Frank Gouker was a forger who had worked his way into the confidence of the staff and was serving as the mat shop supervisor. His marriage was breaking up on the outside and he felt guilty because he'd used his wife as an accomplice in his last postal fraud. This is one of several letters Gouker wrote to Warden Johnston, all begging the warden to either help him get an early parole, help his wife, or get him transferred to a prison closer to home. What makes it unique is that it is one of the few records we have of Doc Barker's life in prison and that it is one of the few written "snitches" to be found anywhere.
Warden Johnston wrote across the top of the message:
A.W. Check very carefully. JAJ 1/31/38
Apparently the staff either ignored Gouker's letter as a desparate attempt to gain an undeserved transfer or placed its faith in the inescapability of the island prison.
Mr. James A. Johnston
There is a number of men in the prison mat shop that are planning to escape in the near future. They intend to use the dust masks that those men use while working cutting tires. They can make a regular diving mask out of them very easily. A piece of rubber hose and some of the metal tubing that is used to fasten the ends of wires will be all that is needed to breathe underwater.
These men are desparate and will try most any thing [sic] toward escaping. They have been planning to start some trouble in the laundry, in order to get the guard on the model shop to watch them, in order that the men in the mat shop can get into the water.
They intend to use the knives and hatchet to force Mr. Steere and also Mr. Bright in order to tie them up. They may even go so far as to kill them both. I know that they do intend to kill me and also an other prisoner #157 Gill. Because they think that we are in their way and because they also think that I will stop them. Gill is the only one that they think is friend enough to help me in case I needed help.
These men have also tried to get other men in this institution to jump me out in the yard, in order to put me in the hospital, while they leave from the mat shop. Gill warned me the other day (Friday) that they were looking us both over in the yard but I guess the time wasnt [sic] ripe then.
Friday I saw several men in the tire room with a large rubber intertube [sic]. Whether it was a whole tube or not I cannot say. Saturday one of them asked me for some glue. What would they want glue for, if not for water wings? I also saw one of them describe a pair of water wings, how they were shaped.
Now sir, there is a bunch of men in the mat shop out of the State of Oklahoma, and there is also a bunch of colored bank robbers out of Chicago. The ones from Okla. rib the colored boys up to make them think they are tough. And also to make them think they are big shots. What they are really doing is to fix it so that the colored boys will be the goats when the time comes around. One of them (Martin) is so overbearing I asked Mr. Steere several weeks ago to have him taken out of the shop. Gill & I have to watch him all the time to keep from having him sneak up behind us and knock us in the head.
Those men figure on having masks so they can breathe under water, but the colored boys will be left without any and will have to hit [?] the top of the water. I don't think the colored boys know that the other fellows have something to go under water with. I think they have been told that there will be a boat to pick them up.
Now Warden, after telling this my life isn't worth a nickel. Those men have friends inside and out, and in other penitentiarys [sic]. There is plenty of them in here that are mixed up in this, that I dont [sic] know about, and they will get me the first chance. I know that better than any of you. Can't you have me transfered [sic] to another institution immediately?
By doing this I am trying to save the lives of a couple of officers of this institution and the lord only knows how many more lives on the out side by keeping these mad dogs here. These men are desperate.
The ones that are planning to go are Doc Barker, Rufus Franklin, Karpis & Jim Clark. I know for a fact that Barker & Franklin are getting ready as they are the ones that had the tube and wanted the glue. Whether Campbell and McCain are going I cant say, but I do know this, that McCain is the one that is ribbing the colored boys to start trouble. He doesn't know I know it, but I was tipped off by another fellow. He has been doing it for the past month.
Ever since the last strike there has been more & more trouble brewing in the Mat shop. They ribbed a half crazy sailor to start it. I told him flatly that I wasn't going to strike for any of them and that really took the lid off down there as I've had nothing but grief since.
Now Warden, can't you find it in your heart to have me transfered some where immediately? I happen to know that I will get hurt badly if not killed if I am not transfered mighty soon. As all these men have pardners and friends here and I have no one. So please think this over carefully.
Mr. Miller the Associate Warden & Mr. Steere will tell you how easily it can be done to make a diving helmet out of one of those dust masks. I was going to tell this to you yesterday but wanted Mr. Steere to be here as he knows the blacksmith shop & mat shop better than any one here. Hoping you can have me transfered soon as my life is really in danger.
#156 Frank Gouker