Prisons, Libraries, and Coaches Eating Bugs

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March 17, 2016 by libroshombre

 

Several interesting points emerged during my time in the Arizona Territorial Prison, once known for being either a “hell hole” or a “country club.” A recent visit to Yuma, AZ included a tour of the old prison that operated from 1876 to 1909. The hellish parts stemmed from the oppressive heat, rampant tuberculosis, and surrounding quicksand pits. However, some of the early prison superintendents believed in rehabilitation as much as punishment, and many non-prison residents of Yuma resented the convicts enjoying amenities they didn’t have, such as electricity, plumbing, showers, and a library.

The Yuma Prison Library was created in 1883 during the administration of superintendent F.S. Ingalls, who also opened blacksmith, carpentry, cobbler, and tailor shops to teach inmates job skills. The prison library was the brainchild of his wife, Madora Ingalls, who raised funds to buy the library’s furniture and 2,000 books. Some consider it the first library in the Arizona Territory. “Dora” Ingalls was well-known among the convicts for raising money for a prison band, tending sick prisoners, and other kindnesses; that’s why they were surprised when she manned a Lowell Battery Gun, similar to the Gatlin Gun, to quell a mass breakout.

The prison closed in 1909 with the opening of a new, larger one elsewhere, but the facility was used as the local high school from 1910-14 when the old school burned. Visiting sports teams taunted the Yuma athletes by calling them “criminals,” but the aspersion was embraced by the students, and Yuma High remains home to the Fighting Criminals.

Living in the Yuma prison was tough for guards and inmates, and it’s unsurprising that the occupation of corrections officer is one of the lowest-rated in the annual “2015 Jobs Rated Report” from CareerCast.com, “the Internet’s premier career site for finding targeted job opportunities.” The report looks at earnings, stress, and prospective job growth to determine a best-worst compilation of 200 jobs in 2015. With 200 being the worst, corrections officer came in at 194. Enlisted military, lumberjack and newspaper reporter bottomed out at 198-200, respectively, while farmer and garbage collector tied at 180. Funeral director and attorney came in at 124-125, bartender and nurse at 118-119, and hairstylist, parole officer, and nuclear engineer at 79-80-81.

Librarians were up there at 35, but actuary, audiologist, mathematician and statistician topped the heap at 1-4. I was glad to see historian make 43, though this was a huge drop from 2010, when historian were ranked 5. Lord knows more historians are needed since a Washington (St.Louis) University study found that 71% of Americans think Alexander Hamilton was a U.S. president, while “Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur were recognized less than 60% of the time,” according to the report in SscienceDaily.com. Apparently we do OK recalling the first and last few presidents, but after that watch out. Over 25% of Americans think Ben Franklin, Hubert Humphrey, and 16th century theologian Thomas More were presidents.

Some history, like baseball cards, can be pleasantly ephemeral. The baseball card boom busted in 1994, the year of the infamous players’ strike, when 81 billion cards were issued – “325 cards for every man woman, and child in the U.S.” – and the cost rose from 50 cents to $3-4 per pack. Most sports cards have little or no value, but some certainly do. A recent NPR.org article described a family going through some deceased great-grandparents’ belongings found seven rare Ty Cobb cards from 1909-11 in a crumpled paper bag that are estimated to be worth “well into seven figures.”

I prize my old baseball card collection and had to get it down after reading Grant Bisbee’s amusing article titled “The 11 Genres of Baseball Photos” in SBNation.com, a sports news blog. The players featured on the cards are posed in finite ways: batting, swinging, smiling headshot, etc. Bisbee identified several new groupings, like “Floating Ball,” where the player tosses a ball up by his head, and “Coach Eating a Bug,” in which painfully uncomfortable coaches produce intriguing pop-eyed expressions.

My collection includes categories like “What’s In His Mouth,” “What’s He Looking At, and “Ugly Man.” They’re worth little except to me, but as English historian Thomas Carlyle noted, “In a certain sense, all men are historians.”

 

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