google-site-verification: googlecfaaf308aaa534f1.html
top of page
  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Prisoner 4100

Prisoner 4100, The National Archives
Prisoner 4100, The National Archives
Where do the children play?

I have traveled down a winding path littered with unimaginable actions from our not-too-distant past.

Many have read the first three books in the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series. I am currently penning book four: The Crows' Path.

The task of writing this historical novel came when our world was flipped upside down. I have managed to stay with it, my research and writing, while healing from Lyme, a severe back injury, and Covid.

I recovered from all. The promising news is that I take good care of myself, and the few lingering effects continue to fade. 🙏🏼

My work frequently leads me to places I never imagined going. From the beginning of my research and discovery until now, the inmate piece of this stands out (like a gut punch).


Can you imagine your grandmother with a number bearing the title inmate? How about your seventeen-year-old cousin who is pregnant? Along with the key, lock her up.

I always thought it was bad enough for a worker to lose his arm in a mill accident and his family spirals into poverty, unable to care for him. Not a problem, send him to the County Farm. Try to ease your guilt by never mentioning his name. Give him a number and forget about it. It did not come without deep grief, shame, and regret. This sorrow did not disappear.

THIS IS SOCIAL DEATH Over the years, this phenomenon—collective shame, fear, and guilt—has been illuminated. I have met many people who experience these feelings as a response to my work. I am grateful to have witnessed much healing following their determination and courage to look at the Book of Numbered Souls. When those we love are dis-membered from their homes, families, and community until they are re-membered, the trauma remains. The unearthing spans decades, locations, and various groups of people referred to as "inmates." They were sentenced. This has been troubling for me since the start of my research. Inmates (people) were sentenced to:

County Poor Farm

Insane Asylum

Reform School Orphan Trains

Jail (as young as two years of age).


After the children were taken away from their parents, who were to blame for poverty, drunkenness, theft, and whoredom, they were thrown in the slammer or one of the asylums, foundling homes, charity homes, and so on.

Many lived on the streets, worked in mills, mines, and farms as newsboys, and were placed out via the trains. (They were not called Orphan Trains in real-time.)

Lewis Hine
Lewis Hine

When children were institutionalized, they were stripped of their names and either given a fresh new name (if they were lucky) or were usually issued a number—a new moral identity.

I go in and out of carrying this weight in my heart. It's a process. If you are reading this, know that you are a descendant of these times on some level. Your ancestors were either victims or they were inheritors. The trauma carried on through the generations weaves its way into our lives. Whatever you are living, it did not start with you.

My research unintentionally unraveled some profound family trauma in both lines. As I continue to read and learn, I see that, with or without our awareness, we are all connected to this time in history, the last reset.

There is no room for guilt or finger-pointing, only tapping into our awareness, our knowing field. Trust and love yourself. Most have no idea what was passed down to them.

The Crows' Path is a deep dive into this mysterious world we are built upon and know very little of. We cannot thrive, exist harmoniously, or develop healthily if we have no idea who we are. And I assure you, we don't.

A child in jail without an identity. It matters. I do not own their fate, but I bring light to those souls via acknowledgment. That is always the case.


bottom of page