Sing Sing Prison Oral History Project
Sing Sing Prison Oral History Project: Correction Officers
Sing Sing was and remains to this day one of the principal agents of punishment in New York State, and its reputation and image evoke a powerful response in the minds of Americans and Europeans. Sing Sing is fixed in the popular imagination as the “American Bastille,” “The House of Fear,” “The Big House,” and the “shock” prison of the penitentiary movement. From its very early days, Sing Sing was the destination not only of penologists but the curious general public who came in such numbers that they became a long term intrusion in the daily life of the prison.
The Sing Sing Aura: Sing Sing’s reputation as a place of dread and terror was, according to prison officials, legislators, and reformers, a function of the urban character of the inmate population, the overwhelming majority of whom were New York City criminals. The colloquial phrase “up the river” meant that a convicted New York City criminal would do his time at Sing Sing. The phrase reminded the public of the geographical links between Sing Sing and New York City and between urban crime and its punishment. New York City’s connection with Sing Sing is not only a function of the number of urban criminals in the prison’s population but a result of the intense focus of City newspapers and magazines on events at Sing Sing. The New York Times reported events at Sing Sing as if it were part of the local beat, published over a thousand about the prison from 1858 to 1980, and inextricably bound the prison and the City together. Sing Sing’s historic nineteenth century cellblock and its institutional history offer both scholars and the general public a window into the American search for a republican form of punishment. Its story is at the core of the history of punishment in the United States.
The Sing Sing Oral History Project: The Sing Sing Prison Oral History Project is an initiative that aims to document and preserve the rich history of Sing Sing Prison through the stories of those who have been behind the walls of the Big House. The history of Sing Sing is not complete without the inclusion of these voices. The oral histories will become part of the new Sing Sing Prison Museum.
The project will begin by filming corrections officers at their annual Old Timers reunion being held at the end of June. Any money raised above the goal will be used to fund the continued filming and editing of oral histories of Sing Sing correction officers.