"To maintain the silence there had to be terrible punishments for talking," McHugh said.
Despite the extreme nature of the incarceration, the Auburn plan was held up as a model for other prisons. New York State even turned a profit by contracting out the labor of the convicts.
"It was perceived to be hugely successful," McHugh said. "People came from all over the world to visit Auburn prison and they went back to where they came from and they built prisons just like it."
Today the prison carries on its job of incarcerating New York convicts, but the public isn't allowed to view the prison due to privacy laws. In a rare 2003 tour McHugh was able to go in and see what the Auburn prison looks like in the 21st century. She was left with a distinct impression.
"I went home and told my kids 'never get in trouble.' To me it was just like you'd think it would be -- it's very grim. You can see in the photos (from the book) there used to be lush gardens and lots of trees in the yard. Now it's just grim everywhere."
McHugh will be talking again on the subject on at 7 p.m. June 22 at Seymour Library in Auburn. Admission is free and copies of her book will be available for $22. Proceeds from the book go to Cayuga Museum of History and Art. For more information, call the library at 252-2571.