Tag Archives: torture


It wasn’t all that long ago really when Dad, Mom, and the kids joined the vendors around the scaffold of a fine day, in, say, Dodge City or Denver. A row of men (usually, anyway) kicking and bouncing around at rope’s end, trying to touch the ground or breathe, their hands behind their backs, provided entertainment with a morality lesson. If a subject wasn’t an especially repulsive individual, or the executioner got a few pence, the latter might calculate the rope-length/body-weight ratio and the neck would snap with the drop. We Westerners have outgrown treating executions as a spectacle to be looked forward to, though. We’re familiar with the stonings in the Middle East, the amputations for thievery and such, and are properly repulsed.

But like I said, it hasn’t been long since executions were cause for a public outing in our sophisticated world.
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That interest in gruesome fates hasn’t fully faded yet. Picture a group of witnesses, some somber, some thinking right on! Picture them seated on a little set of bleachers so close they can touch the glass of the chamber. A man (again, usually) is strapped into a chair and the cyanide is released. The guests watch him hold his breath, and they watch as the inevitable happens. If they want, they can see every horror-driven distortion of the condemned’s wrinkled face while his lungs sizzle.
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The gas chamber being held in awe in the above photo is at the recently-decommissioned Missouri State Pen, a place with an utterly gruesome past and an oddly active present.
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Cell 76 on the second floor in building 4, or A-Hall, is one with a busy repute, where two inmates slipped in to gouge out the eyes of one of its tenants and let him stew on that while they sliced him further until he crawled out onto the catwalk and bled to death. Shivs have always been a way of life in prison, and that was as true here at “The Walls” of Mo State as anywhere.
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Gougings and related murders were a daily occurrence for long periods of time in this penitentiary, one of which inspired, after the warden offed his own self, Time Magazine to dub Mo State as “The bloodiest 47 acres in America.”
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The prison opened in 1836 and before it closed in 2004, was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi. Plumbing came in the 40s, and off-the-floor sleeping probably before that.
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Still, the violence only got worse. So then, do spirits of humans who spent their last seconds here still hang around? Imagine 5 or 6 or 8 guys squeezed into a tiny, frigid or baking cell with straw mats on the floor for bedding, one bucket of filthy water for drinking, and one bucket to shit in, while the din from whipping posts in concert with insane, echoing howls competes with the smells for the attention of the senses. It doesn’t take some childish eagerness-to-believe in unscientific phenomena to imagine that events where human emotion is stretched beyond all conceivability might just be capable of leaving a stamp, or a historical impress, that can be picked up on now and again. As for real-time interaction with the world of the dead, that’s not for me to adjudicate for you.

Below ground in A-Hall, a large number (documentation verifies 13 on one occasion) of inmates are forced into a limestone cubby hole where light equals what one finds in the depths of a cave when the last lantern battery dies.
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Blindness. A thick wooden door covers the steel door to ensure nothing resembling light will find a crack. The prisoner-quarried stone entombs the cell’s denizens at a thickness that promises no cracks of which any accident of sound might take advantage, either. There are two buckets. Which one has the water? The shit bucket will not be emptied by a guard for days. The dead bodies will be removed then too. No sooner.
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James Earl Ray, cell 45, escapes in a 4×4 box in the back of a bread truck. Less than a year later, he kills MLK. (Or was at least arrested for it, but I’d like to stay on target.)

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Sonny Liston’s talents were discovered by a couple of guards here.
Stagger Lee. I know I know that name. Blanche Barrow was put in the women’s facility when she was caught. She hated the movie.

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Cell 40 has made a name for itself, I see, on You Tube. I spent a few minutes in there alone, very quiet I did stay.
But other than the temperature dropping about 40 degrees, not much action. Kidding. It doesn’t matter. The history is enough.

On the east coast of Ireland is a prison that has existed in one form or another for three centuries. Wicklow Gaol. A prison for all the people—men, women, and children—and for all the Catholic people in particular. The rebels of 1798, the croppies. The Popish.
Women were thrown in with the men and if they had children, the British government would be damned if they were going to be babysitters.
They did however provide an area for schooling. One of those children has never left, many people swear.
You slept on the straw or the dirt. You worked.
Sometimes men broke rocks and women took them to pave the road. During the years of rebellion, however, work was much more about punishment.
Back-breaking work to produce nothing—a good way to fuck with their heads. Pick up a cannonball chest high, walk two steps, set it down, repeat for four more hours in the heat of the day.

