1898 Autograph Letter Signed by a Convict; Life as a Runner in Prison in Philadelphia

Arthur, a convict, prisoner No. 1203, writes a very full 4-page letter to his friend Hal. This is explained as he has must write his letter, like all prisoners, on a single sheet only. Arthur’s crime or surname are unknown, but source records could likely reveal his full identity.

Since being imprisoned, Arthur has received few letters from the outside world and longs any correspondence. The most interesting part of this letter is Arthur’s description of life as a “runner,” or inmate assistant to the guards, and his efforts to improve the education of a fellow inmate by teaching him. To this end he requests a grammar textbook from his outside connection. Arthur also happens to be leading an inmate choir composed of African Americans:

I have moved out of the Hospital and indeed out of “C” wing and am now in “A” wing and am acting as a “Runner.” There are 2 in each wing and their duty is to keep the wing or corridor clean and tidy and the Bath rooms and assist in feeding the prisoners and generally assist the keepers. … I have arithmetics Spelling Books geography etc. but I have not a moderately simple grammar. Can you send me one. …My choir of 13 colored men is doing first class work. The Captain [Deputy Superintendent] & Chairman of [the] Board of Inspectors (Mr. Barclay) are much pleased.

In addition, Arthur is solicitous of a young man named Walter, possibly his son, who recently came to visit him in prison. The letter is very neatly written. Arthur is an educated man and writes well. A model inmate.


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