Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Great Rare Book Gifts For Recent Ex-Convicts

by Stephen J. Gertz

New York: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1932.
First American Edition.

What's the matter, friend? You say you just got out after 20,000 years in Sing-Sing for a penny-ante contretemps and all you got was a bus ticket and five bucks for a meal? You're à la recherche du temps perdu and you never got a keepsake to wistfully recall those halcyon days of yesteryear, not even a cheap gold watch?

Columbus: E.G. Coffin, 1899.

You heard the guys over at Ohio State Penitentiary can get a souvenir album when they graduate with photos documenting the highlights of their visit,

including the Bertillon system entry exam, which immortalizes the prisoner's serial number, name, county of conviction, admission date, length of sentence, crime, age, height, weight, complexion, forehead description, nose description, chin description, eye color, hair color, birthplace, occupation, any previous imprisonments, marital status, name and address of nearest friend or relative, any distinguishing features, etc.;

showtime with Ol' Sparky;

and a gallery of murderers hanged in the Annex?

Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1933. First Edition.

You say you pine for those serene prison days and wild prison nights and wish you could read a "candid and surprisingly graphic account of prison life by a career criminal, with chapters on drug use, homosexuality, prison violence and gang activity, the author a fellow traveler in stripes who did long stretches at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown and at Auburn Penitentiary in New York, and is described on the jacket copy as ' articulate prisoner [who] possesses that rare gift among prisoners of writing impersonally on life in correctional institutions...truly in him the intelligent prisoner speaks and speaks with authority,'” the book rare in dust jacket, and a must read despite a mixed critique from Mrs. Grundy in the Saturday Review April 29, 1933?

"The method of of reproducing the conflicting attitudes of prisoners toward those in authority by using foul language of the prison yard has little to recommend it. Few will be surprised or shocked to read words that are in common use wherever men of average or less than average intelligence gather, whether it be in prison, in the army, in the navy, or in the smoking car. It is unfortunate that Nelson has thought that the verbatim recording of such discussions was necessary to simulate realism. This blemish on an otherwise well written analysis of prisoners may, and probably will, weigh heavily against the use of the book by schools, clubs, and other social groups"

Ossining, NY: Sing Sing Prison, 1916. Tenth Edition.

You gripe that at five a day you made 36,500,000 pair of shoes during your 20,000 years in Sing-Sing and now you're down in your heels in russian shoes - step in a puddle and the water rushin' -

- and a nice pair o' high tops ordered from Sing-Sing's catalogue of fine men's footwear would look swell and make you feel like a million bucks?

Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1952.
First Edition.

You say you didn't even receive a copy of The Pen, Inc. (1952), a scarce novel of a wrongly-imprisoned ex-convict who leaves prison with a seething hatred of society and a wacko culinary money-making scheme, “convinced that society will not let an ex-convict go straight, he plans a criminal organization. In a blackmail attempt he is beaten up and shocked into conceiving the idea of The Pen - a big restaurant and nightclub, built to simulate a prison with stone walls, guards and cells for booths. Every employee, from warden to janitor, must be an ex-convict,” the book uncommon in the trade, with OCLC showing just six institutional holdings for this title?

Cincinnati, OH: Stewart Jail Works Co., n.d. [ca.1904-05]].
Special Catalogue No. 15-C.

And you yearn for the security you once knew, the home sweet home away from home that was yours for the best years of your life, and know that an early sales catalog from the good folks at The Stewart Jail Works Co. - “Jail and prison experts and manufacturers of steel cells and steel works, etc., for jails, prisons, and city lock-ups,” a fully illustrated catalog, devoted principally to iron and steel cells, cages, doors, window guards, etc., providing model numbers, measurements, and special features for each of their products, a well-known company, whose steelworks were used in facilities like the New Jail (Newport, KY), Onondaga County Penitentiary (Syracuse, NY), US Federal Prison (Atlanta, GA), and the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, et al., and is a rare and early piece of prison ephemera with OCLC noting only two copies, at Columbia and Virginia Tech - will be necessary to order a personal slammer to set up in your back yard for brief, safe 'n secure vacations but you're stuck in a one-room dump with no mailbox over Satan's Hot Sauce factory, the ambient air is off the Scoville Scale, and your skin is peeling off in sheets?

Is that what's buggin' you, buddy?

Well, then, lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with dignity and you'll show the world, you'll show them where to get off, you'll never give up, never give up, never give up - [two rimshots] - because the screws at Lorne Bair Rare Books have put together a fine collection of rare prison memoirs, histories, and related penology ephemera just perfect for the man with a record but little else who would like a little something to stir those precious memories of life in stir, no con.

Now scram, you dirty rat!

With the exception of Cagney, all images courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, currently offering the above items and related more, with our thanks.

Apologies to Eddie Lawrence, "The Old Philosopher." 

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