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Sanitary Conditions at the US Disciplinary Barracks

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Sanitary Conditions at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kans.

In general the evils in bad sanitation at the Disciplinary Barracks are not due to any defects in the building – which is a new structure with modern equipment, but rather to inefficiency and gross carelessness on the part of the administration. No attempt is made to inculcate any ideas of hygiene and health; practises [sic] and habits which are absolutely vile prevail among the men uncensored.

In spite of the foul air in the wings, due to the incessant cigarette smoking of the men, no window may be opened, not even at night, “without an order from the Quartermaster”. All sweeping is done dry, which causes huge clouds of dust to rise and inevitably affects the throats and nasal passages of the men. Fully 75% of the inmates are always troubled with coughs, sore throats, obstructed nostrils, etc. As the men on the tiers calmly sweep the dirt over the galleries, hurl old newspapers and magazines down and – sometimes – even expectorate from their tier, the lot of those below is by no means enviable. In the morning the ground floor is always a filthy mess. Also the steps of the iron staircases are open, so that the mud and dirt shuffled off one’s boots drops on the heads of those below.

In most of the wings, including the solitary cells, there are porcelain wash-basins. These, however, have the exasperating weakness of permitting only the water to flow off slowly and leaving the grime behind. In the Sixth Wing, where there are six men in a cave-like cell, there is but one small portable tin basin to each cell, as well as but one drinking cup – generally, very battered and rusty. Each man has his own soap (Palmolive) towel, tooth-brush, powder (Dr. Lyon’s) comb and brush. In each cell there is a porcelain stool. This situation would not be so bad were it not for the fact that men with venereal diseases active as well as latent, are together with others. (1)

In the Mess hall the same danger of contagion exists, for the only segregation practised [sic] is not for hygienic reasons, but for the purpose of separating the colored men, the vegetarians and the second and third class prisoners. No provision is made for the venereals. (2). the danger is especially great because the ugly tin-ware is not at all scrupulously clean and because most of the food is served by hand. Bread, butter, sliced beets, sausages, bologna and even jelly are distributed in this manner. As the food is always handed by the waiter to the end man at the “table”, and he in turn passes it along, a slice of bread very often passes through a half dozen hands before it reaches its destination. This is especially agreeable as men on the gangs – even the begrimed coal-heavers – get no opportunity to wash before the noon meal. A serving spoon is never given; each man uses his own form or spoon to abstract his portion from a serving dish (when there is one). The uneaten bread is afterwards collected and used again. (3) the same apparently is done with the tea and coffee. Following is a weekly men [sic]:-

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(1) Major Adler claims that “they are very careful” about communicable diseases, whereas Capt Chambers claimed that segregation was futile as “they’re all degenerates, anyway”. Wm Arthur Denham (No 15336) a conscientious objector reported to the Major an active case of gonorrhea which he had discovered among his five cell-mates. Cornelius Voth, another C O, discharged Jan 28, 1919, contracted this same disease, presumably at the Disciplinary Barracks, or in the Guard House at Fort Riley.

(2) Two men ate in the Mess Hall with the other prisoners, who at the Ft Riley Guard House had eaten from separate dishes (which they had to wash themselves) at the doctor’s order.

(3) After having passed through so many hands and having been on the same smeary table.

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