Part 1 out of 6
This etext was prepared from the 1915 Mills & Boon edition
by David Price, email email@example.com
All my life I have had an awareness of other times and places. I
have been aware of other persons in me.--Oh, and trust me, so have
you, my reader that is to be. Read back into your childhood, and
this sense of awareness I speak of will be remembered as an
experience of your childhood. You were then not fixed, not
crystallized. You were plastic, a soul in flux, a consciousness and
an identity in the process of forming--ay, of forming and
You have forgotten much, my reader, and yet, as you read these
lines, you remember dimly the hazy vistas of other times and places
into which your child eyes peered. They seem dreams to you to-day.
Yet, if they were dreams, dreamed then, whence the substance of
them? Our dreams are grotesquely compounded of the things we know.
The stuff of our sheerest dreams is the stuff of our experience. As
a child, a wee child, you dreamed you fell great heights; you
dreamed you flew through the air as things of the air fly; you were
vexed by crawling spiders and many-legged creatures of the slime;
you heard other voices, saw other faces nightmarishly familiar, and
gazed upon sunrises and sunsets other than you know now, looking
back, you ever looked upon.
Very well. These child glimpses are of other-worldness, of other-
lifeness, of things that you had never seen in this particular world
of your particular life. Then whence? Other lives? Other worlds?
Perhaps, when you have read all that I shall write, you will have
received answers to the perplexities I have propounded to you, and
that you yourself, ere you came to read me, propounded to yourself.
Wordsworth knew. He was neither seer nor prophet, but just ordinary
man like you or any man. What he knew, you know, any man knows.
But he most aptly stated it in his passage that begins "Not in utter
nakedness, not in entire forgetfulness. . ."
Ah, truly, shades of the prison-house close about us, the new-born
things, and all too soon do we forget. And yet, when we were new-
born we did remember other times and places. We, helpless infants
in arms or creeping quadruped-like on the floor, dreamed our dreams
of air-flight. Yes; and we endured the torment and torture of
nightmare fears of dim and monstrous things. We new-born infants,
without experience, were born with fear, with memory of fear; and
MEMORY IS EXPERIENCE.
As for myself, at the beginnings of my vocabulary, at so tender a
period that I still made hunger noises and sleep noises, yet even
then did I know that I had been a star-rover. Yes, I, whose lips
had never lisped the word "king," remembered that I had once been
the son of a king. More--I remembered that once I had been a slave
and a son of a slave, and worn an iron collar round my neck.
Still more. When I was three, and four, and five years of age, I
was not yet I. I was a mere becoming, a flux of spirit not yet
cooled solid in the mould of my particular flesh and time and place.
In that period all that I had ever been in ten thousand lives before
strove in me, and troubled the flux of me, in the effort to
incorporate itself in me and become me.
Silly, isn't it? But remember, my reader, whom I hope to have
travel far with me through time and space--remember, please, my
reader, that I have thought much on these matters, that through
bloody nights and sweats of dark that lasted years-long, I have been
alone with my many selves to consult and contemplate my many selves.
I have gone through the hells of all existences to bring you news
which you will share with me in a casual comfortable hour over my
So, to return, I say, during the ages of three and four and five, I
was not yet I. I was merely becoming as I took form in the mould of
my body, and all the mighty, indestructible past wrought in the
mixture of me to determine what the form of that becoming would be.
It was not my voice that cried out in the night in fear of things
known, which I, forsooth, did not and could not know. The same with
my childish angers, my loves, and my laughters. Other voices
screamed through my voice, the voices of men and women aforetime, of
all shadowy hosts of progenitors. And the snarl of my anger was
blended with the snarls of beasts more ancient than the mountains,
and the vocal madness of my child hysteria, with all the red of its
wrath, was chorded with the insensate, stupid cries of beasts pre-
Adamic and progeologic in time.
And there the secret is out. The red wrath! It has undone me in
this, my present life. Because of it, a few short weeks hence, I
shall be led from this cell to a high place with unstable flooring,
graced above by a well-stretched rope; and there they will hang me
by the neck until I am dead. The red wrath always has undone me in
all my lives; for the red wrath is my disastrous catastrophic
heritage from the time of the slimy things ere the world was prime.
It is time that I introduce myself. I am neither fool nor lunatic.
I want you to know that, in order that you will believe the things I
shall tell you. I am Darrell Standing. Some few of you who read
this will know me immediately. But to the majority, who are bound
to be strangers, let me exposit myself. Eight years ago I was
Professor of Agronomics in the College of Agriculture of the
University of California. Eight years ago the sleepy little
university town of Berkeley was shocked by the murder of Professor
Haskell in one of the laboratories of the Mining Building. Darrell
Standing was the murderer.
I am Darrell Standing. I was caught red-handed. Now the right and
the wrong of this affair with Professor Haskell I shall not discuss.
It was purely a private matter. The point is, that in a surge of
anger, obsessed by that catastrophic red wrath that has cursed me
down the ages, I killed my fellow professor. The court records show
that I did; and, for once, I agree with the court records.
No; I am not to be hanged for his murder. I received a life-
sentence for my punishment. I was thirty-six years of age at the
time. I am now forty-four years old. I have spent the eight
intervening years in the California State Prison of San Quentin.
Five of these years I spent in the dark. Solitary confinement, they
call it. Men who endure it, call it living death. But through
these five years of death-in-life I managed to attain freedom such
as few men have ever known. Closest-confined of prisoners, not only
did I range the world, but I ranged time. They who immured me for
petty years gave to me, all unwittingly, the largess of centuries.
Truly, thanks to Ed Morrell, I have had five years of star-roving.
But Ed Morrell is another story. I shall tell you about him a
little later. I have so much to tell I scarce know how to begin.
Well, a beginning. I was born on a quarter-section in Minnesota.
My mother was the daughter of an immigrant Swede. Her name was
Hilda Tonnesson. My father was Chauncey Standing, of old American
stock. He traced back to Alfred Standing, an indentured servant, or
slave if you please, who was transported from England to the
Virginia plantations in the days that were even old when the
youthful Washington went a-surveying in the Pennsylvania wilderness.
A son of Alfred Standing fought in the War of the Revolution; a
grandson, in the War of 1812. There have been no wars since in
which the Standings have not been represented. I, the last of the
Standings, dying soon without issue, fought as a common soldier in
the Philippines, in our latest war, and to do so I resigned, in the
full early ripeness of career, my professorship in the University of
Nebraska. Good heavens, when I so resigned I was headed for the
Deanship of the College of Agriculture in that university--I, the
star-rover, the red-blooded adventurer, the vagabondish Cain of the
centuries, the militant priest of remotest times, the moon-dreaming
poet of ages forgotten and to-day unrecorded in man's history of
And here I am, my hands dyed red in Murderers' Row, in the State
Prison of Folsom, awaiting the day decreed by the machinery of state
when the servants of the state will lead me away into what they
fondly believe is the dark--the dark they fear; the dark that gives
them fearsome and superstitious fancies; the dark that drives them,
drivelling and yammering, to the altars of their fear-created,
No; I shall never be Dean of any college of agriculture. And yet I
knew agriculture. It was my profession. I was born to it, reared
to it, trained to it; and I was a master of it. It was my genius.
I can pick the high-percentage butter-fat cow with my eye and let
the Babcock Tester prove the wisdom of my eye. I can look, not at
land, but at landscape, and pronounce the virtues and the
shortcomings of the soil. Litmus paper is not necessary when I
determine a soil to be acid or alkali. I repeat, farm-husbandry, in
its highest scientific terms, was my genius, and is my genius. And
yet the state, which includes all the citizens of the state,
believes that it can blot out this wisdom of mine in the final dark
by means of a rope about my neck and the abruptive jerk of
gravitation--this wisdom of mine that was incubated through the
millenniums, and that was well-hatched ere the farmed fields of Troy
were ever pastured by the flocks of nomad shepherds!
Corn? Who else knows corn? There is my demonstration at Wistar,
whereby I increased the annual corn-yield of every county in Iowa by
half a million dollars. This is history. Many a farmer, riding in
his motor-car to-day, knows who made possible that motor-car. Many
a sweet-bosomed girl and bright-browed boy, poring over high-school
text-books, little dreams that I made that higher education possible
by my corn demonstration at Wistar.
And farm management! I know the waste of superfluous motion without
studying a moving picture record of it, whether it be farm or farm-
hand, the layout of buildings or the layout of the farm-hands'
labour. There is my handbook and tables on the subject. Beyond the
shadow of any doubt, at this present moment, a hundred thousand
farmers are knotting their brows over its spread pages ere they tap
out their final pipe and go to bed. And yet, so far was I beyond my
tables, that all I needed was a mere look at a man to know his
predispositions, his co-ordinations, and the index fraction of his
And here I must close this first chapter of my narrative. It is
nine o'clock, and in Murderers' Row that means lights out. Even
now, I hear the soft tread of the gum-shoed guard as he comes to
censure me for my coal-oil lamp still burning. As if the mere
living could censure the doomed to die!
I am Darrell Standing. They are going to take me out and hang me
pretty soon. In the meantime I say my say, and write in these pages
of the other times and places.
After my sentence, I came to spend the rest of my "natural life" in
the prison of San Quentin. I proved incorrigible. An incorrigible
is a terrible human being--at least such is the connotation of
"incorrigible" in prison psychology. I became an incorrigible
because I abhorred waste motion. The prison, like all prisons, was
a scandal and an affront of waste motion. They put me in the jute-
mill. The criminality of wastefulness irritated me. Why should it
not? Elimination of waste motion was my speciality. Before the
invention of steam or steam-driven looms three thousand years
before, I had rotted in prison in old Babylon; and, trust me, I
speak the truth when I say that in that ancient day we prisoners
wove more efficiently on hand-looms than did the prisoners in the
steam-powered loom-rooms of San Quentin.
The crime of waste was abhorrent. I rebelled. I tried to show the
guards a score or so of more efficient ways. I was reported. I was
given the dungeon and the starvation of light and food. I emerged
and tried to work in the chaos of inefficiency of the loom-rooms. I
rebelled. I was given the dungeon, plus the strait-jacket. I was
spread-eagled, and thumbed-up, and privily beaten by the stupid
guards whose totality of intelligence was only just sufficient to
show them that I was different from them and not so stupid.
