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Prison CP - July 1951

Corpun file 3906


Time, New York, 30 July 1951


Understandable language

Warden demonstrates flogging
Warden Best (demonstrating)
With vigorous aplomb.
Rocky Mountain News

Roy Best, the gnarled warden of Colorado's penitentiary, is one of the toughest in the business. He looks the part and acts it. In fact, when Hollywood did a movie called Canon City, about a big escape from his prison, they got him to play the warden. For more than 20 years, Best, a one-time cowpuncher, has run Canon City's stone prison with an iron fist. He keeps it clean, serves good food, sees to it that both guards and prisoners snap to when he shows up, deals severely with any who get out of line. His housekeeper is a woman convicted of feeding her ten-year-old stepdaughter ground glass, beating her with an iron and drowning her in a lake.

Last week at Canon City came the kind of situation Roy Best greets with vigorous aplomb. Five long-term convicts tried to escape, attempted to free nine troublemakers in solitary. Using a smuggled-in gun, and knives sneaked out of the prison shoeshop, they wounded two guards. But tear gas stopped them. Then the five were marched to the prison gymnasium, were stripped, examined by a physician and shackled over the "gray mare," a wooden gym horse. As the doctor stood by, the warden himself and guards took turns walloping the five where mother used to spank. Their lash was a leather strap 6 inches wide and 2 feet long.

When word of the floggings got out, the Denver Post cried "savage." Governor Dan Thornton hurried to Canon City to investigate. Best, a former president of the Wardens of America Association, was not afraid of the governor or anybody else. Said he: "I have used [the strap and wooden horse] through nine governors and I'll keep on using them, unless I'm specifically ordered to abandon them by the governor. I don't like to whip another human being. But these five men were dangerous. If they had been able to escape and free a lot of other dangerous men, there is no telling how many innocent people would have been killed. The lash is a language that is understood."

The five convicts seemed to understand the language all right. They had painfully bruised and welted buttocks but, said the prison doctor, no serious or permanent injury. Said one simply: "We gambled and lost." Newspapers and many Coloradans did not accept the floggings so matter of factly. This week, beset by critics, Governor Thornton and the state prison board outlawed flogging at Canon City. Not yet decided: whether to take any action against the flogging warden.

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