I am actually recommending a book, not just because I know the author and that he is a remarkable man. The author Stonney Lane is my husband’s cousin and the family is as proud of him as can be. So now he writes a book that will invite you into his living room with a glass of sweet tea and stories about life as the Warden of Brushy Mountain State Prison. I have actually had the pleasure of visiting with him shortly after James Earl Ray‘s escape from Brushy Mountain State Prison. Stonney said they weren’t worried, survival in the wild was not something Ray would be able to do.
So now Stonney has written, Building Time at Brushy. Buy it, Read it, you will enjoy it. http://books.google.com/books/about/Building_Time_at_Brushy.html?id=HXMi14gqfDcC
Here is an article about Brushy Mountain from the Nashville Scene and more information http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/tales-from-brushy-mountain/Content?oid=1189060
Brushy Mountain State Prison was built in 1896. Its wood buildings were arranged in the shape of a cross, an odd nod to Christianity for an institution housing killers, rapists and thieves. During a tour of the facility, one prison official explains that the shape of the prison was meant to satisfy religious-minded people who believed that the only way inmates could be rehabilitated was for them to embrace Jesus. In the 1930s and ’40s, nearly all of the prison was rebuilt; the shape still formed a cross, although up close Brushy Mountain looks more like the medieval fortress of a feudal overlord than any kind of sanctuary.
Brushy first operated as a convict-lease prison. According to Building Time at Brushy, a fascinating history written by former warden Stonney Lane, the state rented out its tough, grizzled convicts to private coal mining operations in Morgan and Anderson counties, just northeast of Knoxville along the Kentucky border. The citizen miners soon revolted, and the state stopped using inmates to staff this kind of temp agency.
Instead, Tennessee decided to get into the mining business full-time. The state enlisted Brushy’s inmates to operate several mines around state property in the mountains surrounding the prison. Inmates had quotas of coal they had to mine and, if they failed to meet their quota, they were stripped naked and lashed with a stiff, leather whip. Some inmates died from black lung. Others were raped or murdered. Near the prison lies a cemetery full of inmates who died at the mines.
In 1967, two miners were killed in a rock fall. Shortly after, Lake Russell, a reform-minded warden and former college football coach at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., decided to cease the coal mining at Brushy Mountain, a practice that endured for more than 70 years. “That accident really bothered him, and he could never get over it,” says Lane, the former warden and author, whom Russell hired as a teacher. “He told me he was going to close the mines, and they would never run as long as he was around.”
Lane himself began his stint at Brushy believing that inmates could and should be rehabilitated, even those who faced life sentences. As an instructor, he felt inspired when he taught inmates how to read, noting gleefully in his book the pride the prisoners felt when they were finally able to sign their names. But when he became warden in 1976, he turned from “a liberal in correctional reform to a very conservative administrator of a maximum-security institution,” he writes—maybe because in the four years that he ran the place, there were seven homicides and three suicides. In one grisly case, two inmates stabbed another man to death in the kitchen. One took a knife and nearly sliced off the victim’s arm, which dangled from his body ready to fall off at any moment. The accomplice neatly severed the victim’s spine with a meat clever.
“When you’re in maximum security, you’re not worried about rehabilitation,” Lane says of his ideological about-face when he became warden. “The inmates have been through everything the system can give them. Telling anybody we were in rehabilitative services is the biggest lie. Our main concern was perimeter security.”