Two years of this witless persecution I endured. It is terrible for
a man to be tied down and gnawed by rats. The stupid brutes of
guards were rats, and they gnawed the intelligence of me, gnawed all
the fine nerves of the quick of me and of the consciousness of me.
And I, who in my past have been a most valiant fighter, in this
present life was no fighter at all. I was a farmer, an
agriculturist, a desk-tied professor, a laboratory slave, interested
only in the soil and the increase of the productiveness of the soil.
I fought in the Philippines because it was the tradition of the
Standings to fight. I had no aptitude for fighting. It was all too
ridiculous, the introducing of disruptive foreign substances into
the bodies of little black men-folk. It was laughable to behold
Science prostituting all the might of its achievement and the wit of
its inventors to the violent introducing of foreign substances into
the bodies of black folk.
As I say, in obedience to the tradition of the Standings I went to
war and found that I had no aptitude for war. So did my officers
find me out, because they made me a quartermaster's clerk, and as a
clerk, at a desk, I fought through the Spanish-American War.
So it was not because I was a fighter, but because I was a thinker,
that I was enraged by the motion-wastage of the loom-rooms and was
persecuted by the guards into becoming an "incorrigible." One's
brain worked and I was punished for its working. As I told Warden
Atherton, when my incorrigibility had become so notorious that he
had me in on the carpet in his private office to plead with me; as I
told him then:
"It is so absurd, my dear Warden, to think that your rat-throttlers
of guards can shake out of my brain the things that are clear and
definite in my brain. The whole organization of this prison is
stupid. You are a politician. You can weave the political pull of
San Francisco saloon-men and ward heelers into a position of graft
such as this one you occupy; but you can't weave jute. Your loom-
rooms are fifty years behind the times. . . ."
But why continue the tirade?--for tirade it was. I showed him what
a fool he was, and as a result he decided that I was a hopeless
Give a dog a bad name--you know the saw. Very well. Warden
Atherton gave the final sanction to the badness of my name. I was
fair game. More than one convict's dereliction was shunted off on
me, and was paid for by me in the dungeon on bread and water, or in
being triced up by the thumbs on my tip-toes for long hours, each
hour of which was longer than any life I have ever lived.
Intelligent men are cruel. Stupid men are monstrously cruel. The
guards and the men over me, from the Warden down, were stupid
monsters. Listen, and you shall learn what they did to me. There
was a poet in the prison, a convict, a weak-chinned, broad-browed,
degenerate poet. He was a forger. He was a coward. He was a
snitcher. He was a stool--strange words for a professor of
agronomics to use in writing, but a professor of agronomics may well
learn strange words when pent in prison for the term of his natural
This poet-forger's name was Cecil Winwood. He had had prior
convictions, and yet, because he was a snivelling cur of a yellow
dog, his last sentence had been only for seven years. Good credits
would materially reduce this time. My time was life. Yet this
miserable degenerate, in order to gain several short years of
liberty for himself, succeeded in adding a fair portion of eternity
to my own life-time term.
I shall tell what happened the other way around, for it was only
after a weary period that I learned. This Cecil Winwood, in order
to curry favour with the Captain of the Yard, and thence the Warden,
the Prison Directors, the Board of Pardons, and the Governor of
California, framed up a prison-break. Now note three things: (a)
Cecil Winwood was so detested by his fellow-convicts that they would
not have permitted him to bet an ounce of Bull Durham on a bed-bug
race--and bed-bug racing was a great sport with the convicts; (b) I
was the dog that had been given a bad name: (c) for his frame-up,
Cecil Winwood needed the dogs with bad names, the lifetimers, the
desperate ones, the incorrigibles.
But the lifers detested Cecil Winwood, and, when he approached them
with his plan of a wholesale prison-break, they laughed at him and
turned away with curses for the stool that he was. But he fooled
them in the end, forty of the bitterest-wise ones in the pen. He
approached them again and again. He told of his power in the prison
by virtue of his being trusty in the Warden's office, and because of
the fact that he had the run of the dispensary.
"Show me," said Long Bill Hodge, a mountaineer doing life for train
robbery, and whose whole soul for years had been bent on escaping in
order to kill the companion in robbery who had turned state's
evidence on him.
Cecil Winwood accepted the test. He claimed that he could dope the
guards the night of the break.
"Talk is cheap," said Long Bill Hodge. "What we want is the goods.
Dope one of the guards to-night. There's Barnum. He's no good. He
beat up that crazy Chink yesterday in Bughouse Alley--when he was
off duty, too. He's on the night watch. Dope him to-night an' make
him lose his job. Show me, and we'll talk business with you."
All this Long Bill told me in the dungeons afterward. Cecil Winwood
demurred against the immediacy of the demonstration. He claimed
that he must have time in which to steal the dope from the
dispensary. They gave him the time, and a week later he announced
that he was ready. Forty hard-bitten lifers waited for the guard
Barnum to go to sleep on his shift. And Barnum did. He was found
asleep, and he was discharged for sleeping on duty.
Of course, that convinced the lifers. But there was the Captain of
the Yard to convince. To him, daily, Cecil Winwood was reporting
the progress of the break--all fancied and fabricated in his own
imagination. The Captain of the Yard demanded to be shown. Winwood
showed him, and the full details of the showing I did not learn
until a year afterward, so slowly do the secrets of prison intrigue
Winwood said that the forty men in the break, in whose confidence he
was, had already such power in the Prison that they were about to
begin smuggling in automatic pistols by means of the guards they had
"Show me," the Captain of the Yard must have demanded.
And the forger-poet showed him. In the Bakery, night work was a
regular thing. One of the convicts, a baker, was on the first
night-shift. He was a stool of the Captain of the Yard, and Winwood
"To-night," he told the Captain, "Summerface will bring in a dozen
'44 automatics. On his next time off he'll bring in the ammunition.
But to-night he'll turn the automatics over to me in the bakery.
You've got a good stool there. He'll make you his report to-
Now Summerface was a strapping figure of a bucolic guard who hailed
from Humboldt County. He was a simple-minded, good-natured dolt and
not above earning an honest dollar by smuggling in tobacco for the
convicts. On that night, returning from a trip to San Francisco, he
brought in with him fifteen pounds of prime cigarette tobacco. He
had done this before, and delivered the stuff to Cecil Winwood. So,
on that particular night, he, all unwitting, turned the stuff over
to Winwood in the bakery. It was a big, solid, paper-wrapped bundle
of innocent tobacco. The stool baker, from concealment, saw the
package delivered to Winwood and so reported to the Captain of the
Yard next morning.
But in the meantime the poet-forger's too-lively imagination ran
away with him. He was guilty of a slip that gave me five years of
solitary confinement and that placed me in this condemned cell in
which I now write. And all the time I knew nothing about it. I did
not even know of the break he had inveigled the forty lifers into
planning. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing. And the rest knew
little. The lifers did not know he was giving them the cross. The
Captain of the Yard did not know that the cross know was being
worked on him. Summerface was the most innocent of all. At the
worst, his conscience could have accused him only of smuggling in
some harmless tobacco.
And now to the stupid, silly, melodramatic slip of Cecil Winwood.
Next morning, when he encountered the Captain of the Yard, he was
triumphant. His imagination took the bit in its teeth.
"Well, the stuff came in all right as you said," the captain of the
"And enough of it to blow half the prison sky-high," Winwood
"Enough of what?" the Captain demanded.
"Dynamite and detonators," the fool rattled on. "Thirty-five pounds
of it. Your stool saw Summerface pass it over to me."
And right there the Captain of the Yard must have nearly died. I
can actually sympathize with him--thirty-five pounds of dynamite
loose in the prison.
They say that Captain Jamie--that was his nickname--sat down and
held his head in his hands.
"Where is it now?" he cried. "I want it. Take me to it at once."
And right there Cecil Winwood saw his mistake.
"I planted it," he lied--for he was compelled to lie because, being
merely tobacco in small packages, it was long since distributed
among the convicts along the customary channels.
"Very well," said Captain Jamie, getting himself in hand. "Lead me
to it at once."
But there was no plant of high explosives to lead him to. The thing
did not exist, had never existed save in the imagination of the
In a large prison like San Quentin there are always hiding-places
for things. And as Cecil Winwood led Captain Jamie he must have
done some rapid thinking.
As Captain Jamie testified before the Board of Directors, and as
Winwood also so testified, on the way to the hiding-place Winwood
said that he and I had planted the powder together.
And I, just released from five days in the dungeons and eighty hours
in the jacket; I, whom even the stupid guards could see was too weak
to work in the loom-room; I, who had been given the day off to
recuperate--from too terrible punishment--I was named as the one who
had helped hide the non-existent thirty-five pounds of high
Winwood led Captain Jamie to the alleged hiding-place. Of course
they found no dynamite in it.
"My God!" Winwood lied. "Standing has given me the cross. He's
lifted the plant and stowed it somewhere else."
The Captain of the Yard said more emphatic things than "My God!"
Also, on the spur of the moment but cold-bloodedly, he took Winwood
into his own private office, looked the doors, and beat him up
frightfully--all of which came out before the Board of Directors.
But that was afterward. In the meantime, even while he took his
beating, Winwood swore by the truth of what he had told.
What was Captain Jamie to do? He was convinced that thirty-five
pounds of dynamite were loose in the prison and that forty desperate
lifers were ready for a break. Oh, he had Summerface in on the
carpet, and, although Summerface insisted the package contained
tobacco, Winwood swore it was dynamite and was believed.
At this stage I enter or, rather, I depart, for they took me away
out of the sunshine and the light of day to the dungeons, and in the
dungeons and in the solitary cells, out of the sunshine and the
light of day, I rotted for five years.
I was puzzled. I had only just been released from the dungeons, and
was lying pain-racked in my customary cell, when they took me back
to the dungeon.
