chapter  9
18 Pages

“A perfect hell of misery”

Real and imagined prison lives in an “American Siberia”
WithVivien Miller

This chapter provides a brief overview of George Kennan's critique of prison conditions in late nineteenth-century Siberia, examines the nascent leasing system in Florida in the 1870s and 1880s described by Powell, of vermin-infested convicts in communal barracks, clad in distinct uniforms and leg irons, and guarded by armed 'Cracker' or rural poor white guards, and considers the rhetorical linking of the two, and the ways in which borrowed ideas, images and forms framed real and imagined penal experiences. Kennan's observations on the Siberian penal system were based on firsthand research carried out over a sixteen-month period in 1885 and 1886 with Boston artist George A. Frost. Kennan countered the views of his critics that US prisons were as forbidding as those he had encountered in Siberia by declaring that 'when an American says that are as bad as the Tiumen forwarding prison, he does not know, or does not appreciate, the state of affairs in the latter'.