A rare manuscript that was written by a black prisoner in 1858 has been discovered in Rochester, NY. The 304-page memoir entitled either “The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict,” or “the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison,” was written by a black man named Austin Reed. Reed had been convicted of theft many times, with a sentence well into 20 plus years. He spent his young years in reform school. Within the pages of his manuscript, he describes nearly shooting a man and leaving him with a deep wound from a knife for revenge.
Reed, who was held in the Auburn State Prison, described the harsh conditions and punishments he endured, including a “shower-bath” where he would receive over sixty lashes by whip followed by a shower of saltwater. Reed, who, for some reason, wrote under the alias of Rob Reed, was unable to speak while incarcerated. This was the prison’s policy, along with being in a cell with no windows or natural light and a 10-hour workday.
Reeds writings were a way to express himself since he could not verbally communicate his life and experiences.
Auburn State prison was opened in 1816. It was the first prison to hold an execution by electric chair in 1890. Known as a maximum security prison, visitors would be charged a fee in order to raise funds for the facility. Auburn State Prison, now Auburn Correctional Facility, is the oldest prison still in use today.
The manuscript of Austin Reed was found in an estate sale in Rochester. Upon discovery, the document was sent to Yale University for authentication by English professor Caleb Smith and Christine McKay from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan.