Prison Bars

Time Served in Comstock, New YorkMy entire professional life has been spent working within the prison system and juvenile justice system.  I have dealt with every type of offender imaginable from Death Row inhabitants to very young adolescents who have committed serious and disturbing offenses.  No matter where I have worked it never ceases to amaze me as to the high quality of people that work in these facilities.  In order to work in this environment requires the best of human qualities and one must possess “people” skills that most of us cannot even begin to imagine. 

We are a nation addicted to the notion of incarceration, whether the individual at the receiving end needs it or not.  One has to only see the massive old prisons in the state of New York to understand where this trend started.  But do not get me wrong, from personal experience there is a non-quantifiable number of the incarcerated that need to be where they are, forever.   However, too many mentally ill, uneducated, impoverished and addicted are dumped needlessly into the prison system because of lack of appropriate types of facilities and programs that troubled individuals need.

One day last week I discovered a great bar in the most unusual of places.  The tavern is located on the first floor of a house just outside the massive walls of a New York state prison.   Infamously known as “Great Meadow” or sometimes simply called “Comstock”.  The tavern is appropriately named “Time Served” and its motto is “The Little House Across From the Big House.”  It turned out to be a warm, friendly and inviting establishment located deep in the farm land and woodland of upstate New York.  The tavern and prison are adjacent to the Hudson Canal and a rail line.  

Sing Sing by Brett Weinstein/Wikimedia Commons

Sing Sing by Brett Weinstein/Wikimedia Commons

I think that I have figured out where the term “Going up the River” came from.  Convicted felons coming out of the New York City area were either moved up the Hudson River by boat, barge or rail.  Prisons such as Sing Sing, Matawan (Beacon), Great Meadow and the notorious complex of Clinton Correctional Facility and the Dannemora Building for the Criminally Insane which is located just south of the Canadian border and is clearly the last stop up the river; were all built in rural areas of New York but all within the Hudson River transportation system. 

Not much has changed in these places in over 150 years.  They are foreboding, intimidating, desolate places located in towns whose identities are intricately interwoven with the prisons reputations.  The towns of Ossining, Comstock, Dannemora are only known and identified by the massive prisons within their town limits.  However, in each of these prison towns families lead normal lives, kids go to school, people seek entertainment and everyone has dreams.  

At my new northern hang out at the “Time Served“, my wife and I met a Captain of security at Great Meadow who had just finished his shift in the prison and had begun a shift of Coors Light at his favorite bar.  We struck up a conversation that quickly diverged from small talk into a discussion of human behavior and philosophy.  I can say that I never had such an interesting and deep conversation with someone I had just met.  I can assure you that the Captain, after 25 years of working in maximum custody, is a much more interesting human being to have a conversation with as compared to any PhD type discussing the state of our society and the behavior of individuals within that society. 

It can be nearly a surreal experience to sit in a nice bar and look out the window and realize that you are in a shadow Tower at Dannemora/Wikimedia Commonsof a 30 foot wall with gun towers atop a massive prison structure.  Then add in the knowledge that Son of Sam, David Chapman (John Lennon’s assassin), Ronald DeFeo (Amityville Horror), Lucky Luciano and countless more villains of past and present call this place home, just adds to the overall unique aura of the place which will never be mistaken as ambiance.

So to sum up this experience, if you enjoy off beat and different kinds of taverns, “Time Served” is a worthy stop.  If luck is running your way maybe the “Captain” will be there with some of his crew from the “Big House”.   Sometimes our collective wisdom and education is found in the most unlikely of places.  “Time Served” in Comstock, New York is one of these places.

Posted by: John West/American Public House Review

Old Carbon County Jail/Jim Thorpe, PA

Click here to learn more about the publisher’s favorite Big House.

And please click on the link to visit “the little house across from the big house.”

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