right about Alcatraz having a power. It was quite the notorious prison in its day. I kept thinking ‘Al Capone was here’!

  31. Connie, your grandmother must have been a saint to put up prisoners in her home. :-0 My goodness.

    So you live in Nebraska? You’re probably talking about the York Correctional Center–I’ve been there, too! That was not a bad place, actually. Women could do far worse for incarceration, that’s for sure.

  32. Hello, Colleen! Thanks for your comment. You’re in the drawing, dear.

  33. Goldie, I’m glad you enjoyed Hannah’s Vow. Thank you for saying so.

  34. Interesting comment about the saw blade, CateS. Very sobering to know inmates are always on the lookout for a weapon. Desperation leads to violence, unfortunately. A vicious circle.

  35. My sister works for a prison system so yes I have been to one but we never went inside. I think if drug experiments need to be done on humans then a prison would be the place to do it on the ones that are on death roll or something like that. My sister works in the food part of the prison and I will have to say from what she says they eat better food then we do.

  36. I’ve never toured a prison but a friend of my dad’s was a guard at Comstock Prison in Northeastern NY. He would tell stories about some of the prisoners and his experiences working with them. Just driving by there was kind of scary when we were kids.

  37. Quilty Lady, you are such a loyal P & P follower. We appreciate you coming to visit us for as long as you have!

    Interesting comment about the food. When my writer’s group toured our local jail, the guide showed us the food he was warming up for the inmates. They were like TV dinners, and everyone got the same thing. He did say that they eat alot of the same food every day–so evidently not much variety.

    Your sister must work in a nicer prison than our jailhouse!

  38. Hi, Hilltop Farm Wife. I love your moniker!

    Would love to hear some of those stories your dad’s friend would tell you. 🙂

  39. I’ve never visited a prison or jail.

  40. I have not visited a prison or a jail. I am freaked out by human experiments.

  41. Hello, Minna and CrystalGB! Well, we’re glad you stopped by anyway, even though you’ve never visited a prison or jail. I hope you both found our conversation enlightening!

  42. I have never visited a prison or a jail and I don’t much like the idea of human experiments.

  43. Pam, I totally LOVED Hannah’s Vow! It’s on my keeper shelf and I tell everyone I know about it–because it is so unusual not only in the premise but Quinn an Hannah are both very different too. I literally could not put it down–I can’t tell you enough how I enjoyed it.

    When my kids were in middle school they visited the county jail. It was pretty amazing but neither of them really liked the trip too much. The year after my son went they quit doing it. Jessica said they were in pretty close proximity to the prisoners the year she went and they would holler out stuff to these little 12 and 13 year old girls. UGH.

    The human experimentation just scared the you know what out of me, to even think about it–all the more empathy for Quinn! (And Hannah!)

  44. Hi Pam,

    HANNAH’S VOW is still one of my favorite books ever! I just LOVE Quinn and Hannah!

    I visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison, and I think that’s about it and it was enough. I just didn’t feel well going through it. But the tour was interesting (at least I thought so after I got out of there).


  45. Cheryl, it means so much to me to hear you say how passionate you are about Hannah’s Vow. Hugs!

  46. Kirsten, another dear friend. Thank you for saying such kind things about Hannah’s Vow. I’m so-o glad you enjoyed Hannah and Quinn’s story.

    Did you find the Wyoming Prison so disturbing you literally got ill? My goodness!

  47. Yeah, the infirmary turned my stomach (along with the stories the guide told). I don’t do well with prisons and mental institutions. My uncle was kind enough to buy me a sarsaparilla at a little Old West village not far away. 🙂

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