Minnesota Historical Society

Hard Time: Voices from a State Prison, 1849-1914

$ 22.95

A compelling look at prison life in another era, vividly recalled through historic photographs and startling first-person accounts.

Penitentiary stripes, days in "the hole," contraband knives, murder, sex, suicide, and the daily reality of "diabolical, penal servitude"--prisons of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were dangerous, sometimes deadly, stone fortresses bent on exacting punishment and penance from their inmates.

When it was founded, the old State Prison at Stillwater, Minnesota--the facility where "incorrigibles" were sent to do "hard time"--was no different, but over the course of sixty-five years it became one of the most respected prisons in the nation. Featuring more than one hundred historic photographs of inmates, guards, and wardens, as well as dozens of stories by the men and women who lived behind bars, Hard Time stunningly recreates the feel of the era and the slow evolution from the dark days of the territorial period to the progressive years at the turn of the century.

From its planning in the mid-nineteenth century to its closing in 1914, the prison witnessed the capture and imprisonment of the Younger gang in 1876; the prison fire of 1884; the daring escape of Frank P. Landers and Oscar J. Carlon in 1887; the twine shop insurrection of 1899; and the manhunt for escaped convicts Peter Juhl and Jerry McCarty in 1911. Its history is packed with such peculiar characters as "Bull Beef" Webber, the warden who allowed murderers to embark on hunting trips and an incarcerated prostitute to work out of the prison hospital; Charles Price, a convicted murderer who became famous for his prison greenhouse; and John Carter, the convicted thief-turned-poet who won his freedom with his verse. Their haunting words and the stark images reveal the fascinating subculture that emerged from days counted out in confinement.


  • By: Edited by Ted Genoways. Introduction by James Taylor Dunn. Foreword by Ted Conover.
  • Format: 160 pp., 108 b&w illus., notes, index
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 978-0873514347


TED GENOWAYS is the editor of The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández and A Perfect Picture of Hell: Eyewitness Accounts by Civil War Prisoners from the 12th Iowa. His other books include Bullroarer: A Sequence, winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and the Natalie Ornish Poetry Award.

TED CONOVER is the author of numerous books of nonfiction, most recently Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.



Praise for Hard Time:


"A look at prison life a century ago, much of it in the inmates' own words, Hard Time is an extraordinary book, enlightening and often deeply moving." -- Luc Sante, author of Evidence and Low Life

"The uniforms, the mug shots, the stance of the guards and the stanchions buttressing the old wooden prison walls tell a story of a faraway place that we created and then forgot, of a demolished prison brought back to life. We see the faces of the inmates and understand something about their lives; we see the roots of today's troubled prisons in the violent, deadening place called Stillwater. Hard Time is a feast of primary sources which, because it is so personal, impresses deeply; a beautiful book that insists on the humanity of the banished." -- Ted Conover, from his foreword.

You also Viewed

Join our Mailing List

Sign up to receive our daily email and get 50% off your first purchase.