"Now," said Winwood to Captain Jamie, "though we don't know where it
is, the dynamite is safe. Standing is the only man who does know,
and he can't pass the word out from the dungeon. The men are ready
to make the break. We can catch them red-handed. It is up to me to
set the time. I'll tell them two o'clock to-night and tell them
that, with the guards doped, I'll unlock their cells and give them
their automatics. If, at two o'clock to-night, you don't catch the
forty I shall name with their clothes on and wide awake, then,
Captain, you can give me solitary for the rest of my sentence. And
with Standing and the forty tight in the dungeons, we'll have all
the time in the world to locate the dynamite."
"If we have to tear the prison down stone by stone," Captain Jamie
That was six years ago. In all the intervening time they have never
found that non-existent explosive, and they have turned the prison
upside-down a thousand times in searching for it. Nevertheless, to
his last day in office Warden Atherton believed in the existence of
that dynamite. Captain Jamie, who is still Captain of the Yard,
believes to this day that the dynamite is somewhere in the prison.
Only yesterday, he came all the way up from San Quentin to Folsom to
make one more effort to get me to reveal the hiding-place. I know
he will never breathe easy until they swing me off.
All that day I lay in the dungeon cudgelling my brains for the
reason of this new and inexplicable punishment. All I could
conclude was that some stool had lied an infraction of the rules on
me in order to curry favour with the guards.
Meanwhile Captain Jamie fretted his head off and prepared for the
night, while Winwood passed the word along to the forty lifers to be
ready for the break. And two hours after midnight every guard in
the prison was under orders. This included the day-shift which
should have been asleep. When two o'clock came, they rushed the
cells occupied by the forty. The rush was simultaneous. The cells
were opened at the same moment, and without exception the men named
by Winwood were found out of their bunks, fully dressed, and
crouching just inside their doors. Of course, this was verification
absolute of all the fabric of lies that the poet-forger had spun for
Captain Jamie. The forty lifers were caught in red-handed readiness
for the break. What if they did unite, afterward, in averring that
the break had been planned by Winwood? The Prison Board of
Directors believed, to a man, that the forty lied in an effort to
save themselves. The Board of Pardons likewise believed, for, ere
three months were up, Cecil Winwood, forger and poet, most
despicable of men, was pardoned out.
Oh, well, the stir, or the pen, as they call it in convict argot, is
a training school for philosophy. No inmate can survive years of it
without having had burst for him his fondest illusions and fairest
metaphysical bubbles. Truth lives, we are taught; murder will out.
Well, this is a demonstration that murder does not always come out.
The Captain of the Yard, the late Warden Atherton, the Prison Board
of Directors to a man--all believe, right now, in the existence of
that dynamite that never existed save in the slippery-geared and all
too-accelerated brain of the degenerate forger and poet, Cecil
Winwood. And Cecil Winwood still lives, while I, of all men
concerned, the utterest, absolutist, innocentest, go to the scaffold
in a few short weeks.
And now I must tell how entered the forty lifers upon my dungeon
stillness. I was asleep when the outer door to the corridor of
dungeons clanged open and aroused me. "Some poor devil," was my
thought; and my next thought was that he was surely getting his, as
I listened to the scuffling of feet, the dull impact of blows on
flesh, the sudden cries of pain, the filth of curses, and the sounds
of dragging bodies. For, you see, every man was man-handled all the
length of the way.
Dungeon-door after dungeon-door clanged open, and body after body
was thrust in, flung in, or dragged in. And continually more groups
of guards arrived with more beaten convicts who still were being
beaten, and more dungeon-doors were opened to receive the bleeding
frames of men who were guilty of yearning after freedom.
Yes, as I look back upon it, a man must be greatly a philosopher to
survive the continual impact of such brutish experiences through the
years and years. I am such a philosopher. I have endured eight
years of their torment, and now, in the end, failing to get rid of
me in all other ways, they have invoked the machinery of state to
put a rope around my neck and shut off my breath by the weight of my
body. Oh, I know how the experts give expert judgment that the fall
through the trap breaks the victim's neck. And the victims, like
Shakespeare's traveller, never return to testify to the contrary.
But we who have lived in the stir know of the cases that are hushed
in the prison crypts, where the victim's necks are not broken.
It is a funny thing, this hanging of a man. I have never seen a
hanging, but I have been told by eye-witnesses the details of a
dozen hangings so that I know what will happen to me. Standing on
the trap, leg-manacled and arm-manacled, the knot against the neck,
the black cap drawn, they will drop me down until the momentum of my
descending weight is fetched up abruptly short by the tautening of
the rope. Then the doctors will group around me, and one will
relieve another in successive turns in standing on a stool, his arms
passed around me to keep me from swinging like a pendulum, his ear
pressed close to my chest, while he counts my fading heart-beats.
Sometimes twenty minutes elapse after the trap is sprung ere the
heart stops beating. Oh, trust me, they make most scientifically
sure that a man is dead once they get him on a rope.
I still wander aside from my narrative to ask a question or two of
society. I have a right so to wander and so to question, for in a
little while they are going to take me out and do this thing to me.
If the neck of the victim be broken by the alleged shrewd
arrangement of knot and noose, and by the alleged shrewd calculation
of the weight of the victim and the length of slack, then why do
they manacle the arms of the victim? Society, as a whole, is unable
to answer this question. But I know why; so does any amateur who
ever engaged in a lynching bee and saw the victim throw up his
hands, clutch the rope, and ease the throttle of the noose about his
neck so that he might breathe.
Another question I will ask of the smug, cotton-wooled member of
society, whose soul has never strayed to the red hells. Why do they
put the black cap over the head and the face of the victim ere they
drop him through the trap? Please remember that in a short while
they will put that black cap over my head. So I have a right to
ask. Do they, your hang-dogs, O smug citizen, do these your hang-
dogs fear to gaze upon the facial horror of the horror they
perpetrate for you and ours and at your behest?
Please remember that I am not asking this question in the twelve-
hundredth year after Christ, nor in the time of Christ, nor in the
twelve-hundredth year before Christ. I, who am to be hanged this
year, the nineteen-hundred-and-thirteenth after Christ, ask these
questions of you who are assumably Christ's followers, of you whose
hang-dogs are going to take me out and hide my face under a black
cloth because they dare not look upon the horror they do to me while
I yet live.
And now back to the situation in the dungeons. When the last guard
departed and the outer door clanged shut, all the forty beaten,
disappointed men began to talk and ask questions. But, almost
immediately, roaring like a bull in order to be heard, Skysail Jack,
a giant sailor of a lifer, ordered silence while a census could be
taken. The dungeons were full, and dungeon by dungeon, in order of
dungeons, shouted out its quota to the roll-call. Thus, every
dungeon was accounted for as occupied by trusted convicts, so that
there was no opportunity for a stool to be hidden away and
Of me, only, were the convicts dubious, for I was the one man who
had not been in the plot. They put me through a searching
examination. I could but tell them how I had just emerged from
dungeon and jacket in the morning, and without rhyme or reason, so
far as I could discover, had been put back in the dungeon after
being out only several hours. My record as an incorrigible was in
my favour, and soon they began to talk.
As I lay there and listened, for the first time I learned of the
break that had been a-hatching. "Who had squealed?" was their one
quest, and throughout the night the quest was pursued. The quest
for Cecil Winwood was vain, and the suspicion against him was
"There's only one thing, lads," Skysail Jack finally said. "It'll
soon be morning, and then they'll take us out and give us bloody
hell. We were caught dead to rights with our clothes on. Winwood
crossed us and squealed. They're going to get us out one by one and
mess us up. There's forty of us. Any lyin's bound to be found out.
So each lad, when they sweat him, just tells the truth, the whole
truth, so help him God."
And there, in that dark hole of man's inhumanity, from dungeon cell
to dungeon cell, their mouths against the gratings, the two-score
lifers solemnly pledged themselves before God to tell the truth.
Little good did their truth-telling do them. At nine o'clock the
guards, paid bravoes of the smug citizens who constitute the state,
full of meat and sleep, were upon us. Not only had we had no
breakfast, but we had had no water. And beaten men are prone to
feverishness. I wonder, my reader, if you can glimpse or guess the
faintest connotation of a man beaten--"beat up," we prisoners call
it. But no, I shall not tell you. Let it suffice to know that
these beaten, feverish men lay seven hours without water.
At nine the guards arrived. There were not many of them. There was
no need for many, because they unlocked only one dungeon at a time.
They were equipped with pick-handles--a handy tool for the
"disciplining" of a helpless man. One dungeon at a time, and
dungeon by dungeon, they messed and pulped the lifers. They were
impartial. I received the same pulping as the rest. And this was
merely the beginning, the preliminary to the examination each man
was to undergo alone in the presence of the paid brutes of the
state. It was the forecast to each man of what each man might
expect in inquisition hall.
I have been through most of the red hells of prison life, but, worst
of all, far worse than what they intend to do with me in a short
while, was the particular hell of the dungeons in the days that
Long Bill Hodge, the hard-bitten mountaineer, was the first man
interrogated. He came back two hours later--or, rather, they
conveyed him back, and threw him on the stone of his dungeon floor.
They then took away Luigi Polazzo, a San Francisco hoodlum, the
first native generation of Italian parentage, who jeered and sneered
at them and challenged them to wreak their worst upon him.
It was some time before Long Bill Hodge mastered his pain
sufficiently to be coherent.
"What about this dynamite?" he demanded. "Who knows anything about
And of course nobody knew, although it had been the burden of the
interrogation put to him.
Luigi Polazzo came back in a little less than two hours, and he came
back a wreck that babbled in delirium and could give no answer to
the questions showered upon him along the echoing corridor of
dungeons by the men who were yet to get what he had got, and who
desired greatly to know what things had been done to him and what
interrogations had been put to him.
Twice again in the next forty-eight hours Luigi was taken out and
interrogated. After that, a gibbering imbecile, he went to live in
Bughouse Alley. He has a strong constitution. His shoulders are
broad, his nostrils wide, his chest is deep, his blood is pure; he
will continue to gibber in Bughouse Alley long after I have swung
off and escaped the torment of the penitentiaries of California.
