A rare manuscript that was written by a black prisoner in 1858 has been discovered in Rochester, NY. The 304-page memoir entitled either “The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict,” or “the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison,” was written by a black man named Austin Reed. Reed had been convicted of theft many times, with a sentence well into 20 plus years. He spent his young years in reform school. Within the pages of his manuscript, he describes nearly shooting a man and leaving him with a deep wound from a knife for revenge.
Reed, who was held in the Auburn State Prison, described the harsh conditions and punishments he endured, including a “shower-bath” where he would receive over sixty lashes by whip followed by a shower of saltwater. Reed, who, for some reason, wrote under the alias of Rob Reed, was unable to speak while incarcerated. This was the prison’s policy, along with being in a cell with no windows or natural light and a 10-hour workday.
Reeds writings were a way to express himself since he could not verbally communicate his life and experiences.