As published in Within Prison Walls (Heathen Edition):

“It’s like Brubaker before Brubaker,” is how we Heathens have described this book to those curious. Surely, if you’re interested in or have read this book before, then you’re aware of the 1980 film Brubaker starring Robert Redford as the eponymous Henry Brubaker, who has just been appointed warden of a corrupt Arkansas prison and poses as a newly-arrived convict to ascertain the myriad prison problems from the inside out.

The Oscar-nominated film is notable for two reasons: one, it features the first credited big screen appearance of Morgan Freeman, and it’s worth the watch just to see him attempt to strangle a fellow prisoner while singing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”; and two, it’s based on the true story of Thomas O. Murton, a penologist who was appointed warden of two Arkansas prison farms to root out corruption in the late 1960s.

In 1969, Murton co-authored and published the exposé Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal which details his absolutely insane and very real findings, which also created such a national scandal with enough media exposure that it resulted in Murton’s being very promptly fired.

While most of Brubaker is based on Murton’s real-life experiences in Arkansas, there’s one portion that is a fabrication: posing as a convict.

So where did the Brubaker screenwriter get that idea?

Why, this very book, of course! (Allegedly.)

Thomas Mott Osborne can’t be credited as the first freeman with the idea of posing as a convict, though, since then-Governor of Arizona, George W. P. Hunt, beat him to the punch by over a year when he voluntarily entered Arizona State Penitentiary for one night in March 1912:


Osborne, however, saw Hunt’s one night in prison and raised him a week, plus a night in solitary, and was also the first to publish a book about the experience, so Osborne wins this round, hands down.

The allusion to poker is deliberate on our part because the week-long prison stunt that Osborne performed was a gamble — a calculated one, of course, but a gamble nonetheless. One whose outcome is wholly dependent upon through which lens it is viewed as not everyone, at the time, was on-board with Osborne’s “new penology” ideas.

But, history tells us that the week detailed in this book birthed two things: one, the now legendary and successful Mutual Welfare League; and two, Osborne’s appointment as warden of Sing Sing.

So, in the name of prison reform over the short term, Osborne’s stunt was a smashing success. Over the long term, however, can we say that Osborne’s efforts have had any lasting effect today?

That’s a question that Murton addresses in his 1976 book The Dilemma of Prison Reform, and one he alludes to in the Preface of Accomplices to the Crime:

“Prisons, mental hospitals, and other institutions are a thermometer that measures the sickness of the larger society. The treatment society affords its outcasts reveals the way in which its members view one another—and themselves.”

We Heathens wonder what Osborne would think of Auburn and Sing Sing if he were to look upon them today?




As for the text, we’ve upgraded some hyphened words to their current equivalents to render them palatable for modern eyes: to-day is now today, to-morrow has become tomorrow, and so on.

We’ve also corrected a few errors that existed within the original text. One example is at the beginning of Chapters 8 and 9 where Osborne incorrectly identified Wednesday as October 2, when it was actually October 1. How everyone involved during the initial publication of this book overlooked that detail is truly a wonder — and we appear to be the first publisher to correct it.

Additionally, we have corrected some of the prisoner names after comparing the information Osborne supplies within the narrative against the original Auburn Prison registry entries. Two examples are Laflam was La Flam (two words, not one), and Joseph Matto was actually Joseph Russo (who was actually McNulty — you’ll understand soon enough).

To enhance your reading of the text, we’ve added nearly one hundred footnotes to define slang and literary or archaic terms, provide English translations for foreign words or phrases, and to supplement Osborne’s narrative with context, clarification, and commentary as needed.

The original text also featured 15 footnotes by Osborne which we have retained and set apart from our own by using stars.Like this.

To further enhance the story, we have interspersed the entire book with facsimile excerpts from over three dozen original newspaper articles extracted from newspapers all over the United States and specific to the week that Osborne was locked up in Auburn. We believe these add-ons lend authenticity to the narrative and contribute sometimes interesting, sometimes confounding insight into the media’s portrayal of Osborne and his week of voluntary incarceration as it unfolded. Confounding because a few newspapers seemed entirely too concerned with what Osborne was eating while imprisoned, even going so far as to contrast his prison meals with his usual at-home fare.

What the news considers news hasn’t changed much in a century, we suppose. . . .


Within Prison Walls by Thomas Mott Osborne (Heathen Edition)