10/08/1935Tom B: White Likes to Talk About Crops and Animals, Like Valley Grower Instead of Head of Jail
Warden Tom B. White likes to talk about his crops and his animals at the Federal Detention Farm, 20 miles up the Valley. A blond giant, six-feet-four, he takes you about the place talking in his quiet voice and voicing a homespun chuckle at some incident.
He talks about, "my corn" and "my alfalfa" like a farmer whose existence depends on the success of his crops rather than a man at the head of a prison with 502 men who are serving sentences on criminal charges.
"That last flood certainly wrecked my sweet potatoes," he said.
He was walking about the farm headquarters under the shadow of a silo which has a 10.000 gallon water tank at its top. If the flood had reached the silo it would have been a minor disaster.
"I had a fine crop of beans coming on," Warden White said. "Now you can't get a mess for one meal. But we are going to have a rabbit dinner next week."
Has Rabbit Hospital
Hundreds of baby rabbits in specially built hutches of the warden's own design were nibbling at alfalfa and barley and drinking fresh water from tin troughs.
“A man that could kill those babies has a hard heart," the prison official said. "But they are good eating. It takes about 135 for one meal. I can serve them for 12 cents a pound."
The warden pointed at what looked like a playhouse.
“'That's my idea of what a rabbit hospital ought to be like," he said with pride.
He designed it. The lower part of the hospital is boxed to keep out the wind. The flooring of wire netting is several inches above the ground. A curtain is dropped in front.
"I have not had a patient since I went to Ft. Bliss for advice from the veterinarian," the warden said.
Ft. Bliss Aids Warden
Ft. Bliss officials co-operate with the warden. Many of his farm buildings and much of his equipment is made from salvaged material from the post. He has eight Army mules doing; good work on the farm. They once were "sentenced" to die. The fresh air has rejuvenated them and several horses that Warden White and his guards ride about the farm and prison grounds.
Gleaming white, the Spanish designed prison with enclosed courts of green grass and brilliant flowers has little of the air of a prison. The prisoners play ball in the back court. In the spotless dining room, where more than half the 502 can be seated at one time, they were cutting icecold watermelon. The melons are the warden's pride.
Pork from the "White farm" is served to prisoners at a cost of 12 cents a pound. A flock of turkeys is coming on for Thanksgiving. It will take 3310 pounds for one meal. Mr. White waved his arm at a duck pond.
"You have to have clear water and a good-sized pond if you want healthy ducks and nice eggs," he drawled.
The man who escaped miraculously from death at Leavenworth in 1931, when seven prisoners armed with smuggled dynamite and guns took him along as a hostage in an escape attempt, and shot his chest and left arm, full of holes, does not approve of radios or movies in his prison.
"They get up their own entertainments," he said. "That gives them something to do instead of the chance to complain about the bad programs."
Mr. and Mrs. White belong to El Paso. The warden plays golf every Sunday afternoon at the Country Club. He is a Rotarian, the only warden Rotarian in the country, and a member of the First Baptist Church. Many informal dinners for their El Paso friends are served at the spacious Spanish home, a half block from the prison.