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Or get on the treadmill for five hours and force it to turn and produce nothing. Mouth off and get shackled, or get your spine and ribs bared with the lash.

Like the decommissioned penitentiary in Missouri, Wicklow Gaol suffers from no shortage of adamant witnesses to the paranormal. The true (verified or silenced) horror stories that accumulated in Wicklow throughout all those decades doubtless left marks that can still be felt.
Humans may grow intellectually, societies may become more sophisticated, but the fascination with horror is a part of us. The chief rule of the sane is to maintain a handle on fascinations.
Finding the truth about what lies beyond may be a hobby for those who don’t deride it as silliness, but it is also, in another sense, a way to get a handle on the dangers that intrigue us.


Russian Serfs and Peasants During the Napoleonic Invasion

Angry SerfsDuring the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Russia in 1812, the British liaison to the Russians described in his journal what he saw take place in a rural village. To paraphrase General Sir Robert Wilson, the peasants had laid some fifty refugees out naked in the snow. Village women commenced dancing around and singing while bashing their prisoners’ brains out with clubs. Other eye witnesses reported captured refugees being roasted on spits, being stripped and made to freeze to death, being drowned, and being battered and used as target practice. Peasants didn’t withhold the most unfathomable tortures from women or children let alone soldiers. So who were these people who were so unfeeling and so over-the-top violent—acting not only as individuals but as whole communities? There is no simple answer to that.

Serfs Towing BoatThe condition of Russian peasantry in 1812 was as appalling and as hopeless as any existence at the time. The livelihood of the nobility was dependent on the free labor that serfdom provided, and the odds of that changing were essentially zero. Each estate was its own world with its own rules set down by the individual master or mistress. The difference between serfs and peasants was essentially that serfs were owned by private landowners, where peasants were the property of the Russian state. Human beings were bought and sold at auction or by way of a contract between private parties; they were sold along with mules, carts, or any other material goods. Russian newspapers carried ads describing a slave’s attributes and skills for interested buyers. For example, this ad was posted in the Moscow News in 1797: For sale: a waiter, 25 years old, with his wife and a minor son. A very good weaver; can also shave and draw blood. The wife can look after the mistress and is capable of any work. Also for sale in the same place: a…carriage, not much used, of the best workmanship.

Families were sold together by and large, but not always; they could be permanently torn apart. In general, the more serfs a master—or pomeshchik—owned, the better off the serfs would be. If several thousand serfs were owned, they would commonly be on obrok, in which the serf paid quitrent in cash or kind. Serfs owned by lesser pomeshchiks in many cases labored under the system of barshchina, similar to the pre-Revolution corvee in France, where the master was compensated in labor. This type of existence was conducive to short, tormented lives for the workers. It should be noted that life was not horrible for every serf; many actually became wealthy through personal skills, education, and entrepreneurship, and even purchased their own serfs and property. The serf was not legally allowed to own property, however, and such purchases were necessarily made in the name of the master. Envy and resentment of a neighbor’s success was firmly embedded in the Russian character, and the industrious peasant was often a lonely peasant. Peasants could not marry without the consent of their masters, and female serfs who turned up pregnant without being married were punished severely.Russian Steppe Serfs

Serfs were subject to the whims of the master or those of the stewards and bailiffs in his employ. The treatment they received at times was inhuman. By law, owners weren’t allowed to kill their slaves, but they could and did beat them near to death. (Limits on lash strokes applied to minors.) Some landowners cultivated virtual harems out of their serf populations, in which young girls were required to satisfy their masters’ sexual demands under threat of torture. No laws existed to stop these things, and such behavior was not necessarily imbued with any social repugnance. House serfs, being in the close proximity of the pomeshchik or pomeshchitsa, seemed to bear the brunt of the caprice and cruelty dished out from above relative to their brothers and sisters who worked the land. Good masters did exist, it would be fair to say, and the lot of certain serfs was not so bleak. Some masters provided schools—although laws prohibited serfs from entering high school—and hospitals, and even allowed their slaves to buy or otherwise earn their freedom. On a rare occasion, a serf would actually become wealthy or attain high levels of employment in government service. Stories also abound of the sadistic behavior of serfs in charge of other serfs.

