Fear, Force, and Leather - The Texas Prison System's First Hundred Years, 1848-1948
Scandal and Reform (1909-1911)
The Man of God and the Muckraking Reporter
It was the fall of 1908, and Jake Hodges, the prison chaplain at Huntsville, had had enough. Like most of the chaplains before him, Hodges spent most of his time complaining about the harsh conditions and brutal punishments handed out to the convicts. Like most of the chaplains before him, he was completely ignored by his supervisors. But unlike his predecessors, Hodges was not content simply to resign and move on to a new post. Instead, he sought out a young reporter from the San Antonio Express, and poured his heart out.
The reporter, 25-year-old George Waverley Briggs, took notes, then hit the road. Visiting Huntsville, Rusk, and convict camps around the state, he observed conditions for himself and found employees who were willing to talk. In December 1908 and January 1909, the Express published a series of articles by Briggs detailing the conditions that he found.
In Texas prisons, Briggs revealed, convicts were forced to work under constant threat of attack dogs and the whip. Those trying to escape were routinely shot. Inmates who claimed to be sick were considered malingerers; one desperate man who chopped off two of his own fingers to avoid duty at a work camp was beaten into unconsciousness by the guards. Worst of all, guards had the freedom to be creative with inmate punishments. The abuses included convicts being dragged behind horses, hung up by their arms, and thrown on anthills. Both male and female convicts were subjected to sexual abuse.