Hannah's Reviews > A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York

A Pickpocket's Tale by Timothy J. Gilfoyle
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Dec 27, 07

Read in January, 2007

This book is structured around excerpts from the autobiography of George Appo, a petty thief in New York in the late 19th century. The excerpts are very interesting- they tell his story of life in opium dens and streetcars, and the gangsters and criminals he associated with. Altogether, they would probably span about 50 pages, but this book is 544 pages long. It is filled with information about the US prison system (particularly in NY and PA) at the time, and generally about life in Manhattan at the time, and is unfortunately very dry.

I personally found the parts about the penal system to be the most interesting (if you want to know more about this topic, I highly recommend "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" by Lewis E. Lawes), especially the fact that for several years, the state of New York ran a "school ship" called the Mercury that was designed as an alternative punishment for juvenile offenders. If a minor (male, of course) was found guilty of a crime, he could be sentenced there instead of to one of the workhouses or prisons for any number of years. Onboard, he would learn the trade of seamanship, with the intention of becoming a sailor upon release. For various reasons this didn't last very long, but I think it is an admirable concept, and I wish that our judicial system offered something similar to rehabilitate troubled kids today.
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Adam On the point and opinion you made regarding 'juvenile rehabilitation' and the justice system: you'd be surprised to learn that there ARE programs for juvenile offenders, albeit not as many or as thorough or fitting to the crime committed, that give these kids something other than a slap on the wrist-bad-boy-dont-ever-do-that-again type of verdicts or that are commonly passed down nowadays or, for repeat offenders, some small time in a juvenile facility which in my mind is going to either work through scaring the kids so that they will never re-offend for fear of coming back to 'that hell' or, on the opposite and more bleak end of the spectrum, get the kids familiar with jails and therefore desensitizing them and kind of making it seem like a 'cool, badge-of-honor' type of story to tell his friends like 'yeah...i was locked up when i was 14 and i made it. i'm a cool, tough-guy'. Well, thank you for listening and for your review as I am in the middle of reading 'A Pickpockets Tale'. bye for now


Hannah thanks, that is an extremely long sentence! yeah, i did know that rehabilitation programs still exist, but it's certainly not our primary means of dealing with criminals, juvenile or adult.


Adam I agree. I won't even get either of a started on the problems with the judicial system in regards to incarceration vs. rehabilitation but, yeah, we have a loooong way to go so far as 'fixing' the system.


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