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The Forgotten Prison on Kennison Mountain - Part 3 of 4

March 9, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
(Previous Post: see link at right)

When the prison began, most entered Mill Point for stealing, or making moonshine, but by 1944, 85 percent were there for reasons of conscience. Many were opponents to World War II. “A new philosophy became necessary for this type of inmate,” wrote Mylt Kennedy in an annual report. “They were people who believed in general moral goodness, who possessed a feeling of obligation to do right. Prisoners with such concepts presented problems contrary to past experience.”

At Mill Point most of the conscientious objectors got along fairly well with the other prisoners. Each group kept quiet because fighting cost them privileges and “good time” credit toward early release.

One of these conscientious objectors was Howard Fast. Fast spent World War II working with the U.S. Office of War Information, writing for Voice of America. In 1943, he joined the Communist Party USA, and in 1950 he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In his testimony, Fast refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War and was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. It was while he was at Mill Point that Fast began writing his most famous work, Spartacus, a novel about an uprising among Roman slaves. (See link at right to read a copy of Fast’s letter to his agent, Paul R. Reynolds, on Mill Point Prison.)

Almost half the prison population worked in the woods. Half their salary went to dependents at home, 30 percent went into savings accounts, and the remainder was theirs to spend as they wished. By 1950, inmates earned 20 cents an hour.

Just east of the present Cranberry Glades boardwalk was the prison farm. The five-acre “victory garden” of 1944 became a 35-acre farm when the U.S. Forest Service allotted extra land to the prison. Mylt Kennedy noted at the time: “The land was covered with rocks, dead trees, and stumps. The men had to deal with a flock of ground hogs, a herd of cattle, an army of grasshoppers, and nightly visits by deer. There was a killing frost on June 8, then the drought came. In spite of it all,” the optimistic superintendent continued, “we are expecting a crop.”

(Next Post: see link at right)


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Howard Fast - Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


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