Chaplain Reverend Albert M. Ewert

A drawing of Chaplain Albert M. Ewert drawn in 1936 by Alfonzo G. Thomas, a detainee at Jackson State Prison. Courtesy of: Archives of Michigan

Thanksgiving Dinner at Chaplain Ewert's residence. Jackson, MI. 1934. Courtesy of: Archives of Michigan

An art studio at Jackson Prison that was the brainchild of Chaplain Ewert. Courtesy of: Archives of Michigan

Chaplain Reverend Albert Ewert firmly believed that the role of the prison system should be to rehabilitate those placed in its care so that they may reenter society as productive, law abiding citizens. These views fell under what he called a "New Social Concept" which he promoted in his sermons, radio broadcasts, and writing.1

Regarding prisons specifically he proposed a new system of sentencing. Rev. Ewert's plan allowed the judge to determine guilt or innocence only. If found guilty, the prisoner would be remanded to an institution, but without any fixed sentence. Within the prison would be a five-person apolitical committee which would be in daily contact with the prison population. The committee would be comprised of the Warden, the chaplain, a psychologist, the prison's director of education, and a disciplinarian.2 This committee would control the prison's routines and objectives and would determine when an individual prisoner was fit to return to society.

Ewert laid the groundwork for creative programming to be a consistent part of prison life in Michigan and around the country. The rehabilitation Ewert envisioned took many forms: art, poetry, music, athletics, and education--the things that many would say makes us human. Ewert even facilitated the opening of an art studio at Jackson prison and taught classes himself. He also encouraged the prison band and produced a weekly radio broadcast for the public during which the prison musicians performed. Ewert also created a 42 page guide for those who were incarcerated with ways to make "doing their time" a little easier and to help them "get a square deal" when they were released.3

Chaplain Rev. Ewert's career at Jackson State Prison may have been most exemplified on Thanksgiving 1934 when he brought 18 men who were serving time at Jackson to his home to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family, an event that garnered national attention and a great deal of negative press.4 Ewert believed that the goal of prisons should be to improve and teach more than punish. "We've got to get humanity into our prisons or pay the consequences. Brutal police methods and brutal prison treatment are only breeding rebellion and worse crime. We must try honor and humanity, sympathy and science."5

1. Judy Gail Krasnow, Jacktown: History & Hard Times At Michigan’s First State Prison (Charleston: The History Press), 145.

2. Frederick Griffen, “Prisoners of the Air”, Toronto Star Weekly, September 9, 1933, 3

3. Chaplin Rev. Albert Ewert, The Little Book” (Jackson: Jackson State Prison).

4. Detroit Free Press, December 7, 1934, 1.

5. Griffen, “Prisoners of the Air”, 3.