The state of New York built Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York in 1826 and it has been in operation ever since. Today it is a maximum-security prison housing 1,700 inmates. The prison’s location up the Hudson River from New York City inspired the expression “up the river,” which means someone headed to prison.
One of the most influential wardens in the history of Sing Sing was Lewis E. Lawes, who managed the institution from 1920 to 1941. Lawes was a crusading prison reformer who modernized the facility and introduced programs for the betterment of the inmates.
In 1929, Lawes wrote an essay for Time magazine touting the benefits of radio listening in prison. He wrote:
Taking into account the practices of years ago, in which inmates, when not working, were confined completely to themselves, not even being allowed normal communication with one another, it is obvious to anyone what a tremendous blessing the radio is in the lives of men otherwise restrained from any direct contact with the world outside.
And in this connection, the radio medium contains features not possessed by the most complete library. It establishes a relationship with the living, vibrating human being other than with the cold, dead print of a book or of a publication.