Man after man was taken away, one at a time, and the wrecks of men
were brought back, one by one, to rave and howl in the darkness.
And as I lay there and listened to the moaning and the groaning, and
all the idle chattering of pain-addled wits, somehow, vaguely
reminiscent, it seemed to me that somewhere, some time, I had sat in
a high place, callous and proud, and listened to a similar chorus of
moaning and groaning. Afterwards, as you shall learn, I identified
this reminiscence and knew that the moaning and the groaning was of
the sweep-slaves manacled to their benches, which I heard from
above, on the poop, a soldier passenger on a galley of old Rome.
That was when I sailed for Alexandria, a captain of men, on my way
to Jerusalem . . . but that is a story I shall tell you later. In
the meanwhile . . . .
In the meanwhile obtained the horror of the dungeons, after the
discovery of the plot to break prison. And never, during those
eternal hours of waiting, was it absent from my consciousness that I
should follow these other convicts out, endure the hells of
inquisition they endured, and be brought back a wreck and flung on
the stone floor of my stone-walled, iron-doored dungeon.
They came for me. Ungraciously and ungently, with blow and curse,
they haled me forth, and I faced Captain Jamie and Warden Atherton,
themselves arrayed with the strength of half a dozen state-bought,
tax-paid brutes of guards who lingered in the room to do any
bidding. But they were not needed.
"Sit down," said Warden Atherton, indicating a stout arm-chair.
I, beaten and sore, without water for a night long and a day long,
faint with hunger, weak from a beating that had been added to five
days in the dungeon and eighty hours in the jacket, oppressed by the
calamity of human fate, apprehensive of what was to happen to me
from what I had seen happen to the others--I, a wavering waif of a
human man and an erstwhile professor of agronomy in a quiet college
town, I hesitated to accept the invitation to sit down.
Warden Atherton was a large man and a very powerful man. His hands
flashed out to a grip on my shoulders. I was a straw in his
strength. He lifted me clear of the floor and crashed me down in
" Now," he said, while I gasped and swallowed my pain, "tell me all
about it, Standing. Spit it out--all of it, if you know what's
healthy for you."
"I don't know anything about what has happened . . .", I began.
That was as far as I got. With a growl and a leap he was upon me.
Again he lifted me in the air and crashed me down into the chair.
"No nonsense, Standing," he warned. "Make a clean breast of it.
Where is the dynamite?"
"I don't know anything of any dynamite," I protested.
Once again I was lifted and smashed back into the chair.
I have endured tortures of various sorts, but when I reflect upon
them in the quietness of these my last days, I am confident that no
other torture was quite the equal of that chair torture. By my body
that stout chair was battered out of any semblance of a chair.
Another chair was brought, and in time that chair was demolished.
But more chairs were brought, and the eternal questioning about the
dynamite went on.
When Warden Atherton grew tired, Captain Jamie relieved him; and
then the guard Monohan took Captain Jamie's place in smashing me
down into the chair. And always it was dynamite, dynamite, "Where
is the dynamite?" and there was no dynamite. Why, toward the last I
would have given a large portion of my immortal soul for a few
pounds of dynamite to which I could confess.
I do not know how many chairs were broken by my body. I fainted
times without number, and toward the last the whole thing became
nightmarish. I was half-carried, half-shoved and dragged back to
the dark. There, when I became conscious, I found a stool in my
dungeon. He was a pallid-faced, little dope-fiend of a short-timer
who would do anything to obtain the drug. As soon as I recognized
him I crawled to the grating and shouted out along the corridor:
"There is a stool in with me, fellows! He's Ignatius Irvine! Watch
out what you say!"
The outburst of imprecations that went up would have shaken the
fortitude of a braver man than Ignatius Irvine. He was pitiful in
his terror, while all about him, roaring like beasts, the pain-
racked lifers told him what awful things they would do to him in the
years that were to come.
Had there been secrets, the presence of a stool in the dungeons
would have kept the men quiet, As it was, having all sworn to tell
the truth, they talked openly before Ignatius Irvine. The one great
puzzle was the dynamite, of which they were as much in the dark as
was I. They appealed to me. If I knew anything about the dynamite
they begged me to confess it and save them all from further misery.
And I could tell them only the truth, that I knew of no dynamite.
One thing the stool told me, before the guards removed him, showed
how serious was this matter of the dynamite. Of course, I passed
the word along, which was that not a wheel had turned in the prison
all day. The thousands of convict-workers had remained locked in
their cells, and the outlook was that not one of the various prison-
factories would be operated again until after the discovery of some
dynamite that somebody had hidden somewhere in the prison.
And ever the examination went on. Ever, one at a time, convicts
were dragged away and dragged or carried back again. They reported
that Warden Atherton and Captain Jamie, exhausted by their efforts,
relieved each other every two hours. While one slept, the other
examined. And they slept in their clothes in the very room in which
strong man after strong man was being broken.
And hour by hour, in the dark dungeons, our madness of torment grew.
Oh, trust me as one who knows, hanging is an easy thing compared
with the way live men may be hurt in all the life of them and still
live. I, too, suffered equally with them from pain and thirst; but
added to my suffering was the fact that I remained conscious to the
sufferings of the others. I had been an incorrigible for two years,
and my nerves and brain were hardened to suffering. It is a
frightful thing to see a strong man broken. About me, at the one
time, were forty strong men being broken. Ever the cry for water
went up, and the place became lunatic with the crying, sobbing,
babbling and raving of men in delirium.
Don't you see? Our truth, the very truth we told, was our
damnation. When forty men told the same things with such unanimity,
Warden Atherton and Captain Jamie could only conclude that the
testimony was a memorized lie which each of the forty rattled off
From the standpoint of the authorities, their situation was as
desperate as ours. As I learned afterward, the Board of Prison
Directors had been summoned by telegraph, and two companies of state
militia were being rushed to the prison.
It was winter weather, and the frost is sometimes shrewd even in a
California winter. We had no blankets in the dungeons. Please know
that it is very cold to stretch bruised human flesh on frosty stone.
In the end they did give us water. Jeering and cursing us, the
guards ran in the fire-hoses and played the fierce streams on us,
dungeon by dungeon, hour after hour, until our bruised flesh was
battered all anew by the violence with which the water smote us,
until we stood knee-deep in the water which we had raved for and for
which now we raved to cease.
I shall skip the rest of what happened in the dungeons. In passing
I shall merely state that no one of those forty lifers was ever the
same again. Luigi Polazzo never recovered his reason. Long Bill
Hodge slowly lost his sanity, so that a year later, he, too, went to
live in Bughouse Alley. Oh, and others followed Hodge and Polazzo;
and others, whose physical stamina had been impaired, fell victims
to prison-tuberculosis. Fully 25 per cent. of the forty have died
in the succeeding six years.
After my five years in solitary, when they took me away from San
Quentin for my trial, I saw Skysail Jack. I could see little, for I
was blinking in the sunshine like a bat, after five years of
darkness; yet I saw enough of Skysail Jack to pain my heart. It was
in crossing the Prison Yard that I saw him. His hair had turned
white. He was prematurely old. His chest had caved in. His cheeks
were sunken. His hands shook as with palsy. He tottered as he
walked. And his eyes blurred with tears as he recognized me, for I,
too, was a sad wreck of what had once been a man. I weighed eighty-
seven pounds. My hair, streaked with gray, was a five-years'
growth, as were my beard and moustache. And I, too, tottered as I
walked, so that the guards helped to lead me across that sun-
blinding patch of yard. And Skysail Jack and I peered and knew each
other under the wreckage.
Men such as he are privileged, even in a prison, so that he dared an
infraction of the rules by speaking to me in a cracked and quavering
"You're a good one, Standing," he cackled. "You never squealed."
"But I never knew, Jack," I whispered back--I was compelled to
whisper, for five years of disuse had well-nigh lost me my voice.
"I don't think there ever was any dynamite."
"That's right," he cackled, nodding his head childishly. "Stick
with it. Don't ever let'm know. You're a good one. I take my hat
off to you, Standing. You never squealed."
And the guards led me on, and that was the last I saw of Skysail
Jack. It was plain that even he had become a believer in the
Twice they had me before the full Board of Directors. I was
alternately bullied and cajoled. Their attitude resolved itself
into two propositions. If I delivered up the dynamite, they would
give me a nominal punishment of thirty days in the dungeon and then
make me a trusty in the prison library. If I persisted in my
stubbornness and did not yield up the dynamite, then they would put
me in solitary for the rest of my sentence. In my case, being a
life prisoner, this was tantamount to condemning me to solitary
confinement for life.
Oh, no; California is civilized. There is no such law on the
statute books. It is a cruel and unusual punishment, and no modern
state would be guilty of such a law. Nevertheless, in the history
of California I am the third man who has been condemned for life to
solitary confinement. The other two were Jake Oppenheimer and Ed
Morrell. I shall tell you about them soon, for I rotted with them
for years in the cells of silence.
Oh, another thing. They are going to take me out and hang me in a
little while--no, not for killing Professor Haskell. I got life-
imprisonment for that. They are going to take me out and hang me
because I was found guilty of assault and battery. And this is not
prison discipline. It is law, and as law it will be found in the
I believe I made a man's nose bleed. I never saw it bleed, but that
was the evidence. Thurston, his name was. He was a guard at San
Quentin. He weighed one hundred and seventy pounds and was in good
health. I weighed under ninety pounds, was blind as a bat from the
long darkness, and had been so long pent in narrow walls that I was
made dizzy by large open spaces. Really, mime was a well-defined
case of incipient agoraphobia, as I quickly learned that day I
escaped from solitary and punched the guard Thurston on the nose.
I struck him on the nose and made it bleed when he got in my way and
tried to catch hold of me. And so they are going to hang me. It is
the written law of the State of California that a life-timer like me
is guilty of a capital crime when he strikes a prison guard like
Thurston. Surely, he could not have been inconvenienced more than
half an hour by that bleeding nose; and yet they are going to hang
me for it.
