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Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York

Written by Stacy Horn

Narrated by Pam Ward


Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York

Written by Stacy Horn

Narrated by Pam Ward

ratings:
3.5/5 (22 ratings)
Length:
10 hours
Released:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781684411993
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

Today it is known as Roosevelt Island. In 1828, when New York City purchased this narrow, two-mile-long island in the East River, it was called Blackwell's Island. There, over the next hundred years, the city would build a lunatic asylum, prison, hospital, workhouse, and almshouse. Stacy Horn has crafted a compelling and chilling narrative told through the stories of the poor souls sent to Blackwell's, as well as the period's city officials, reformers, and journalists (including the famous Nellie Bly).

Damnation Island re-creates what daily life was like on the island, what politics shaped it, and what constituted charity and therapy in the nineteenth century. Throughout the book, we return to the extraordinary Blackwell's missionary Reverend French, champion of the forgotten, as he ministers to these inmates, battles the bureaucratic mazes of the Corrections Department and a corrupt City Hall, testifies at salacious trials, and in his diary wonders about man's inhumanity to man.

For history fans, and for anyone interested in the ways we care for the least fortunate among us, Damnation Island is an eye-opening look at a closed and secretive world. In a tale that is exceedingly relevant today, Horn shows us how far we've come—and how much work still remains.

Released:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781684411993
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Stacy Horn, a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered, is the author of The Restless Sleep, Waiting for My Cats to Die: A Memoir, and Cyberville. She lives in New York City.



Reviews

What people think about Damnation Island

3.7
22 ratings / 6 Reviews
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Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    This book was a hard read, because of its really depressing subject. However, Stacy Horn did a good job of detailing all the different, miserable aspects of Damnation - Welfare - Roosevelt Island in NYC!
  • (4/5)
    A true to life horror story. I guess you could say, well, that's in the past, but is it really? Blackwell Island, New York, four institutions built to shelter, the poor, the mad, the sick or the mad, supposedly compassionately. Almst from the beginning this did not work, not enough money, doctors, supplies, criminals providing care for the insane, you can imagine how that worked out. Charles Dickens touring the facility was behind appalled, the smells, the noises, lack of care, thought he had toured hell. The author dprnds most of her writing on the ssylum, where the most records were available for research. She brings to like several different cases, including of of a dister of charity who was committed by her sister. I can't believe done of the things I read, all the inmates took baths, using the same water, whdthrr ridden with lice or encrusted either feces. Makes me shudder. The book explains how this came to be, but certainly something different could have been done. It would be easy to dimiss this as ignorance in the past, but challenges in the poor, sick, criminal and mental health areas are still critical today. Granted, there are better treatments available, but prison reform is desperately needed as all the above groups are often imprisoned together, done that certainly shouldn't be there. Mental health cuts, unconsciousable, programs being cut right and left , with nothing provided in there place. We can say we are better now, know better now, but again are we? Eye opening and informative, cringe worthy reality.
  • (3/5)
    The content was very interesting, but 5he book jumped all over the place and it was very hard to follow. Going from when the island was first constructed, to later uses and then back to the fist use again. People where introduces, fired, and then showed up again becaue they were talking about a previous era. Also several chapters had the end of the audio cut off
  • (3/5)
    The content is amazing; the narrator is awesome. But the audio is missing a part from the end of each section. It would've been 5 stars if the audiobook was complete.
  • (4/5)
    In David Morrell's 1972 novel “First Blood,” Rambo is arrested for vagrancy because he lacks a job and has less than five dollars in his pocket. Treated like a criminal, he becomes one, and all the violence and death that follows stems from that arrest for the crime of being poor.A century before that story takes place, poverty and crime were even more closely linked, as Stacy Horn explains in “Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th-Century New York.” New York, in fact, had just one agency, the Department of Public Charities and Correction, for dealing with the poor, the mad and convicted criminals.In consequence, Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island), a narrow, two-mile long stretch of land in the East River, became home to a lunatic asylum, a workhouse, an almshouse, a charity hospital and a penitentiary. Convicts from the penitentiary were used as nurses and aides in the other institutions, leading to mistreatment barely worse than that provided by the hired staff. The only place in the city where poor people could be treated for syphilis was the penitentiary hospital, but one needed to be a convict to be admitted. No problem. Patients were simply charged with a crime.The phrase "out of sight, out of mind" was never more apt than on Blackwell's Island, where the city's most undesirable residents were sent, promptly forgotten about and, in many cases, died. Just pennies a day were provided for food and other necessities for each of the thousands sent there. The prisoners were actually considered to be the lucky ones, for they at least had sentences with release dates. So many others sent to the island had, in effect, life sentences.Reform came slowly. What reform there was partly due to Nellie Bly and other newspaper reporters who went undercover to reveal what life was like on the island and partly due to William Glenney French, a priest who visited the island almost daily for many years and whose reports helped bring change and also proved invaluable to Horn's research.Yet though corrections and care for the poor and the mentally ill were eventually divided among different departments, some things haven't changed much. Horn points to Rikers Island, where convicts today are still treated much as convicts were on Blackwell's 150 years ago.Horn's book shows evidence of padding. A trimmer account would have been more readable. Still this is a valuable, fascinating book for it shows how attitudes toward society's undesirables have changed since the 19th century — and how they haven't.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    The audio version is missing some seconds at the end of chapters.

    1 person found this helpful