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Life in Sing Sing: Inside New York's Most Infamous Prison 100 Years Ago

Sing Sing's mysterious prisoner "Number 1500" finally identified.

Over 100 years ago, an anonymous prisoner wrote the book Life In Sing Sing, only supplying the pen name "Number 1500." HVA Press believes they have unearthed the author's true name, Henry Kirke White.  It's likely that he was named after the British poet of the same name.  Perhaps hopes of a writing career were fulfilled when he launched Sing's Sing's newspaper, Star of Hope, written entirely by convicts. 

HVA Press publisher Gavin Caruthers says, "We now know that "Number 1500" is Henry Kirke White, who was born in Wisconsin in 1862.  He was arrested for forgery in 1897 and served six and a half years in Sing Sing.  In 1904, the year after he was discharged, he wrote Life in Sing Sing, an insider's view of what life was like for a prisoner over 100 years ago.  He also presents his thoughts on effective methods of rehabilitation.  Kirke set the example himself by launching Sing's Sing's prison newspaper, Star of Hope."

While Henry White does not discuss his name, nor why he was incarcerated at Sing Sing, he does provide a few specific details in the book that align perfectly with the public records.  Searching state and prison archives, it was narrowed down to one person.

Caruthers continues, "In spite of his efforts at concealment, Henry White must have ultimately wanted his name associated with this fine book."

How HVA Press was able to identify Henry Kirke White as the author of Life in Sing Sing

These are the key facts the author provides about himself in the book:

Incarcerated in Sing Sing on February 11, 1897

Sentenced to 10 years and served "exactly" six and half years

Previous work experience as a clerk

Launched Sing Sing's prison newspaper Star of Hope

Sing Sing Records: Sing Sing's admission records show only two prisoners were admitted on February 11, 1897 with a 10 year sentence.  According to the discharge information, only one of those prisoners was released 6 and a half years later, August 10, 1903.  That is Henry Kirke White. 

New York State Census 1880: In 1880 he gave his profession as "clerk." On page 87 of Life In Sing Sing, when speaking of launching the newspaper Star of Hope, he states, "I knew something about the news gathering and writing part of journalism and sufficient of the workings of an office..." His job as clerk may also be the source of the forgery that he was convicted of and sent to Sing Sing. 

New York State Census 1900: Conducted while White was in Sing Sing, White changed his profession to "journalist." This ties in with the fact that at the time he was the editor of Star of Hope, which launched the year before. 

One Last Hint: On page nine he reconstructs his first encounter with the local authorities, who call him by the name "Black." This could another clue to his real name, "White."


 
 
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