Thomas Cleveland Holt
The Problem of Freedom: race, labor and politics in Jamaica and Britain 1832 - 1938
Invented by Samuel Cubitt in 1818, the treadmill had come into widespread use in England as a result of the efforts of the Prison Discipline Society, a group intent on reforming the English prison system. The device consisted of a hollow cylinder of wood on an iron frame with a series of steps around its circumference. With wrists strapped to a bar above the machine, the prisoner was faced to turn the wheel continuously by walking the steps, or “dancing the treadmill”. The treadmill was considered a rational and humane way to impose discipline. In fact, it combined the two senses of “discipline” - punishment and routinized labour … Throughout the apprenticeship period disturbing reports were being received in England that workhouses and jails of Jamaica were not conforming to the rational, reform ideal. Instead, treadmills - so poorly constructed that they whipped and lacerated the prisoners rather than simply “worked” them - had become instruments of torture … The treadmill became emblematic of the abuses of the Jamaican prison system, which in turn symbolized that colony’s general failure to make the transition from a slave to a free society.