Daily Life at Bridgewater
Inside the walls of the Bridgewater State Farm, inmates classified as defective delinquents followed a rigorous and demanding schedule. They would wake up at six in the morning to do military drills. They would then go to work for six hours, most likely on one of the prison farms, and at five in the afternoon they would be sent back to their cells. Lights would be shut off by eight at night. Along with having to follow a tight schedule, inmates were also not fed well. An inmate at the State Farm called Wilferd E. Besner, said “the food was often spoiled.” Additionally, the inmates were rarely given time to celebrate holidays or enjoy any entertainment. Even James H. Brennan, a member of the Governor’s Council which oversaw state prisons, said that Bridgewater State Farm could be described as a “hell hole.” Inmates in the institution were often physically abused by the guards and relationships between the guards and inmates were strained. The media, however, described the institution in a whole different way. News sources from the 1920s and 1930s painted a different portrait of life at Bridgewater. In 1925, the Boston Globe, described the Bridgewater State Farm as an institution where people would work, were provided with three meals a day, and where good behavior was reinforced. The article did not mention any of the difficulties inmates faced in their day-to-day lives
The image above of the Bridgewater State Farm was taken in the 1900s. The Bridgewater State farm housed inmates classified as defective delinquents, which were mentally ill inmates considered a threat to society. People of all ages were admitted and forced into the institution by judges and the legal system, where they were treated poorly.
An Uprising Exposes Conditions at Bridgewater
In 1942, at the Bridgewater State Farm, fourteen inmates planned an escape from the institution. During their escape, the inmates destroyed a whole corridor, as seen in the image to the left, and killed three guards. Two inmates were convicted of the murder. They wrote letters explaining the facility’s conditions and how the guards favored and protected specific prisoners. The state investigation regarding the escape attempt and murders mentioned that overcrowding in the institution played a role in the escape. The injustice and the bad conditions at Bridgewater is what led the fourteen inmates to retaliate.
How to treat people classified as defective delinquents under detention was often unclear throughout the country. The letter above was written by Carl J. Jackson, Director of the Annex for Defective Delinquents at the St Cloud Reformatory. It was written only a few years after the deadly escape attempt at Bridgewater. The author expressed concern with the possibility of inmates categorized as defective delinquents escaping but also worried that guards would use lethal force against them in the way they might against a convicted felon. In both Minnesota and Massachusetts state officials were increasingly concerned with the treatment and status of those designated as defective delinquents. The letter shows that over the years people in charge of defective delinquents units were becoming more concerned about conditions and how to treat people labeled as defective delinquents
Conditions at Bridgewater - Early 1900’s
“Standards of care and accommodation at Bridgewater [were] lower than in state facilities run by the Department of Mental Health”
(Historian Michael Maddigan).
History of Bridgewater
State Almshouse - the State Alms-house was established as a place for the poor to live.
State Farm / State Prison - in 1890 the State Farm gained the name, State Prison, since older mentally and physically infirm inmates were admitted.
State Farm / State prison - the institution was divided, and a new unit called the Satte Asylum for Insane Criminals was established
The Defective Delinquint law was passed
A new unit for females classified as defective delinquints was added to the insitution.
In 1942, at the Bridgewater State Farm, fourteen inmates planned an escape from the institution.
1854 - 1872
1926 - 1954