And, see! This law, in my case, is EX POST FACTO. It was not a law
at the time I killed Professor Haskell. It was not passed until
after I received my life-sentence. And this is the very point: my
life-sentence gave me my status under this law which had not yet
been written on the books. And it is because of my status of life-
timer that I am to be hanged for battery committed on the guard
Thurston. It is clearly EX POST FACTO, and, therefore,
But what bearing has the Constitution on constitutional lawyers when
they want to put the notorious Professor Darrell Standing out of the
way? Nor do I even establish the precedent with my execution. A
year ago, as everybody who reads the newspapers knows, they hanged
Jake Oppenheimer, right here in Folsom, for a precisely similar
offence . . . only, in his case of battery, he was not guilty of
making a guard's nose bleed. He cut a convict unintentionally with
It is strange--life and men's ways and laws and tangled paths. I am
writing these lines in the very cell in Murderers' Row that Jake
Oppenheimer occupied ere they took him out and did to him what they
are going to do to me.
I warned you I had many things to write about. I shall now return
to my narrative. The Board of Prison Directors gave me my choice:
a prison trustyship and surcease from the jute-looms if I gave up
the non-existent dynamite; life imprisonment in solitary if I
refused to give up the non-existent dynamite.
They gave me twenty-four hours in the jacket to think it over. Then
I was brought before the Board a second time. What could I do? I
could not lead them to the dynamite that was not. I told them so,
and they told me I was a liar. They told me I was a hard case, a
dangerous man, a moral degenerate, the criminal of the century.
They told me many other things, and then they carried me away to the
solitary cells. I was put into Number One cell. In Number Five lay
Ed Morrell. In Number Twelve lay Jake Oppenheimer. And he had been
there for ten years. Ed Morrell had been in his cell only one year.
He was serving a fifty-years' sentence. Jake Oppenheimer was a
lifer. And so was I a lifer. Wherefore the outlook was that the
three of us would remain there for a long time. And yet, six years
only are past, and not one of us is in solitary. Jake Oppenheimer
was swung off. Ed Morrell was made head trusty of San Quentin and
then pardoned out only the other day. And here I am in Folsom
waiting the day duly set by Judge Morgan, which will be my last day.
The fools! As if they could throttle my immortality with their
clumsy device of rope and scaffold! I shall walk, and walk again,
oh, countless times, this fair earth. And I shall walk in the
flesh, be prince and peasant, savant and fool, sit in the high place
and groan under the wheel.
It was very lonely, at first, in solitary, and the hours were long.
Time was marked by the regular changing of the guards, and by the
alternation of day and night. Day was only a little light, but it
was better than the all-dark of the night. In solitary the day was
an ooze, a slimy seepage of light from the bright outer world.
Never was the light strong enough to read by. Besides, there was
nothing to read. One could only lie and think and think. And I was
a lifer, and it seemed certain, if I did not do a miracle, make
thirty-five pounds of dynamite out of nothing, that all the years of
my life would be spent in the silent dark.
My bed was a thin and rotten tick of straw spread on the cell floor.
One thin and filthy blanket constituted the covering. There was no
chair, no table--nothing but the tick of straw and the thin, aged
blanket. I was ever a short sleeper and ever a busy-brained man.
In solitary one grows sick of oneself in his thoughts, and the only
way to escape oneself is to sleep. For years I had averaged five
hours' sleep a night. I now cultivated sleep. I made a science of
it. I became able to sleep ten hours, then twelve hours, and, at
last, as high as fourteen and fifteen hours out of the twenty-four.
But beyond that I could not go, and, perforce, was compelled to lie
awake and think and think. And that way, for an active-brained man,
I sought devices to enable me mechanically to abide my waking hours.
I squared and cubed long series of numbers, and by concentration and
will carried on most astonishing geometric progressions. I even
dallied with the squaring of the circle . . . until I found myself
beginning to believe that that possibility could be accomplished.
Whereupon, realizing that there, too, lay madness, I forwent the
squaring of the circle, although I assure you it required a
considerable sacrifice on my part, for the mental exercise involved
was a splendid time-killer.
By sheer visualization under my eyelids I constructed chess-boards
and played both sides of long games through to checkmate. But when
I had become expert at this visualized game of memory the exercise
palled on me. Exercise it was, for there could be no real contest
when the same player played both sides. I tried, and tried vainly,
to split my personality into two personalities and to pit one
against the other. But ever I remained the one player, with no
planned ruse or strategy on one side that the other side did not
And time was very heavy and very long. I played games with flies,
with ordinary houseflies that oozed into solitary as did the dim
gray light; and learned that they possessed a sense of play. For
instance, lying on the cell floor, I established an arbitrary and
imaginary line along the wall some three feet above the floor. When
they rested on the wall above this line they were left in peace.
The instant they lighted on the wall below the line I tried to catch
them. I was careful never to hurt them, and, in time, they knew as
precisely as did I where ran the imaginary line. When they desired
to play, they lighted below the line, and often for an hour at a
time a single fly would engage in the sport. When it grew tired, it
would come to rest on the safe territory above.
Of the dozen or more flies that lived with me, there was only one
who did not care for the game. He refused steadfastly to play, and,
having learned the penalty of alighting below the line, very
carefully avoided the unsafe territory. That fly was a sullen,
disgruntled creature. As the convicts would say, it had a "grouch"
against the world. He never played with the other flies either. He
was strong and healthy, too; for I studied him long to find out.
His indisposition for play was temperamental, not physical.
Believe me, I knew all my flies. It was surprising to me the
multitude of differences I distinguished between them. Oh, each was
distinctly an individual--not merely in size and markings, strength,
and speed of flight, and in the manner and fancy of flight and play,
of dodge and dart, of wheel and swiftly repeat or wheel and reverse,
of touch and go on the danger wall, or of feint the touch and alight
elsewhere within the zone. They were likewise sharply
differentiated in the minutest shades of mentality and temperament.
I knew the nervous ones, the phlegmatic ones. There was a little
undersized one that would fly into real rages, sometimes with me,
sometimes with its fellows. Have you ever seen a colt or a calf
throw up its heels and dash madly about the pasture from sheer
excess of vitality and spirits? Well, there was one fly--the
keenest player of them all, by the way--who, when it had alighted
three or four times in rapid succession on my taboo wall and
succeeded each time in eluding the velvet-careful swoop of my hand,
would grow so excited and jubilant that it would dart around and
around my head at top speed, wheeling, veering, reversing, and
always keeping within the limits of the narrow circle in which it
celebrated its triumph over me.
Why, I could tell well in advance when any particular fly was making
up its mind to begin to play. There are a thousand details in this
one matter alone that I shall not bore you with, although these
details did serve to keep me from being bored too utterly during
that first period in solitary. But one thing I must tell you. To
me it is most memorable--the time when the one with a grouch, who
never played, alighted in a moment of absent-mindedness within the
taboo precinct and was immediately captured in my hand. Do you
know, he sulked for an hour afterward.
And the hours were very long in solitary; nor could I sleep them all
away; nor could I while them away with house-flies, no matter how
intelligent. For house-flies are house-flies, and I was a man, with
a man's brain; and my brain was trained and active, stuffed with
culture and science, and always geared to a high tension of
eagerness to do. And there was nothing to do, and my thoughts ran
abominably on in vain speculations. There was my pentose and
methyl-pentose determination in grapes and wines to which I had
devoted my last summer vacation at the Asti Vineyards. I had all
but completed the series of experiments. Was anybody else going on
with it, I wondered; and if so, with what success?
You see, the world was dead to me. No news of it filtered in. The
history of science was making fast, and I was interested in a
thousand subjects. Why, there was my theory of the hydrolysis of
casein by trypsin, which Professor Walters had been carrying out in
his laboratory. Also, Professor Schleimer had similarly been
collaborating with me in the detection of phytosterol in mixtures of
animal and vegetable fats. The work surely was going on, but with
what results? The very thought of all this activity just beyond the
prison walls and in which I could take no part, of which I was never
even to hear, was maddening. And in the meantime I lay there on my
cell floor and played games with house-flies.
And yet all was not silence in solitary. Early in my confinement I
used to hear, at irregular intervals, faint, low tappings. From
farther away I also heard fainter and lower tappings. Continually
these tappings were interrupted by the snarling of the guard. On
occasion, when the tapping went on too persistently, extra guards
were summoned, and I knew by the sounds that men were being strait-
The matter was easy of explanation. I had known, as every prisoner
in San Quentin knew, that the two men in solitary were Ed Morrell
and Jake Oppenheimer. And I knew that these were the two men who
tapped knuckle-talk to each other and were punished for so doing.
That the code they used was simple I had not the slightest doubt,
yet I devoted many hours to a vain effort to work it out. Heaven
knows--it had to be simple, yet I could not make head nor tail of
it. And simple it proved to be, when I learned it; and simplest of
all proved the trick they employed which had so baffled me. Not
only each day did they change the point in the alphabet where the
code initialled, but they changed it every conversation, and, often,
in the midst of a conversation.
Thus, there came a day when I caught the code at the right initial,
listened to two clear sentences of conversation, and, the next time
they talked, failed to understand a word. But that first time!
and--a--sack--of--Bull--Durham!" asked the one who tapped from
I nearly cried out in my joy. Here was communication! Here was
companionship! I listened eagerly, and the nearer tapping, which I
guessed must be Ed Morrell's, replied:
Then came the snarling interruption of the guard: "Cut that out,
It may be thought by the layman that the worst has been done to men
sentenced to solitary for life, and therefore that a mere guard has
no way of compelling obedience to his order to cease tapping.
But the jacket remains. Starvation remains. Thirst remains. Man-
handling remains. Truly, a man pent in a narrow cell is very
So the tapping ceased, and that night, when it was next resumed, I
was all at sea again. By pre-arrangement they had changed the
initial letter of the code. But I had caught the clue, and, in the
matter of several days, occurred again the same initialment I had
understood. I did not wait on courtesy.
"Hello," I tapped
"Hello, stranger," Morrell tapped back; and, from Oppenheimer,
"Welcome to our city."
