In 1904, one year after his release from prison, a felon who used only the pen name Number 1500 wrote the book Life in Sing Sing, a rare look at what it was like to serve time inside the legendary penitentiary. The author also presents his thoughts on effective methods of rehabilitation. He comments, “The attitude…toward convicts that belong to the recidivist class is to punish them severely and, having failed with hard measures, to try harder ones.”
HVA Press, which has just published a new edition of Life in Sing Sing, believes they discovered who the anonymous author Number 1500 is. Based on the hints scattered throughout the book, he has been identified as the forger Henry Kirke White.
Highly educated and articulate, Publishers Weekly said White “writes with considerable literary skill.” White believed prisoners should have a chance to make a fresh start when released, and throughout Life in Sing Sing, he examines the various rehabilitation methods (and the lack of them) at the time. White also sets the example himself by launching a prison newspaper, Star of Hope, written entirely by convicts.
Life In Sing Sing remains an important reference. Even Jack London owned a copy, marked up with his annotations, and used it as a reference for his own work on prison life.
For the background on how HVA Press was able to determine Number 1500’s real identity, click here.
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