‘Brutal Bill’ Cures Epilepsy With Beatings

Convicts boarding Health Department bus for Tuberculosis screening.. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum
Convicts boarding Health Department bus for Tuberculosis screening.. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum

Prisoners building levees at Angola, circa 1945. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum
Prisoners building levees at Angola, circa 1945. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum

The Item (July 16, 1943) Part 10

By “Wooden Ear”

Camp H, until 1940, was mainly devoted to housing some 100-odd inmates who had been classified as too old or crippled to do manual labor. They were, nevertheless, many times called upon to do general work.

Also at the camp was the “ward” for tuberculosis patients.

It was a wooden shack, some 30 feet long by 20 feet wide, and contained, usually, 15 to 20 patients.

Their care was negligible. They were placed in the “ward” when in the last stages of tuberculosis, and the average life of any of them after “hospitalization” was (the fact is on record) 65 days!

Joe Vallo was one of these

Joe was from New Orleans. He worked as a baker at Camp G for two years before his malaria-diagnosed tuberculosis became so bad that a hemorrhage finally brought the disease to light.

Joe lived only three weeks, but all during the time he had worked as baker, and was a carrier of the deadly germs, he ate, slept and lived with the others!

His name was John. He was a Negro about 60 years old.

John could not work. But Green thought he could.

John was brutally beaten by Capt. J. N. Roberts, then in charge of Camp A. The beating, with a stick, blinded the Negro.

John’s last words, spoken in daylight, before the night descended on his eyes for all time, were: “Please, white folks Cap’n, please sah, don’ beat ol’ John no mo’.”

John was discharged in 1942. He received the usual overall suit given discharged Negroes and a $10 bill.

He will forever be blind.

The scene shifts to another year. This time it is Camp G, the “river camp” of Angola. The levee-bound hell-hole wherein were domiciled 350 white men. The place where, two years before, Captain Himel and his wife were murdered by an inmate after a particularly brutal melee by Himel.

William Morris is the captain. He was appointed to the job, which pays $200 per month, plus a six-room house, electricity, vegetables, milk, poultry and eggs, servants, and fruit.

Morris has been employed by the state in various convict-foremanships since 1912. He knows no other work or world but with convicts, and he knows little else since in all these years he has never learned to read or write.

Life And Death Power

Yet despite this he was appointed to virtual life-and-death power over some 350 men by Warden Green!

Morris’ record is long and unsavory. He has been involved, directly or indirectly, in several killings and a score or more of maimings. He is known as “Brutal Bill” by the inmates.

Morris had an additional sinecure which paid him and his son $25 per month from the pockets of U.S. taxpayers for years—until the new regime took office.

Morris was listed by the War department as “official gauge reader of the river gauge at Angola on the Mississippi.” His son also had the job of keeping the gauge records.

This writer, for 20 months daily read the river gauge, made out the reports for Captain Morris and his son without a cent of compensation. Government checks which were mailed to Morris were endorsed by his wife (since he could not write) and the proceeds were used by him!

(Thieves, “Brutal Bill” used to say, belonged in the penitentiary!)

“Cure” For Epilepsy

Oliver Slater, whom this writer last saw on the streets of New Orleans three months ago, was 42 at the time of his admittance to the penitentiary and had been an epileptic all his life.

Despite the fact he had been classified as such by the prison doctor, Slater was put to work out in the fields.

One day, while the “long line” was forming to leave the camp, Slater suddenly fell down in an epileptic seizure and during the throes of the malady was set upon by Morris who brutally beat and “stomped” the insensate man.

Morris laughed during the process: “Epilepsy, hah? I’ll cure his d— epilepsy, the lazy so-and-so!”

The man who could neither read nor write proceeded with brutality to ‘cure’ what has baffled science for thousands of years!

George “Cocky” Sanders was about 30. He had been placed out in the field by “Brutal Bill” until he became too ill to work. After a flogging, from which he could hardly stand, Sanders was finally admitted to the four-bed camp infirmary.

Dr. Taylor, on viewing Sanders, issued a written report to Warden Green. It is in the files. It reads almost verbatim:

“I have examined this man and find him to be suffering from some kind of a swelling on his left side. He is under medication and should be able to work in about three weeks.”

In less than two weeks the “swelling”—a tuberculan abcess—burst and Sanders died.

Woodrow Kelly was a red-haired, freckle-faced Texan.

He was serving from 20 to 40 years for burglary.

He complained several times to “Brutal Bill” that he had stomach ulcers—that he could not digest food. He did not ask to be relieved of field work, merely that he be given a pint of milk per day so that he could at least hold something on his stomach.

“Brutal Bill” laughed at him. “Me an’ the old lady ez had stomach ulcers for 40 years, an we still able to work,” Kelly was told.

The Texan died. His another of the graves in the prison cemetery which is a mute testimony to the brutal days.

“Brutal Bill” carried the “bat” in the field himself.

His “push-em-up” tactics resulted in the loss of a hand for E. H. Charmer.

The man, no longer able to stand the constant beatings while cutting cane, took the “easy way”—he chopped off his left hand with a cane knife!

He was whipped for it, but the records reflect that it was an “accident.”

James White, after a day of being harassed and beaten by the foreman with sticks, lifted his hoe to ward off a vicious slash.

That night he was reported to “Brutal Bill” who, in turn, telephoned the incident to Warden Green.

Only two days before, Green had issued an order that the “bat” was to be administered only in his presence.

Greene came to Camp G. White was stripped naked and struck not less than 75 blows.

The charge? On the record it shows: “Attempting to strike the foreman with a hoe!”

Have you ever planted corn? Not at a leisurely pace, but with a shotgun at your back and a raging, cursing brute behind you with a stick the size of a hoe-handle—spurring you to further effort?

This day the heat came in waves. Trees a half mile away danced with it.

A corn “hill” four inches out of line caught the eye of “Brutal Bill.”

One blow with the heat stunned me; further blows, plus a savage kicking served to cause me to flee stumbling for my life.

It was not until late that night that I noticed I could no longer hear. The left ear was almost completely deafened, the right ear but a little better.

A corn “hill” four inches out of line cost an impairment of hearing which can never be restored.

Sometime later I asked for medical aid. I was examined by the farm physician who said: “I’ve heered it said that sweet oil will help. You git you a eye-dropper an’ some sweet oil, that’ll fix it.”

The joker in this that there was no sweet oil even if it had been efficacious!

(The shocking conditions which existed at Angola during the “Old Regime” of a few years ago will be further exposed in this series of articles written by a former inmate. Next, New Warden Arrives and Hope for Better Days Lies Ahead).

Hell On Angola – The Wooden Ear Series
Ex – Inmate Tells Of Brutalities
Slow workers scream as ‘The Bat’ goes to work
Kicks, Curses Part Of ‘Convict Guards’ Cruelty
Bugs, Heat, Dirt Give Little Chance To Sleep
A New Warden: Prisoners Get Holiday To Mourn For Politico
Reward Guards For Killing
Work Goes On In The Rain
Death For Some: Many Bear Scars On Mind and Body
Even Medical Care Of Prisoners Run By ‘The Regime’
‘Brutal Bill’ Cures Epilepsy With Beatings
New Warden Arrives And Hope For Better Days Lies Ahead
Mess Hall Walkout Brings End Of Starvation Diet Era
Politics Alone Can’t Eliminate All Evils Of ‘The System’
Can Happen Again; Only The Ballot Box Holds Answer