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

Life as a “runner” — inmate assistant to the prison guards

From inside Philadelphia’s Holmesburg, Prison, Arthur, prisoner No. 1203, writes a full 4-page letter to his friend. Like all prisoners, Arthur must write his letter on a single sheet only.

No. 1203 has received few letters from the outside world and longs any correspondence. He describes his life as a runner —an inmate assistant to the guards and one who is not locked up during the day— and of his efforts to educate a fellow inmate. He also leads an inmate choir comprised of African Americans. In part:

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.

Arthur is solicitous of a young man named Walter, possibly his son, who visit him in prison. Arthur is an educated man who writes neatly and well. A model inmate, his crime and surname are unknown. Internal clues in the letter and source records may reveal his full identity.

The infamous Holmesburg Prison operated from 1896 to 1995. It was the scene of horrific medical experiments. The infamous bank robber Willie Sutton escaped from its confines in 1947.

Description: [1898 Autograph Letter Signed by a Convict; Life as a Runner in Prison in Philadelphia].

Holmesburg, Philadelphia. September 22, 1898. Bifolium, 8vo. [4]pages, in full. Fine condition.



See all items by