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Torture of Inmates inside West Virginia Penitentiary

Only 10 years open when stories of inhumane punishment and torture was told to the newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer on November 30, 1886.  Former West Virginia Penitentiary Assistant Superintendent named Wilkerson had seen enough. 

After leaving he exposed accounts of violence done on inmates.

Interview about torture from the Cincinnati Enquirer

Reporter, “Did you ever see any of the prisoners treated cruelly?”

Wilkerson, “Yes I have. I have seen men hauled up for being short in tasks and beaten so brutally the sight made me sick.”

“Kicking Jenny”
Graphic from newspaper showing the “Kicking Jenny” torture
Under the Lash in the Penitentiary (a description)

Extracted and transcribed by P.S. Marshall, from the Police News, December, 1886.

The principal instrument of torture used in the institution, he says is the ‘’Kicking Jenny.” It is an instrument invented and built in the prison. It is made in the shape of a quarter circle, with the highest end almost three or four feet above the platform on which it is set.

The prisoner is stripped naked and bent over on the machine. His feet fastened to the floor with ropes. While his hands stretched over the upper end. Tied with ropes and attached to small blocks, then a tension so strong, that the prisoner can be torn in two with the slightest pull.

After the prisoner is placed in position, the superintendent, or whoever does the whipping, takes a heavy whip made of sole leather, two pieces about three feet long are sewed together and the ends scraped slightly rounding.

With this whip the prisoner is beaten until he is almost dead, or the strength of the man who is doing the whipping gives out. He mentions numerous instances of prisoners having died after a whipping, and gives names. Among those who succumbed were John G. Roberts, John Forrest, W.S. Douglass, Joe Paul, Louis Heckmer and others.

He says the matter will be brought before the legislature at its session in January, and the appointment of a committee of investigation asked for.

** Thanks to PS Marshall from King of the Peds for this info

Wilkerson also said, “The inmate’s back was a pool of blood when the guard’s strength gave out.”

“Shoo-fly” or Extreme Water Boarding

Inmates tied to the floor and a hose turned on their faces. 

Choking, close to death, then the water stops.  Repeated minutes later, again and again until the inmate went insane.

Best described by Wilkerson in the Cincinnati Inquirer,

“That infernal ‘kicking Jenny’ was not the only instrument of torture. There was the ‘shoo-fly,’ an instrument so arranged that the victim could be placed with his feet in the stocks, his arms pinioned and his head fastened so that he could not move it.

“Then some one would take the hose and turn the water full upon the prisoner’s face. This was kept up until the victim was partly strangled to death. Imagine a man receiving a stream of water from an inch nozzle full in the face without the power of changing his position; then think of that stream being ice-cold water, and you can form an idea.”

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