Chain-gang prisoners are tortured in order to build a highway on time.
Headlines announce a prisoner died in a sweat box. Prisoners wake, wash, and eat breakfast. The chain gang builds a highway. Carter (John Arledge) has blisters and is whipped. Blacksnake Skinner (C. Henry Gordon) sends him to the "hospital," and he is put in the sweat box. The hermit Mathew (Charles Middleton) warns a murderer before he is arrested. Because a spoon is missing, Skinner tells the cook no spoons with the soup. Carter died in the sweat box, and contractor William Billings (Oscar Apfel) called it suicide. At lunch Duke Ellis (Richard Dix) and others ask where Carter is. They demand spoons, and Duke throws food. Billings complains to Skinner the men aren't working. Duke and those locked up shout, "No food, no work."
A commissioner sends F. E. Whiteside (Stanley Fields) to investigate Carter's death. Duke tells Mathew to tell the guard PopEye's fortune to open the door. Duke is free of the chain; but new inmates include his younger brother Johnny Ellis (Tom Brown). Duke and two got out, but Johnny has only 1-5 years; so Duke goes back in. PopEye (Warner P. Richmond) breaks into a house and kills a woman; but this is blamed on the two who escaped and are dead. Duke knows PopEye shot her. Romeo takes Johnny's photo of Mary Ellen (Rochelle Hudson). Duke warns him, but Johnny is whipped and put in the sweat box for fighting. Whiteside tells Skinner he is violating the new law. Duke makes Pop-Eye take him to the sweat box and tells Skinner to take him out. Billings makes Duke agree to finish the road on time if they give Johnny an office job. Maxie (Sandy Roth) takes off his glasses to fight Duke for being a fink, but he can't see. On their one day off per month Mrs. Ellis (Louise Carter) with Mary Ellen visits her sons Duke and Johnny.
Whiteside finds a letter from Billings thanking the maker of the sweat box, and he recommends Johnny for parole. Johnny and Whiteside read an extradition paper for Duke, and Whiteside says he'll get life. Johnny breaks into the weapons locker and gets a gun for Duke, but Duke tells him to take it back. The men get out; but Duke locks Johnny in, because he has only three months left. They lock up the guards and shoot Pop-Eye. Johnny gets out and shoots the lock to free the guards as fire rages. A sheriff gathers a posse. Johnny is shot by a youth. Duke is led to him and carries Johnny toward a doctor. A deaf mute is warned and shot, and others are captured, including Duke and Johnny. Whiteside says Johnny saved the guards. The governor blames Billings for driving the men to it. When Whiteside shows the letter, Billings is arrested. Duke will be a stool pigeon against him, and Mathew tells Duke he can't escape three wives.
This hard-hitting film exposes the sadism and exploitation of the contemporary penal system. Duke sacrifices himself for his younger brother.