In 1921, Sing-Sing Prison was known as one of the roughest prisons in the country, housing some of the most violent offenders in America. At that time, Lewis Laws was called to be the new warden at Sing-Sing. And some 20 years later when Warden Laws retired, Sing-Sing had been transformed into an institution where hardened criminals were genuinely changed. Obviously the criminologists wanted to know exactly what had brought about such incredible transformation and when Lewis Laws was interviewed about it he said, “I owe it all to my wonderful wife, Catherine who is now buried outside the prison walls.”
In 1921, Catherine Lewis was a young mother with 3 small children. When friends and family found out that her husband Lewis was to take over as Warden at Sing-Sing, they warned her to never go near that prison. But, she refused to listen. She insisted on getting acquainted with the men. She knew their records and knew what they had done. For instance, she discovered that one convicted murderer was blind and she paid him a visit. As she sat talking with him, she took his hand and asked, “Do you read Braille?” He said, “What’s Braille?” Catherine spent the next many months teaching him how to read. She had to teach herself first, but she willingly did it. Years later, he would weep as he spoke of the love he was shown by Catherine Laws.
Later, Catherine met a deaf mute who was also an inmate. No one had ever taken the time to show him how to communicate through sign language, so Catherine learned herself just so she could teach him. When the first prison basketball game took place, Catherine was there. She sat in the stands with the inmates and brought her three children along. She openly said, “My husband and I take care of these men and I believe they will take care of me.” It would later be said by many that, in those days (from 1921-1937), Catherine Laws was the body of Jesus that came alive and showed selfless love to those hardened inmates at Sing-Sing prison.
Then one day, she was killed in a car accident. The next day, Lewis Laws did not come into work and the assistant Warden took his place. It was said that the prisoners almost instantly knew something was wrong. The following day, Catherine Laws body was resting in a casket in her home, about ¾ of a mile from the prison. That morning, as the acting Warden made his morning rounds, he was shocked to find a large group of the hardest, roughest looking criminals gathered like a herd of animals at the main gate. As he got closer, he saw that nearly every one of the inmates was crying. He knew how much they all loved Catherine. As he turned to the crowd of men, he said, “Alright men, you can go. Just be sure that you check in tonight.” Then he opened the gate and a parade of criminals walked, without guard, the ¾ of a mile to pay their final respects to Catherine Laws. And every single one of them checked back in that night – every single one.