Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948

Thomas J. Goree, Circular to Sergeants in charge of convict camps, April 2, 1880

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Thomas J. Goree to Sergeants in charge of convict camps, April 1880


him prompt and proper medical attention. Do not let him
sleep and eat with well men, but prepare a place for him to lie
down undisturbed; give him proper diet and nursing, and be
sure to send for a physician before it is too late to do any good.
Many a convict has died who would to-day be alive had he
promptly received such attention as humanity demanded.
That he did not receive it has been the fault of those immedi-
ately in charge of him. Acute cases of sickness had better be
treated in camps—chronic cases should be sent to the walls for


The modes of punishment and manner of inflicting it are ful-
ly provided for in Art. V., Sec. 1 to 10 of the Rules. None of the
rules are more frequently violated than these. Many sergeants
seem to overlook the fact that to punish the convicts in any
other than the mode prescribed, is an offence against the law.
A sergeant who whips a convict except by order of the board of
directors, is guilty of an assault and battery. You have a
right to stock a convict provided you permit him to stand flat-
footed, but you violate the law when you raise his heels from
the ground. If death should result from illegal punishment of
any kind, the offence is simply murder. It is determined
that convicts shall be punished legally or not at all.
Make particular note of this fact: There are several ser-
geants whose management is perfect, save in this respect; but they
will have to go, except they comply with the rules.

Under no circumstances punish a convict before making a
thorough investigation of the offence charged, and giving him
an opportunity to be heard: then if punishment be absolutely
necessary, whatever the kind, let it be legal and legally inflicted,
and however slight, it will have a far more salutary effect than
the most cruel and severe punishment illegally inflicted.


It is a matter of congratulation that there are now so many
sergeants who are both maintaining good discipline and having
good work done with little or no punishment. I will rejoice to
see the day when every sergeant will learn the art of governing
convicts without so much punishment. If a few can do this, why
cannot all do it? It is not necessary to always look sternly at a
convict, speak harshly and occasionally to swear at him, to have
good discipline; kindness will sooner or later beget good conduct.
Speak to your men kindly and encouragingly; treat them kindly
and humanely. They are in your power. Protect them from any
and every one disposed to abuse them; have them properly ta-
ken care of in sickness and in health; give them good advice;
grant them harmless privileges, and let them learn to look upon
you in the light of a friend and protector. The convict is a brute
who refuses to conduct himself properly after such treatment.

Do not curse nor taunt a convict yourself, nor permit any one
else to do so. To curse and abuse a man so wholly in one’s pow-

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Thomas J. Goree, Circular to Sergeants in charge of convict camps, April 2, 1880. Texas State Railroad Records, Records Relating to the Penitentiary, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: August 16, 2011