They were curious to know who I was, how long I was condemned to
solitary, and why I had been so condemned. But all this I put to
the side in order first to learn their system of changing the code
initial. After I had this clear, we talked. It was a great day,
for the two lifers had become three, although they accepted me only
on probation. As they told me long after, they feared I might be a
stool placed there to work a frame-up on them. It had been done
before, to Oppenheimer, and he had paid dearly for the confidence he
reposed in Warden Atherton's tool.
To my surprise--yes, to my elation be it said--both my fellow-
prisoners knew me through my record as an incorrigible. Even into
the living grave Oppenheimer had occupied for ten years had my fame,
or notoriety, rather, penetrated.
I had much to tell them of prison happenings and of the outside
world. The conspiracy to escape of the forty lifers, the search for
the alleged dynamite, and all the treacherous frame-up of Cecil
Winwood was news to them. As they told me, news did occasionally
dribble into solitary by way of the guards, but they had had nothing
for a couple of months. The present guards on duty in solitary were
a particularly bad and vindictive set.
Again and again that day we were cursed for our knuckle talking by
whatever guard was on. But we could not refrain. The two of the
living dead had become three, and we had so much to say, while the
manner of saying it was exasperatingly slow and I was not so
proficient as they at the knuckle game.
"Wait till Pie-Face comes on to-night," Morrell rapped to me. "He
sleeps most of his watch, and we can talk a streak."
How we did talk that night! Sleep was farthest from our eyes. Pie-
Face Jones was a mean and bitter man, despite his fatness; but we
blessed that fatness because it persuaded to stolen snatches of
slumber. Nevertheless our incessant tapping bothered his sleep and
irritated him so that he reprimanded us repeatedly. And by the
other night guards we were roundly cursed. In the morning all
reported much tapping during the night, and we paid for our little
holiday; for, at nine, came Captain Jamie with several guards to
lace us into the torment of the jacket. Until nine the following
morning, for twenty-four straight hours, laced and helpless on the
floor, without food or water, we paid the price for speech.
Oh, our guards were brutes! And under their treatment we had to
harden to brutes in order to live. Hard work makes calloused hands.
Hard guards make hard prisoners. We continued to talk, and, on
occasion, to be jacketed for punishment. Night was the best time,
and, when substitute guards chanced to be on, we often talked
through a whole shift.
Night and day were one with us who lived in the dark. We could
sleep any time, we could knuckle-talk only on occasion. We told one
another much of the history of our lives, and for long hours Morrell
and I have lain silently, while steadily, with faint, far taps,
Oppenheimer slowly spelled out his life-story, from the early years
in a San Francisco slum, through his gang-training, through his
initiation into all that was vicious, when as a lad of fourteen he
served as night messenger in the red light district, through his
first detected infraction of the laws, and on and on through thefts
and robberies to the treachery of a comrade and to red slayings
inside prison walls.
They called Jake Oppenheimer the "Human Tiger." Some cub reporter
coined the phrase that will long outlive the man to whom it was
applied. And yet I ever found in Jake Oppenheimer all the cardinal
traits of right humanness. He was faithful and loyal. I know of
the times he has taken punishment in preference to informing on a
comrade. He was brave. He was patient. He was capable of self-
sacrifice--I could tell a story of this, but shall not take the
time. And justice, with him, was a passion. The prison-killings
done by him were due entirely to this extreme sense of justice. And
he had a splendid mind. A life-time in prison, ten years of it in
solitary, had not dimmed his brain.
Morrell, ever a true comrade, too had a splendid brain. In fact,
and I who am about to die have the right to say it without incurring
the charge of immodesty, the three best minds in San Quentin from
the Warden down were the three that rotted there together in
solitary. And here at the end of my days, reviewing all that I have
known of life, I am compelled to the conclusion that strong minds
are never docile. The stupid men, the fearful men, the men ungifted
with passionate rightness and fearless championship--these are the
men who make model prisoners. I thank all gods that Jake
Oppenheimer, Ed Morrell, and I were not model prisoners.
There is more than the germ of truth in things erroneous in the
child's definition of memory as the thing one forgets with. To be
able to forget means sanity. Incessantly to remember, means
obsession, lunacy. So the problem I faced in solitary, where
incessant remembering strove for possession of me, was the problem
of forgetting. When I gamed with flies, or played chess with
myself, or talked with my knuckles, I partially forgot. What I
desired was entirely to forget.
There were the boyhood memories of other times and places--the
"trailing clouds of glory" of Wordsworth. If a boy had had these
memories, were they irretrievably lost when he had grown to manhood?
Could this particular content of his boy brain be utterly
eliminated? Or were these memories of other times and places still
residual, asleep, immured in solitary in brain cells similarly to
the way I was immured in a cell in San Quentin?
Solitary life-prisoners have been known to resurrect and look upon
the sun again. Then why could not these other-world memories of the
But how? In my judgment, by attainment of complete forgetfulness of
present and of manhood past.
And again, how? Hypnotism should do it. If by hypnotism the
conscious mind were put to sleep, and the subconscious mind
awakened, then was the thing accomplished, then would all the
dungeon doors of the brain be thrown wide, then would the prisoners
emerge into the sunshine.
So I reasoned--with what result you shall learn. But first I must
tell how, as a boy, I had had these other-world memories. I had
glowed in the clouds of glory I trailed from lives aforetime. Like
any boy, I had been haunted by the other beings I had been at other
times. This had been during my process of becoming, ere the flux of
all that I had ever been had hardened in the mould of the one
personality that was to be known by men for a few years as Darrell
Let me narrate just one incident. It was up in Minnesota on the old
farm. I was nearly six years old. A missionary to China, returned
to the United States and sent out by the Board of Missions to raise
funds from the farmers, spent the night in our house. It was in the
kitchen just after supper, as my mother was helping me undress for
bed, and the missionary was showing photographs of the Holy Land.
And what I am about to tell you I should long since have forgotten
had I not heard my father recite it to wondering listeners so many
times during my childhood.
I cried out at sight of one of the photographs and looked at it,
first with eagerness, and then with disappointment. It had seemed
of a sudden most familiar, in much the same way that my father's
barn would have been in a photograph. Then it had seemed altogether
strange. But as I continued to look the haunting sense of
familiarity came back.
"The Tower of David," the missionary said to my mother.
"No!" I cried with great positiveness.
"You mean that isn't its name?" the missionary asked.
"Then what is its name, my boy?"
"It's name is . . ." I began, then concluded lamely, "I, forget."
"It don't look the same now," I went on after a pause. "They've ben
fixin' it up awful."
Here the missionary handed to my mother another photograph he had
"I was there myself six months ago, Mrs. Standing." He pointed with
his finger. "That is the Jaffa Gate where I walked in and right up
to the Tower of David in the back of the picture where my finger is
now. The authorities are pretty well agreed on such matters. El
Kul'ah, as it was known by--"
But here I broke in again, pointing to rubbish piles of ruined
masonry on the left edge of the photograph
"Over there somewhere," I said. "That name you just spoke was what
the Jews called it. But we called it something else. We called it
. . . I forget."
"Listen to the youngster," my father chuckled. "You'd think he'd
I nodded my head, for in that moment I knew I had been there, though
all seemed strangely different. My father laughed the harder, but
the missionary thought I was making game of him. He handed me
another photograph. It was just a bleak waste of a landscape,
barren of trees and vegetation, a shallow canyon with easy-sloping
walls of rubble. In the middle distance was a cluster of wretched,
"Now, my boy, where is that?" the missionary quizzed.
And the name came to me!
"Samaria," I said instantly.
My father clapped his hands with glee, my mother was perplexed at my
antic conduct, while the missionary evinced irritation.
"The boy is right," he said. "It is a village in Samaria. I passed
through it. That is why I bought it. And it goes to show that the
boy has seen similar photographs before."
This my father and mother denied.
"But it's different in the picture," I volunteered, while all the
time my memory was busy reconstructing the photograph. The general
trend of the landscape and the line of the distant hills were the
same. The differences I noted aloud and pointed out with my finger.
"The houses was about right here, and there was more trees, lots of
trees, and lots of grass, and lots of goats. I can see 'em now, an'
two boys drivin' 'em. An' right here is a lot of men walkin' behind
one man. An' over there"--I pointed to where I had placed my
village--"is a lot of tramps. They ain't got nothin' on exceptin'
rags. An' they're sick. Their faces, an' hands, an' legs is all
"He's heard the story in church or somewhere--you remember, the
healing of the lepers in Luke," the missionary said with a smile of
satisfaction. "How many sick tramps are there, my boy?"
I had learned to count to a hundred when I was five years old, so I
went over the group carefully and announced:
"Ten of 'em. They're all wavin' their arms an' yellin' at the other
"But they don't come near them?" was the query.
I shook my head. "They just stand right there an' keep a-yellin'
like they was in trouble."
"Go on," urged the missionary. "What next? What's the man doing in
the front of the other crowd you said was walking along?"
"They've all stopped, an' he's sayin' something to the sick men.
An' the boys with the goats 's stopped to look. Everybody's
"That's all. The sick men are headin' for the houses. They ain't
yellin' any more, an' they don't look sick any more. An' I just
keep settin' on my horse a-lookin' on."
At this all three of my listeners broke into laughter.
"An' I'm a big man!" I cried out angrily. "An' I got a big sword!"
"The ten lepers Christ healed before he passed through Jericho on
his way to Jerusalem," the missionary explained to my parents. "The
boy has seen slides of famous paintings in some magic lantern
But neither father nor mother could remember that I had ever seen a
"Try him with another picture," father suggested.
"It's all different," I complained as I studied the photograph the
missionary handed me. "Ain't nothin' here except that hill and them
other hills. This ought to be a country road along here. An' over
there ought to be gardens, an' trees, an' houses behind big stone
walls. An' over there, on the other side, in holes in the rocks
ought to be where they buried dead folks. You see this place?--they
used to throw stones at people there until they killed 'm. I never
seen 'm do it. They just told me about it."
"And the hill?" the missionary asked, pointing to the central part
of the print, for which the photograph seemed to have been taken.
"Can you tell us the name of the hill?"
I shook my head.
