Prison Past Tense

RC deWinter

Fairfield, United States

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Artist's Description

*© 2010 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved

’My name is Chas. Brown. I was born to Curtis and Mary Brown in Kingston, New York. I moved to the Connecticut colony as soon as I could escape the farm but found no ready work. Traveling here and about, I somehow made my way until several weeks passed with no one to hire me.

One night I crept into a chicken house and stole two birds for my supper, having had no food for three days. As I tryed to make my escape the farmer’s dog awoke, as did the farmer. He gave chase and peppered me with small-shot in the calf; I fell, the chickens escaped, and I spent two years in the hellhole that was New-gate.’

The ruins of the first state prison in the United States still stand, as do the tunnels of the copper mine that was the first use of this land. Deemed a place of inhumane punishment (shades of Gitmo? Abu Ghraib?) in 1827, the state closed the prison. An enterprising group of Yankees attempted to revive the copper mine, but all their efforts were for naught.

Charles Brown was an actual Newgate prisoner born in Kingston, New York and arrested in Hartford at age 25 for burglary, but I have fabricated the rest of his story. He was imprisoned in 1823 and, upon his release, was described in the 1825 Overseer’s Report as ‘tall and being of black complexion’.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, what remains of Old Newgate Prison and Copper Mine is one of the top tourist destinations in Connecticut; it is closed all of this year for further restoration.

Digital oil painting from an original photograph shot May 15, 2008.*

Artwork Comments

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