The reformatory was also known as the “prison without walls.” The warden felt morale was more effective than prison walls.
Warden Lewis E. Lawes, wrote in his book 20,000 Years in Sing Sing that he brought 247 boys and young men from New York City to work there.
They were a load of happy boys anticipating the joys of life in the country. What they found was a sea of mud.
They hiked one mile to camp which was simply a group of makeshift bunk houses. There were no bars, cells, electric lights, water or drainage or any other comforts. They did have a fence around the property. Water was hauled from a distance in barrels. They used lanterns for light.
They built the bunks they slept in. They were put to work in gangs with picks and shovels. A couple of them complained that they had never worked so hard in their life and they weren't going to now.
Their punishment for refusing to work was to stand near the temporary gate and do anything they wanted. They could sing, walk back and forth. etc. They were happy until the food arrived (mess hour). They were told “Nothing doing, if you don't work you don't eat.”
They had groups of boys doing the work such as cleaning floors and polishing them with wool socks to make them shine. Everything was grown on the farms and used for food there
Anything extra would be sent to another facility which had a canning center. When they had an abundance of vegetables such as tomatoes, they would be canned in tins for later use.
As the institution grew, recreational facilities were added. These could be used at noon if they finished their lunch in a half hour, leaving the other half for play; a swimming pool, bowling alley, card room, baseball and handball fields as well as a movie house.
They were able to learn music and eventually formed a band. They had a hospital with two doctors and a dentist. Even local youngsters could go to the movies. They would sit in the balcony while the inmates would sit downstairs. They would play baseball games with the inmates on Sunday afternoons. Many local people were able to use the hospital facilities also.
F. E. “Frank” Littner, a former Corrections Officer and life-long area resident recalls his days at the New Hampton Reformatory:
I was appointed a permanent Correction Officer on October 1, 1952 and assigned to the New York City Reformatory and served there until its closing on May 18, 1958.
Prior to my working at New Hampton Farms, as it was called, I had a close relationship with it, my father and mother both having worked there and living a half mile away.
To the best of my knowledge the area covered was approximately one square mile, with properties being on both sides of old Route 17.
The farm side was a multi-endeavor operation of black dirt vegetable farming, corn for silage, hay for stock winter feeding, cow barn, horse barn, piggery, sheep ranch, hay barn and poultry farm.
All of this was worked by inmates under custodial and civilian supervision. The entire farm was under the direction of Officer S. Kozareski.
The main area consisted of four buildings (one was leased to New York State). [Facilities included a] gym, a laundry, maintenance shops, a storehouse, butchers shops and a power house. There were approximately 150 inmates housed in single cells, of which Rocky Graziano was one, with about sixty officers and civilians on the payroll.
When I arrived at the institution some of the employees who had been hired when it had first opened, were still there. Some had been transferred to other institutions - W Adams, E. Coveller, F. Sacher, E. Gros, E. Sweeney, H. Mabee, A. McArthur, F. Fischer, B. Stilwell, L. Vavricka, C. Hovencamp, D. Daly, H. Littner, W. DeVore, G. DeKay, W Soons, W Pohloum and G. Winkler. I’m sure there were others, but these I know of.
The officers were only armed when there was an escape of [an inmate known as] “Mape” of which [escapes by him] there were three, and when escorting prisoners from Jersey City on the Erie Railroad.
The inmates (who were all from New York City) would have outside competition in softball and basketball. Intramural sports of softball, basketball, hardball, chess, checkers and card tournaments were passive entertainment.
Also important were Saturday and Sunday visits from the families.
Employees also had softball games between institutions and a bowling league.
As my entrance salary was around $3,800. I guess the prior salary was much less. I remember my folks talking about “payless” paydays.
The security seemed adequate for the times. bars, cell doors. dead locks and time clocks. No escape was ever attempted from the buildings.
In the beginning, Dr. Schwartz was the full-time on-property doctor. Doctors to follow were Dr. Cosco and Dr. Calabreese. The institution dentist was Dr. F. Griffin. A registered nurse, Margaret Murray, was also on duty. Anything of a serious nature was transferred to New York City.
The economy of the area was greatly enhanced by the employees and their families who lived in the area: B. Stilwell, H. Littner, E. McGarthy, F. Fischer, F. Mahee, E. Sweeney, C. Morris, T McMahon, J. Henry, D. Daly, J. Kangley, J Malinowski, J. Weiss Sr., J. Weiss Jr., R. Ford Sr., R. Ford Jr., S. Kozareski, J DiPasso Sr., G. Henickel, W. Pohloum, F Giza, J. Miller, W DeVore, W Soons, G. Winkler, G. DeKay, M. Scali, F. Ostrowski, W. Simo, B. Tax, C. Hovencamp, L. Vavricka, A. McArthur, T. Moore, J. Priestly, J. Westeri, J. Sellick, F. E. Littner, A. Kiss, J MacMillan, L. Morse, M. Poiletts, J. Stellato, H. Evans, J. Oppenheim, E. Higney, W. Powers, F Jesonski, F. Dodd, M. Damiano, E. Murray. Registered Nurse, T. West, N. Vuolo, V Vuolo, J. Long and L. Denkert.
Ed Flynn Jr., of Slate Hill, remembers living on the grounds of the reformatory from 1943 to 1949. His grandfather, Bryce Stilwell, was Superintendent of the farms during those years and lived in one of the houses on the hill. Ed spent his teenage years with his grandparents.
I rode the school bus to Goshen High School with the Sacher girls. Their dad was the warden.
There was also Shirley McArthur and the Millar boys whose fathers were captains and also lived on the grounds.
I remember the movies on Sunday, bowling with the men on Tuesday and the ladies on Thursday whenever a substitute was needed. I played ball with the inmates on the field as well as the team at Goshen High School.
The products of the farm fed us all - and I can remember sitting in the melon field (between the baseball field and the river) on a warm summer day, eating cantaloupe three or four at a time.
Those were good days when the boys learned responsibility and respect for the land through an honest day's work in the fields.
There was usually a good relationship between inmates and keeper.