"Never had no name. They killed folks there. I've seem 'm more 'n
"This time he agrees with the majority of the authorities,"
announced the missionary with huge satisfaction. "The hill is
Golgotha, the Place of Skulls, or, as you please, so named because
it resembles a skull. Notice the resemblance. That is where they
crucified--" He broke off and turned to me. "Whom did they crucify
there, young scholar? Tell us what else you see."
Oh, I saw--my father reported that my eyes were bulging; but I shook
my head stubbornly and said:
"I ain't a-goin' to tell you because you're laughin' at me. I seen
lots an' lots of men killed there. They nailed 'em up, an' it took
a long time. I seen--but I ain't a-goin' to tell. I don't tell
lies. You ask dad an' ma if I tell lies. He'd whale the stuffin'
out of me if I did. Ask 'm."
And thereat not another word could the missionary get from me, even
though he baited me with more photographs that sent my head whirling
with a rush of memory-pictures and that urged and tickled my tongue
with spates of speech which I sullenly resisted and overcame.
"He will certainly make a good Bible scholar," the missionary told
father and mother after I had kissed them good-night and departed
for bed. "Or else, with that imagination, he'll become a successful
Which shows how prophecy can go agley. I sit here in Murderers'
Row, writing these lines in my last days, or, rather, in Darrell
Standing's last days ere they take him out and try to thrust him
into the dark at the end of a rope, and I smile to myself. I became
neither Bible scholar nor novelist. On the contrary, until they
buried me in the cells of silence for half a decade, I was
everything that the missionary forecasted not--an agricultural
expert, a professor of agronomy, a specialist in the science of the
elimination of waste motion, a master of farm efficiency, a precise
laboratory scientist where precision and adherence to microscopic
fact are absolute requirements.
And I sit here in the warm afternoon, in Murderers' Row, and cease
from the writing of my memoirs to listen to the soothing buzz of
flies in the drowsy air, and catch phrases of a low-voiced
conversation between Josephus Jackson, the negro murderer on my
right, and Bambeccio, the Italian murderer on my left, who are
discussing, through grated door to grated door, back and forth past
my grated door, the antiseptic virtues and excellences of chewing
tobacco for flesh wounds.
And in my suspended hand I hold my fountain pen, and as I remember
that other hands of me, in long gone ages, wielded ink-brush, and
quill, and stylus, I also find thought-space in time to wonder if
that missionary, when he was a little lad, ever trailed clouds of
glory and glimpsed the brightness of old star-roving days.
Well, back to solitary, after I had learned the code of knuckle-talk
and still found the hours of consciousness too long to endure. By
self-hypnosis, which I began successfully to practise, I became able
to put my conscious mind to sleep and to awaken and loose my
subconscious mind. But the latter was an undisciplined and lawless
thing. It wandered through all nightmarish madness, without
coherence, without continuity of scene, event, or person.
My method of mechanical hypnosis was the soul of simplicity.
Sitting with folded legs on my straw-mattress, I gazed fixedly at a
fragment of bright straw which I had attached to the wall of my cell
near the door where the most light was. I gazed at the bright
point, with my eyes close to it, and tilted upward till they
strained to see. At the same time I relaxed all the will of me and
gave myself to the swaying dizziness that always eventually came to
me. And when I felt myself sway out of balance backward, I closed
my eyes and permitted myself to fall supine and unconscious on the
And then, for half-an-hour, ten minutes, or as long as an hour or
so, I would wander erratically and foolishly through the stored
memories of my eternal recurrence on earth. But times and places
shifted too swiftly. I knew afterward, when I awoke, that I,
Darrell Standing, was the linking personality that connected all
bizarreness and grotesqueness. But that was all. I could never
live out completely one full experience, one point of consciousness
in time and space. My dreams, if dreams they may be called, were
rhymeless and reasonless.
Thus, as a sample of my rovings: in a single interval of fifteen
minutes of subconsciousness I have crawled and bellowed in the slime
of the primeval world and sat beside Haas--further and cleaved the
twentieth century air in a gas-driven monoplane. Awake, I
remembered that I, Darrell Standing, in the flesh, during the year
preceding my incarceration in San Quentin, had flown with Haas
further over the Pacific at Santa Monica. Awake, I did not remember
the crawling and the bellowing in the ancient slime. Nevertheless,
awake, I reasoned that somehow I had remembered that early adventure
in the slime, and that it was a verity of long-previous experience,
when I was not yet Darrell Standing but somebody else, or something
else that crawled and bellowed. One experience was merely more
remote than the other. Both experiences were equally real--or else
how did I remember them?
Oh, what a fluttering of luminous images and actions! In a few
short minutes of loosed subconsciousness I have sat in the halls of
kings, above the salt and below the salt, been fool and jester, man-
at-arms, clerk and monk; and I have been ruler above all at the head
of the table--temporal power in my own sword arm, in the thickness
of my castle walls, and the numbers of my fighting men; spiritual
power likewise mine by token of the fact that cowled priests and fat
abbots sat beneath me and swigged my wine and swined my meat.
I have worn the iron collar of the serf about my neck in cold
climes; and I have loved princesses of royal houses in the tropic-
warmed and sun-scented night, where black slaves fanned the sultry
air with fans of peacock plumes, while from afar, across the palm
and fountains, drifted the roaring of lions and the cries of
jackals. I have crouched in chill desert places warming my hands at
fires builded of camel's dung; and I have lain in the meagre shade
of sun-parched sagebrush by dry water-holes and yearned dry-tongued
for water, while about me, dismembered and scattered in the alkali,
were the bones of men and beasts who had yearned and died.
I have been sea-cuny and bravo, scholar and recluse. I have pored
over hand-written pages of huge and musty tomes in the scholastic
quietude and twilight of cliff-perched monasteries, while beneath on
the lesser slopes, peasants still toiled beyond the end of day among
the vines and olives and drove in from pastures the blatting goats
and lowing kine; yes, and I have led shouting rabbles down the
wheel-worn, chariot-rutted paves of ancient and forgotten cities;
and, solemn-voiced and grave as death, I have enunciated the law,
stated the gravity of the infraction, and imposed the due death on
men, who, like Darrell Standing in Folsom Prison, had broken the
Aloft, at giddy mastheads oscillating above the decks of ships, I
have gazed on sun-flashed water where coral-growths iridesced from
profounds of turquoise deeps, and conned the ships into the safety
of mirrored lagoons where the anchors rumbled down close to palm-
fronded beaches of sea-pounded coral rock; and I have striven on
forgotten battlefields of the elder days, when the sun went down on
slaughter that did not cease and that continued through the night-
hours with the stars shining down and with a cool night wind blowing
from distant peaks of snow that failed to chill the sweat of battle;
and again, I have been little Darrell Standing, bare-footed in the
dew-lush grass of spring on the Minnesota farm, chilblained when of
frosty mornings I fed the cattle in their breath-steaming stalls,
sobered to fear and awe of the splendour and terror of God when I
sat on Sundays under the rant and preachment of the New Jerusalem
and the agonies of hell-fire.
Now, the foregoing were the glimpses and glimmerings that came to
me, when, in Cell One of Solitary in San Quentin, I stared myself
unconscious by means of a particle of bright, light-radiating straw.
How did these things come to me? Surely I could not have
manufactured them out of nothing inside my pent walls any more than
could I have manufactured out of nothing the thirty-five pounds of
dynamite so ruthlessly demanded of me by Captain Jamie, Warden
Atherton, and the Prison Board of Directors.
I am Darrell Standing, born and raised on a quarter section of land
in Minnesota, erstwhile professor of agronomy, a prisoner
incorrigible in San Quentin, and at present a death-sentenced man in
Folsom. I do not know, of Darrell Standing's experience, these
things of which I write and which I have dug from out my store-
houses of subconsciousness. I, Darrell Standing, born in Minnesota
and soon to die by the rope in California, surely never loved
daughters of kings in the courts of kings; nor fought cutlass to
cutlass on the swaying decks of ships; nor drowned in the spirit-
rooms of ships, guzzling raw liquor to the wassail-shouting and
death-singing of seamen, while the ship lifted and crashed on the
black-toothed rocks and the water bubbled overhead, beneath, and all
Such things are not of Darrell Standing's experience in the world.
Yet I, Darrell Standing, found these things within myself in
solitary in San Quentin by means of mechanical self-hypnosis. No
more were these experiences Darrell Standing's than was the word
"Samaria" Darrell Standing's when it leapt to his child lips at
sight of a photograph.
One cannot make anything out of nothing. In solitary I could not so
make thirty-five pounds of dynamite. Nor in solitary, out of
nothing in Darrell Standing's experience, could I make these wide,
far visions of time and space. These things were in the content of
my mind, and in my mind I was just beginning to learn my way about.
So here was my predicament: I knew that within myself was a
Golconda of memories of other lives, yet I was unable to do more
than flit like a madman through those memories. I had my Golconda
but could not mine it.
I remembered the case of Stainton Moses, the clergyman who had been
possessed by the personalities of St. Hippolytus, Plotinus,
Athenodorus, and of that friend of Erasmus named Grocyn. And when I
considered the experiments of Colonel de Rochas, which I had read in
tyro fashion in other and busier days, I was convinced that Stainton
Moses had, in previous lives, been those personalities that on
occasion seemed to possess him. In truth, they were he, they were
the links of the chain of recurrence.
But more especially did I dwell upon the experiments of Colonel de
Rochas. By means of suitable hypnotic subjects he claimed that he
had penetrated backwards through time to the ancestors of his
subjects. Thus, the case of Josephine which he describes. She was
eighteen years old and she lived at Voiron, in the department of the
Isere. Under hypnotism Colonel de Rochas sent her adventuring back
through her adolescence, her girlhood, her childhood, breast-
infancy, and the silent dark of her mother's womb, and, still back,
through the silence and the dark of the time when she, Josephine,
was not yet born, to the light and life of a previous living, when
she had been a churlish, suspicious, and embittered old man, by name
Jean-Claude Bourdon, who had served his time in the Seventh
Artillery at Besancon, and who died at the age of seventy, long
bedridden. YES, and did not Colonel de Rochas in turn hypnotize
this shade of Jean-Claude Bourdon, so that he adventured farther
back into time, through infancy and birth and the dark of the
unborn, until he found again light and life when, as a wicked old
woman, he had been Philomene Carteron?
