The Evolution of the Pokey: Prison From Dread to Club Med

Written by Julie Prince on March 21, 2014

“That’s the sound of the man workin’ on the chain ga-ang. That’s the sound of the men, working on the chain, gang”; what a great song by the great Sam Cooke, depicting the hardships of prison life. Ah the good Ol’ days when a criminal was treated as a criminal and not like a celebrated patron at the local country club . When a crook did the crime and ultimately did the time and was actually punished for it. The times when incarceration was about punishment and justice, and not “rehabilitation”. How America’s prison system has changed.

From the 1800’s to the 1930’s, life in a prison looked a lot different than today. Some bleeding hearts would have classified the methods of punishment used as inhumane or evil. There were methods used during these times that worked well. There was the pillory and the stocks- both proven to be effective ways to punish the deviant and corrupt. The pillory was an upright, wooden torture post encased in steel. It had two holes for the arms and one hole for the head. It was used to hold the criminal in place as they were whipped. Twenty sound lashings using the pillory may have been an excellent deterrent for the convict.

The stocks were similar, usually putting the prisoner on display for the general public to gawk and point in the goal of massive, public humiliation. Capital punishment was a popular means of eliminating the culpable. Being sent to the gallows was a dark and lonely walk with the prisoner’s head being clothed in a black sheath. Even though one couldn’t see where they were going, all who took that ghostly walk knew what their fate was to come. Hangings were for public viewing, sometimes drawing crowds of more than 2,000 people.  How about that for a Friday date night!

Many prisons had dirt floors with nothing in the room but a cot and a hole in the floor. They were cold, rat infested, and disease-ridden where the infirmaries, if you were lucky to be sent to one, probably didn’t care if you lived or died. The “iron gag” was a metal bit that was placed into the inmates’ mouth and was chained around his head and neck. Buckets of freezing cold water were dumped on their head over and over as they were restrained. If you were “extra special”, you may have been chosen to be sent to the “mad chair” where the criminal was strapped in so that their body could never be at rest.

Starting just after the Civil War, there were what was known as “chain gangs”, {a group of men chained together by a ball and short chain to perform hard labor tasks such as digging ditches, building roads and railroads, and clearing land}. They were primarily in southern states and were formed as way to bring free economic relief for works that needed to be performed. They were phased out by 1955, being revived in 1995 in the state of Alabama. Roughly a year later, they disappeared in all states but Arizona where they exist today.

chain_2Arizona is the first state to have women and juvenile chain gangs under the guidance of the hero to many, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Known for guts and grit, Arpaio has implemented a school of hard-knocks approach on how to handle convicts. He established the largest “tent city”, an incarceration compound made of canvas tents that house an estimated 10,000 inmates. Sheriff Arpaio’s prisons are no picnic. He has banned movies, coffee, cigarettes, porno mags and unrestricted television. The inmates are only fed twice a day and salt and pepper has been eradicated- saving the tax payers over $20,000 a year.

The tough-as-nails approach is the way to handle the prison system. A high percentage feel they were better off inside the prison walls than before they went in. Where is the aversion to leaving? Many will commit crimes once they are out, simply because they want to go back. They get three hot, square meals a day, state of the art gyms where they can work out and “get ripped”, and many earn degrees behind bars; a luxury many free Americans can’t afford. They have internet access and enjoy the latest movies. They have access to immediate, decent healthcare, something that millions of Americans no longer have access to due to Obamacare. Many receive on-the-job training that includes earning money, also a luxury that many Americans are not afforded. All spent on your tax dollars. 

Tax payers shell out roughly a whopping $39 billion of hard-earned dollars yearly to keep the prison systems going. It costs roughly $90,000 a year to house a death row inmate. All on the tax payers dime! Some live on death row in upwards of 30 years before they are executed. Appeal after appeal, that adds up to be  $2,700,000 per year! This wallet once full of benjamins, is now replaced by moths.

Does this seem ridiculous? How is this fair? Did the victims of the crime get to live one more day, let alone 30 years? Simple fix, one bullet to the brain. It’s cheap, it’s quick, and it will spare the families of the victims years of heartache. The good ol’ days, when a spade was a spade, and a prisoner was just that, a prisoner.

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Julie “Jules” Prince has been a Conservative activist, published writer and entrepreneur for over 20 years. She is the founder of, a Conservative news site and political organization that includes her blog the Raven Files. She is the host and producer of the edgy Conservative talk radio show “Warrior Nation” featured on Blogtalk radio Thursday’s from 7-9pm. Jules fights for the advancement of Conservative ideology and the principals of our Founding Fathers, with an undying love for America, what it was founded on and saving it from the destruction of the Progressive agenda.