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Tucker Telephone

The “Tucker Telephone” was a torture device invented in Arkansas and regularly used at the Tucker State Prison Farm (now the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction) in Jefferson County. It was likely used on inmates until the 1970s.

The Tucker Telephone consisted of an old-fashioned crank telephone wired in sequence with two batteries. Electrodes coming from it were attached to a prisoner’s big toe and genitals. The electrical components of the phone were modified so that cranking the telephone sent an electric shock through the prisoner’s body. The device was reputedly constructed in the 1960s by, depending upon the source, a former trusty in the prison, a prison superintendent, or an inmate doctor; it was administered as a form of punishment, usually in the prison hospital. In prison parlance, a “long-distance call” was a series of electric shocks in a row.

The name Tucker Prison evoked scenes of sadism and brutality prior to the prison reform initiatives put forward by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. According to a February 20, 1967, Newsweek report, inmates were punished with beatings, whippings, torture with pliers, and needles put under their fingernails, in addition to the use of the Tucker Telephone. Much of the abuse was carried out by guards and the prison trusties who reported to them. The 1980 movie Brubaker, loosely inspired by events within the Arkansas prison system, depicts an inmate named Abraham being tortured with the Tucker Telephone.

Devices similar to the Tucker Telephone have been employed up to the present day. A Tucker Telephone was allegedly used in a Chicago violent crime unit managed by Lieutenant Jon Burge to torture suspects during the 1980s. During the Vietnam War, some American GIs reportedly converted their field phones into torture devices, and something like the Tucker Telephone was used by American interrogators to torture Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

For additional information:
“Arkansas: Down on the Farm.” Newsweek, February 9, 1968, pp. 39–40.

Crosley, Clyde. Unfolding Misconceptions: The Arkansas State Penitentiary, 1836–1986. Arlington, TX: Liberal Arts Press, 1986.

“Hell in Arkansas.” Time, February 9, 1968, p. 74. Online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,844402,00.html (accessed March 26, 2007).

Murton, Tom, and Joe Hyams. Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal. New York: Grove Press, 1969.

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 11/4/2011

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