The Tucker Telephone: Prison Abuse, Arkansas Style

Prison farms in the 1960s American South could easily be mistaken for the 1860s. Killing two birds with one stone, after Reconstruction southern legislatures purchased unused plantation land and placed inmates on this land to farm antebellum style. Not only did this provide new prisons to replace those destroyed after the Civil War, but it also allowed these states to reap in the profits from prison agriculture. Sadly, it did not take long for these prisons to resemble slave plantations of old. Southern legislators did not care much about the abuses at these prisons, especially since they supported themselves financially. Prisoners, especially black prisoners, did not deserve much attention from law-abiding white citizens, according to these lawmen. If these prisons re-introduced those paternalistic notions of the white planter classes before the Civil War, even better.

Photo courtesy of Cara Joy Clausen.
Photo courtesy of Cara Joy Clausen.

I am going to talk about these southern prison farms quite often in this blog, for it is my research specialty. Let’s look at the Cummins and Tucker Prison Farms in Arkansas. In particular, we will examine one torture implement: the Tucker Telephone. This large wooden box contained a small, crank-operated generator. It also had two cables with clamps coming from it. Prison trustees (armed prisoners that actually guarded other prisoners, we will discuss this in the future as well) would clamp these cables on two different portions of the prisoner. Their favorite places was usually a finger and the penis. Then, they would crank, sending volts of electricity through the prisoner’s body.

This mode of torture was utilized until the late 1960s. Yes, that is not a typo. 1960. Like, around fifty years ago. It is even custom today when in the office of the Cummins or Tucker Prison Farm warden’s office to ask him whether the phone on his desk is a Tucker Telephone. Eventually, the work of courageous lawyers and judges, especially federal Judge J. Smith Henley, would open up the avenues of prisoner compliant. For the first time ever, these prisoners issues would be heard. And eventually, Judge Henley would declare the whole prison system in Arkansas unconstitutional.

Click here to look at this photo at Cara Joy Clausen’s flickr page. She also has other awesome pictures from the Arkansas prison farm.


6 thoughts on “The Tucker Telephone: Prison Abuse, Arkansas Style

  1. dixie (mosley) williams

    my dad was in tucker from 1963 to 1968. I remember him telling dome horrible stories and I thought it was fake. I found a newspaper article of him in court testifying against the prison. I wish I knew more in fo ion tucker

    1. Gregory L. Richard

      Hello there. Thanks for commenting. I can give you more info from some of my research and writing. In the book Nation within a Nation: The American South and the Federal Government (edited by Glenn Feldman, University Press of Florida, 2014) I write a chapter that tells about the beginning of prison reform in Arkansas. That chapter discusses many of these issues. Also, I can share new research and writing as it is available.

  2. Jim Grossbaier

    My Grandfather was put in Tucker Farm Arkansas Prison ( Fonnie Gresham) How may I get information on him with his stay in Tucker Prison.

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