LOGAN - In the days of the Hocking County Honor Camp, inmates worked closely with the Hocking County area and the community, an idea that seems absurd today, so the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is digging up the past to get a better understanding of how things used to be.
Rick Chuvalas, the warden's assistant of the Southeastern Correctional Institution, is heading the search for information about Marietta, Gallipolis, Zanesville, Hocking, Muskingum, Green Springs, Shawnee and Oxford honor camps.
"We've been out searching," Chuvalas said. "Our goal is to find where the old camp was, find a person who worked there and gain as much information as we can of life back then."
An honor camp was much different than a prison, the most obvious difference being it was not enclosed by fencing. Honor camps housed 20 to 60 inmates who had jobs with state parks and recreation or forestry divisions.
The Hocking Honor Camp opened in November 1950, near Conkle's Hollow, as a part of a program by the Ohio Penitentiary to build several work camps. A.W. Marion, director of the State Department of Natural Resources at the time, picked up the idea of work camps from other states that had successful programs, including Michigan, California and Wisconsin.
According to a Sept. 20, 1950, article in The Logan Daily News, there was not enough work to go around in the prison system. But men in the honor camps were put to work on outside jobs that would not otherwise get done. They maintained roads in state forests, cleared underbrush and planted trees.
Labor isn't available for that kind of work, and even if labor was available, the state couldn't afford to hire all the work the prisoners will do, Marion said in the article.
"Around that time, as today, we were challenged with overcrowding (in the prison system). They (honor camps) allowed the Ohio Penitentiary to house more inmates and became a cost effective way for Ohio to maintain its park systems," Chuvalas said.
Hocking Honor Camp was under supervision of the Ohio Penitentiary from 1950 to 1968. In 1968, the camp was transferred to the supervision of the Chillicothe Correctional Institution until its close in 1974.
Inmates who were transferred to the camp were determined by a committee who looked at the offender's behavior as well as circumstances of their crime. But inmates at the camps got much more freedom than their counterparts in prison. They were allowed to keep a small amount of money, about $20, and wore denim shirts and blue jeans.
"Now, inmates wear denim shirts, but different pants so they don't look like staff on their dress-down days," Chuvalas said.
In some cases, inmates could carry pin knives when it was determined their use was needed for a job. They could also sign out for two hours at a time and go hiking in the Conkle's Hollow area.
"When you compared what inmates were allowed to have, it's amazing compared to today," Chuvalas said.
Logan and surrounding communities worked closely with the inmates, and the inmates often donated to them. From time to time, wild game would be given to the camp for the inmates to cook. In 1951, as the result of the efforts made by Ferd Hack, a Logan businessman, inmates at Hocking Honor Camp were granted permission to fish without licenses.
Inmates returned favors to the community. In 1951, the camp made 80 four-foot wreaths for decorating for Christmas in Logan. They were frequently called upon by the Logan Fire Department to help fight fires in rural parts of the county. It was also very common for inmates to donate blood to the American Red Cross, especially during the time of the Korean War.
"Right now, this camp stands alone with maintaining a positive relationship with the community," Chuvalas said.
Few inmates were ever taken back to the Ohio Penitentiary as a result of acting out. Acting out was never tolerated. Security staff at the Hocking Honor Camp wore civilian clothes and did not have access to weapons, but by June 1958, about 1,800 inmates had gone through Ohio honor camps, and fewer than 50, or .03 percent escaped.
"You didn't watch everything they did. You gave them a little room and they were good," said Dana Bookman, a forestry division employee during the time of the Hocking Honor Camp. "Back then, we were all common guys and you trusted them."
Another activity that brought communities and offenders in Ohio's honor camps together was softball.
"That seems to be the common denominator of all the honor camps. Every camp has a history of playing softball," Chuvalas said.
Hocking Honor Camp's softball team was called the Hurricanes. They played other local teams in the county. Mark Lowe, a current forestry division employee, donated the home plate of the Hocking Honor Camp's softball field to Chuvalas and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to put in their museum in London, Ohio.
Anyone with information related to the Hocking Honor Camp (photos, stories, artifacts, etc.) can contact Diana O'Dell at the Southeastern Correctional Institution at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (740) 653-4324 Ext. 2756. Information will be included in the historical project for Ohio.