Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th-Century New York

9 CDs. HighBridge Audio. May 2018. 10 hrs. ISBN 9781684411986. $34.99. digital download. HIST
Horn (The Restless Sleep) gives us the harrowing story of life on Blackwell's Island, located in New York City's East River. The city purchased the island in 1828. Over the next 100 years, the city government built a lunatic asylum, a prison, a hospital, a workhouse, and an almshouse. Though these institutions were intended to reform criminals and provide aid and comfort to the poor and ill, the reality was far different. Prisoners, the destitute, and the infirm were treated horribly. Corrupt politicians controlled the island's budget and staffing decisions. Insufficient funding was provided for food, lodging, and clothing, and unqualified and cruel staff mistreated the inmates. Calls for reform, including an inside account by Nellie Bly, largely went ignored. Horn bases this history on newspaper accounts, annual reports of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections, and the notes and journal entries written by the Rev. William French, the long-serving missionary for the institution. Reader Pam Ward does an excellent job presenting the story.
VERDICT This at times heartbreaking audiobook is recommended to all listeners with an interest in history or prison reform. ["A dour yet deft telling of an often forgotten era of 19th-century America. Criminal justice advocates and historians as well as general readers interested in the history of the New York underworld will delight in Horn's timely and skillful offering": LJ 5/1/18 review of the Algonquin hc.]
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