For all the torment the peasant population of Russia endured, these servants could be inconceivably brutal in their own rite. Alcoholism was prevalent in lower-class Russian families and villages, which paved the way for physical abuse at home. Peasant husbands and even grandparents beat their wives and children as severely and as often as they liked. But such violence was not limited to the cottage. School teachers used birch rods on bare legs to discipline students for such egregious behavior as not earning acceptable grades or talking. Pets that got into mischief were sometimes put on trial and hanged. But the most unfathomable reports of peasant behavior came during the retreat of the French military and civilians from Moscow. Throughout the advance of Napoleon’s army in the summer of 1812, soldiers became marauders, putting whole Russian villages to the torch, raping and murdering females, wreaking gratuitous destruction without restraint. The villagers paid Cossacks and partisans for captives during the winter exodus in order to exact retribution for those outrages, whether those captives were French soldiers or private citizens of other nationalities who had nothing to do with any past injustices. Villagers herded prisoners into barns before setting the structures on fire; they forced people into deep pits and buried them alive; they drove spikes through people’s heads; they pushed even children through holes they’d chopped in iced-over ponds. In “Beyond the Berezina,” such scenes of horror play out time and again for the principals, all based on extant reports from survivors of the era.

It should be mentioned that the Russians—and particularly the provincials—were extremely religious. The belief that Napoleon was the antichrist referred to in the Bible permeated the rural mind. Every occurrence was due to the direct actions of God or Satan; and the savage treatment of prisoners was divinely sanctioned. Superstition governed the lives of the lower classes; peasants looked for omens and avoided behavior that brought on retribution from unseen forces. Beliefs varied regionally, but every home had an icon corner, and around almost every neck hung the image of a saint—usually Nicholas. Great processions of humanity annually followed statues of the Virgin or some other relic, which may have been assigned supernatural attributes, from one location to another and back. The dominant religion was Russian Orthodox Christianity, which varied in many aspects from its Latin and Greek cousins. Regional pagan customs often survived from the pre-Christian era to be included in the established orthodoxy.

In “Beyond the Berezina,” Sir Malcolm Ussher owns several serfs that he’d bought at auction, slaves from an area close to the Ukraine then known as Little Russia. The Little Russians had different beliefs and practices from those of the peasants reared nearer to Moscow or St. Petersburg, or those from Siberia. Many of them were Cossacks from the vicinity of the Don or Kuban Rivers, and were referred to as Don or Kuban Cossacks. They were not nearly as patriotic or concerned with the fate of Mother Russia as their northern cousins. Overall, Napoleon’s invasion was important to the civilian population in those regions only as it related to their own well-being. In regions farther north, too, along the lines of the French advance, some serfs used the opportunity of the invasion to talk the invaders into murdering their masters. No single peasant mindset could be counted on in those days.


The following is one of a number of correspondences I had with a women who went by the name “Shirzan” a year after the rebel uprising in Iran. She made it clear that she was risking her life owing to her anti-government activities, including her internet communications. After one particularly unnerving message, I never heard from her again. 

Dear Glenn,

thank you for your support. Yes, we constantly need to be careful. We use proxies and share FB accounts with other trustworthy friends throughout Iran, as to make it difficult for IRI to locate us. There is absolutely no safety here for us. We can be arrested in our house, in the streets, at work or at school. I know of many who have been arrested and tortured. Some of my friends are missing. A friend of mine was shot last year in June during the protests and it was only 3 months later that we found out he was locked up in Evin. He was only released because they realized he was not affiliated to any politcal parties, because he was near death from the wound infection, and also because of the $150,000 in bail money they received from his mother. She gave her house away to be able to get her son out. They now live with family members.

You have no idea what we go through here. And it is so sad that so many are still unaware. We are disappointed at UN for not doing more and for electing Iran to commission on women’s rights. We are disappointed that Obama even considered negotiating with these criminal thugs. We are disappointed that IRI rapist officials were allowed on US soil. We are disappointed at EU as well. We have no money, no resources, no help…we fight with our bare hands and we give our lives. We are being gang raped, tortured, executed by slow hanging or stoning… We are protesting daily in Tehran, Ahvaz, Esphahan, Shiraz and most large cities. We are not losing hope though and are ready to die to topple this rapist government. Also most of us educated Iranians HATE ISLAM and ALL MULLAHS!!! Our true religion is zoroastrianism…

Thank you for spreading the word…we need more people like you backing us up 🙂