What York County, Pa.’s Glenalvin Goodridge faced in the Eastern State pen before his pardon
The cellblocks radiate from a central post at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The former-prison-now-museum housed York photographer Glenalvin Goodridge in 1863-1864. Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew G. Curtin pardoned Goodridge after his father, former slave and York businessman William C. Goodridge, rallied the community on his behalf. This drawing comes from a brochure telling about this historic site. Background posts: Underground Railroad expert: ‘We cannot alter past ignorance, but we can resolve not to repeat it’ and York’s Goodridge House listed as site on Underground Railroad network and Research needed to unearth Underground Railroad in York County.
A part of William C. Goodridge’s life and times was his work on behalf of his son, Glenalvin, incarcerated in Eastern State after a trumped up rape conviction.
What was life like in the pen for Glenalvin Goodridge, who was suffering from tuberculosis upon his release?
In 2010, we emailed former York County Heritage Trust educator and then-educator for Eastern State Linda Neylon if she could give a snapshot of the prison in those days. (Also, see: The story of former slave William C. Goodridge of York, Pa., would play well in Hollywood. Starring Poitier?)
Here’s what she reported in an email:
The prison in 1863: 183 prisoners were received: 142 white males, 12 white females, 26 black males, 3 black females. Glenalvin Goodridge was the only person sent to Eastern State Penitentiary from York County. At the end of 1863, there were 16 men remaining at Eastern who were convicted of rape — 10 of them white, 6 black. At the end of the year there were 358 inmates.
In 1864: Thirty-three inmates were pardoned, “four by the President of the United States, and twenty-nine by the Executive of Pennsylvania, namely, 29 white males, 2 white females, and 2 colored males.” Also, “Of those who were pardoned, the average term of the white prisoners was 3 years, 6 months, 21 days; and of the colored, 5 years, 3 months, 22 days.”
That year, 11 inmates suffered from “Phthisis,” also known as consumption, or tuberculosis. At the end of the year, five had died, two discharged, and four remained. Interestingly, most of the inmates were classified as having arrived with it. Of those who died from the disease, most were listed as having hereditary Phthisis.
Instruction offered: Glenalvin would have joined other inmates in receiving visits from the “moral instructor,” the Rev. John Ruth.
Ruth evangelized Eastern State’s mission, stating: “From my daily intercourse with this unfortunate class — representing as they do every department of social life — my conviction is, the hardest heart can be reached, and the most self-abandoned reclaimed.” He also stated in the annual report that “three hundred and eighteen religious services have been provided for and held at the proper hour in the several corridors.” The minister also provided access to library materials, allowing inmates to read a variety of books.
What Goodridge would have faced: Glenalvin would have been processed, “cleaned,” and given new clothes. Then, a guard would have guided the hooded Goodridge to his cell, where he would stay, alone.
He would have been allocated one hour a day in the exercise yard, or another cell, depending on his cell assignment. Inmates were taught a skill, and would use that skill to create items for sale or to help the penitentiary run.
For more about Goodridge and the prison, see my York Sunday News column: Life in the Eastern State Penitentiary for Glenalvin Goodridge
Also of interest:
The original records of Eastern State are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives in Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Justice.
– For additional Underground Railroad-related posts, click here.
– A short test of your York black history knowledge
– All York Town Square posts from the start. Then use “find” function on browser to search for keywords.
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square posts on Google. For example, when you search for yorktownsquare and William C. Goodridge, you get this.
*Drawing courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary