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  • Writer's pictureRicki King

Prison Press. What is it?


Prison Press. What is it? Prison Press are newspapers written by prisoners about prisoners, prison staff, visitors, other prisons, and penitentiary concerns. Sometimes, stories from other publications not connected to the prison system may be found.

Before I write about prison press newspapers, I want to tell you some upcoming prison-related blog topics. I will explain and provide examples of using an Iowa inmate's number to determine their name in the coming weeks. Where to find inmate information if they were paroled or released early from prison? What information you might find in the file, along with examples from an actual inmate released because his sentence was suspended. Where might you find a transcript of a court case?

What you never knew or thought about a prison having or creating its own newspaper? Me neither. It was brought to my attention by Kelsey, the reference librarian at the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). I was doing some research on a paroled inmate when Kelsey asked if I knew about prison newspapers. She thought I might find something about my research subject or what was happening in the prison while the inmate served his time. I must admit I forgot to look in the paper for information on the inmate I was researching. I became fascinated with the stories and news contained in the paging of The Anamosa Prison Press and The Reformatory Press. As I skimmed the pages, I quickly rolled the microfilm forward, advancing through the years. I would stop and read a few pages in 1906, 1907, and 1908. The story is about a baseball game between inmates that was really about an inmate who grew the best watermelon within the prison walls. Or pages from an inmate's diary as he served his time. Maybe it was the Colony Notes that detail the prison population movement within the walls and the guards' travel outside them. The Anamosa (Iowa) Prison Press was renamed later to The Reformatory (Iowa) Press and can be found on microfilm at the SHSI. I viewed one roll of microfilm containing The Anamosa Prison Press from 18 August 1906 to 10 August 1907 and The Reformatory Press from 17 August 1907 to 8 August 1908.

I will do several blog posts featuring different items within the newspapers. A quick few caught my eye as I scanned the microfilm, trying to decide how to find my original research subject. The newspapers I was reading covered some of the time when my research subject was in prison. As I stated earlier, I did not find my inmate because I completely forgot about him while reading sections of the paper. The mast that describes the newspaper stayed the same the only item that was changed was the paper's name.

"The Anamosa Prison Press


Entered as Second-Class Mail in the Postoffice at Anamosa, Iowa.


The PRISON PRESS was first issued July 30, 1898. It is

published every Saturday in the Colony of Detention at

Anamosa, Iowa; is printed, edited, and contributed to by

the Detained, and is under the general supervision of the

Chaplain: Rev. Felix H. Pickworth

Those of the Detained who wish may join the weekly

Fellowship meet, and thereby contribute their respective

mite toward fostering a spirit of mutual intercourse in the

Colony, to the end that we may talk, debate, and perchance

laugh and otherwise enjoy whatever Good may be derived

from a commingling of kindred souls in friendly confab.


The breakfast food of Friendship makes a smile that won't wear off


SUBSCRIPTION RATE (Payable in advance) …. 75 cents a Year

GUARDS AND INMATES (Payable in advance) ….50 cents a Year"


The above statement is directly from The Anamosa Prison Press dated 18 August 1906. The notice caught my attention because the paper was being sold to people outside the prison. So who was buying the newspaper, the inmates' families, people who used it to show the prison needed to be reformed, or perhaps former inmates who wanted to keep up with news about former friends?

The article below the subscription fees concluded a six-month story, the "Last of the R.R. [Railroad] Stories," written by a twenty-year-old man in the Massachusetts State prison at Charlestown. He had written the stories for his prison press, the Mentor. Unfortunately, no name is given for the writer; instead, we are given his prison number of 2656.

A few pages more and on the same day is the "Colony Notes" by P. P. Man. In essence, a running tally of the population and movement of the inmates. When the newspaper changed names, the Colony Notes section was retitled the "Reformatoryettes." There are images of eight random entries for the column from 1906 to 1908, but I have transcribed four of them.


18 August 1906


Total number of inmates 350

Male 334 - - - - Female 16

In Hospital 4 - - - - Insane 43

Received 0 - - - - Discharged 3

Suspended sentence - - - - 0

Highest Reg. No. - - - - 5595 [Prison number]

Grade standing: First 263

Second 81: Third 6 . . . .”


6 April 1907


Total number of inmates 391

Female 379 - - - - Female 12

In Hospital 5 - - - - Insane 47

Received 9 - - - - Discharged 0

Sentence Suspended - - - - 0

Highest Reg. No. - - - - 5732 [Prison number]

Grade standing: First 252

Second 133: Third 6 . . . .”

In the 9 May 1908 newspaper, The Reformatory Press provided the population movement for Anamosa and Fort Madison.


Anamosa on 9 May 1908


Total number of inmates 378

Male 365 - - - - Female 13

In Hospital 2 - - - - Insane 45

Received 11 - - - - Discharged 3

Pardon 1 By order court 1

Highest Reg. No. - - - - 5983 [Prison number]

Grade standing: First 239

Second 135: Third . . 4”


Fort Madison on 6 May 1908


Total number of inmates 431

Discharge during week 3

Paroled 0

Received 0

Hospital 6

Grades: I. 340; II. 90; III. 1

Highest Reg. No. 9547”


1 August 1908


Total number of inmates 369

Male 353 - - - - Female 16

In Hospital 4 - - - - Insane 46

Received 0 - - - - Discharged 3

Paroled - - - - 2

Highest Reg. No. - - - - 6012 [Prison number]

Grade standing: First 246

Second 121: Third . . 2”

A little short of two years later, the total Anamosa population had increased by 19 inmates. However, the highest inmate number in 1906 was 5595, and the highest inmate number in 1908 was 6012. So there was a change of 417 male and female inmates coming and going during that almost two years.

I will leave you with a couple of quips from 18 August 1906:

"An Indian editor printed the following: 'The fellow who is courting certain married woman had better leave town, as the husband is onto him.' The paper had not been out long before every man in town had left except three old cripples and a man who did not read the paper."

"The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new. -Bacon."

I will explain and provide examples of using an Iowa inmate's number to determine their name in the coming weeks. Where to find inmate information if they were paroled or released earlier from prison? What information you might find in the file, along with examples from an actual inmate released because his sentence was suspended. Where might you find a transcript of a court case?

A few more of the population numbers from 1906 to 1908.

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