But try as I would with my bright bit of straw in the oozement of
light into solitary, I failed to achieve any such definiteness of
previous personality. I became convinced, through the failure of my
experiments, that only through death could I clearly and coherently
resurrect the memories of my previous selves.
But the tides of life ran strong in me. I, Darrell Standing, was so
strongly disinclined to die that I refused to let Warden Atherton
and Captain Jamie kill me. I was always so innately urged to live
that sometimes I think that is why I am still here, eating and
sleeping, thinking and dreaming, writing this narrative of my
various me's, and awaiting the incontestable rope that will put an
ephemeral period in my long-linked existence.
And then came death in life. I learned the trick, Ed Morrell taught
it me, as you shall see. It began through Warden Atherton and
Captain Jamie. They must have experienced a recrudescence of panic
at thought of the dynamite they believed hidden. They came to me in
my dark cell, and they told me plainly that they would jacket me to
death if I did not confess where the dynamite was hidden. And they
assured me that they would do it officially without any hurt to
their own official skins. My death would appear on the prison
register as due to natural causes.
Oh, dear, cotton-wool citizen, please believe me when I tell you
that men are killed in prisons to-day as they have always been
killed since the first prisons were built by men.
I well knew the terror, the agony, and the danger of the jacket.
Oh, the men spirit-broken by the jacket! I have seen them. And I
have seen men crippled for life by the jacket. I have seen men,
strong men, men so strong that their physical stamina resisted all
attacks of prison tuberculosis, after a prolonged bout with the
jacket, their resistance broken down, fade away, and die of
tuberculosis within six months. There was Slant-Eyed Wilson, with
an unguessed weak heart of fear, who died in the jacket within the
first hour while the unconvinced inefficient of a prison doctor
looked on and smiled. And I have seen a man confess, after half an
hour in the jacket, truths and fictions that cost him years of
I had had my own experiences. At the present moment half a thousand
scars mark my body. They go to the scaffold with me. Did I live a
hundred years to come those same scars in the end would go to the
grave with me.
Perhaps, dear citizen who permits and pays his hang-dogs to lace the
jacket for you--perhaps you are unacquainted with the jacket. Let
me describe, it, so that you will understand the method by which I
achieved death in life, became a temporary master of time and space,
and vaulted the prison walls to rove among the stars.
Have you ever seen canvas tarpaulins or rubber blankets with brass
eyelets set in along the edges? Then imagine a piece of stout
canvas, some four and one-half feet in length, with large and heavy
brass eyelets running down both edges. The width of this canvas is
never the full girth of the human body it is to surround. The width
is also irregular--broadest at the shoulders, next broadest at the
hips, and narrowest at the waist.
The jacket is spread on the floor. The man who is to be punished,
or who is to be tortured for confession, is told to lie face-
downward on the flat canvas. If he refuses, he is man-handled.
After that he lays himself down with a will, which is the will of
the hang-dogs, which is your will, dear citizen, who feeds and fees
the hang-dogs for doing this thing for you.
The man lies face-downward. The edges of the jacket are brought as
nearly together as possible along the centre of the man's back.
Then a rope, on the principle of a shoe-lace, is run through the
eyelets, and on the principle of a shoe-lacing the man is laced in
the canvas. Only he is laced more severely than any person ever
laces his shoe. They call it "cinching" in prison lingo. On
occasion, when the guards are cruel and vindictive, or when the
command has come down from above, in order to insure the severity of
the lacing the guards press with their feet into the man's back as
they draw the lacing tight.
Have you ever laced your shoe too tightly, and, after half an hour,
experienced that excruciating pain across the instep of the
obstructed circulation? And do you remember that after a few
minutes of such pain you simply could not walk another step and had
to untie the shoe-lace and ease the pressure? Very well. Then try
to imagine your whole body so laced, only much more tightly, and
that the squeeze, instead of being merely on the instep of one foot,
is on your entire trunk, compressing to the seeming of death your
heart, your lungs, and all the rest of your vital and essential
I remember the first time they gave me the jacket down in the
dungeons. It was at the beginning of my incorrigibility, shortly
after my entrance to prison, when I was weaving my loom-task of a
hundred yards a day in the jute-mill and finishing two hours ahead
of the average day. Yes, and my jute-sacking was far above the
average demanded. I was sent to the jacket that first time,
according to the prison books, because of "skips" and "breaks" in
the cloth, in short, because my work was defective. Of course this
was ridiculous. In truth, I was sent to the jacket because I, a new
convict, a master of efficiency, a trained expert in the elimination
of waste motion, had elected to tell the stupid head weaver a few
things he did not know about his business. And the head weaver,
with Captain Jamie present, had me called to the table where
atrocious weaving, such as could never have gone through my loom,
was exhibited against me. Three times was I thus called to the
table. The third calling meant punishment according to the loom-
room rules. My punishment was twenty-four hours in the jacket.
They took me down into the dungeons. I was ordered to lie face-
downward on the canvas spread flat upon the floor. I refused. One
of the guards, Morrison, gulletted me with his thumbs. Mobins, the
dungeon trusty, a convict himself, struck me repeatedly with his
fists. In the end I lay down as directed. And, because of the
struggle I had vexed them with, they laced me extra tight. Then
they rolled me over like a log upon my back.
It did not seem so bad at first. When they closed my door, with
clang and clash of levered boltage, and left me in the utter dark,
it was eleven o'clock in the morning. For a few minutes I was aware
merely of an uncomfortable constriction which I fondly believed
would ease as I grew accustomed to it. On the contrary, my heart
began to thump and my lungs seemed unable to draw sufficient air for
my blood. This sense of suffocation was terrorizing, and every
thump of the heart threatened to burst my already bursting lungs.
After what seemed hours, and after what, out of my countless
succeeding experiences in the jacket I can now fairly conclude to
have been not more than half-an-hour, I began to cry out, to yell,
to scream, to howl, in a very madness of dying. The trouble was the
pain that had arisen in my heart. It was a sharp, definite pain,
similar to that of pleurisy, except that it stabbed hotly through
the heart itself.
To die is not a difficult thing, but to die in such slow and
horrible fashion was maddening. Like a trapped beast of the wild, I
experienced ecstasies of fear, and yelled and howled until I
realized that such vocal exercise merely stabbed my heart more hotly
and at the same time consumed much of the little air in my lungs.
I gave over and lay quiet for a long time--an eternity it seemed
then, though now I am confident that it could have been no longer
than a quarter of an hour. I grew dizzy with semi-asphyxiation, and
my heart thumped until it seemed surely it would burst the canvas
that bound me. Again I lost control of myself and set up a mad
howling for help.
In the midst of this I heard a voice from the next dungeon.
"Shut up," it shouted, though only faintly it percolated to me.
"Shut up. You make me tired."
"I'm dying," I cried out.
"Pound your ear and forget it," was the reply.
"But I AM dying," I insisted.
"Then why worry?" came the voice. "You'll be dead pretty quick an'
out of it. Go ahead and croak, but don't make so much noise about
it. You're interruptin' my beauty sleep."
So angered was I by this callous indifference that I recovered self-
control and was guilty of no more than smothered groans. This
endured an endless time--possibly ten minutes; and then a tingling
numbness set up in all my body. It was like pins and needles, and
for as long as it hurt like pins and needles I kept my head. But
when the prickling of the multitudinous darts ceased to hurt and
only the numbness remained and continued verging into greater
numbness I once more grew frightened.
"How am I goin' to get a wink of sleep?" my neighbour, complained.
"I ain't any more happy than you. My jacket's just as tight as
yourn, an' I want to sleep an' forget it."
"How long have you been in?" I asked, thinking him a new-comer
compared to the centuries I had already suffered.
"Since day before yesterday," was his answer.
"I mean in the jacket," I amended.
"Since day before yesterday, brother."
"My God!" I screamed.
"Yes, brother, fifty straight hours, an' you don't hear me raisin' a
roar about it. They cinched me with their feet in my back. I am
some tight, believe ME. You ain't the only one that's got troubles.
You ain't ben in an hour yet."
"I've been in hours and hours," I protested.
"Brother, you may think so, but it don't make it so. I'm just
tellin' you you ain't ben in an hour. I heard 'm lacin' you."
The thing was incredible. Already, in less than an hour, I had died
a thousand deaths. And yet this neighbour, balanced and equable,
calm-voiced and almost beneficent despite the harshness of his first
remarks, had been in the jacket fifty hours!
"How much longer are they going to keep you in?" I asked.
"The Lord only knows. Captain Jamie is real peeved with me, an' he
won't let me out until I'm about croakin'. Now, brother, I'm going
to give you the tip. The only way is shut your face an' forget it.
Yellin' an' hollerin' don't win you no money in this joint. An' the
way to forget is to forget. Just get to rememberin' every girl you
ever knew. That'll cat up hours for you. Mebbe you'll feel
yourself gettin' woozy. Well, get woozy. You can't beat that for
killin' time. An' when the girls won't hold you, get to thinkin' of
the fellows you got it in for, an' what you'd do to 'em if you got a
chance, an' what you're goin' to do to 'em when you get that same
That man was Philadelphia Red. Because of prior conviction he was
serving fifty years for highway robbery committed on the streets of
Alameda. He had already served a dozen of his years at the time he
talked to me in the jacket, and that was seven years ago. He was
one of the forty lifers who were double-crossed by Cecil Winwood.
For that offence Philadelphia Red lost his credits. He is middle-
aged now, and he is still in San Quentin. If he survives he will be
an old man when they let him out.
I lived through my twenty-four hours, and I have never been the same
man since. Oh, I don't mean physically, although next morning, when
they unlaced me, I was semi-paralyzed and in such a state of
collapse that the guards had to kick me in the ribs to make me crawl
to my feet. But I was a changed man mentally, morally. The brute
physical torture of it was humiliation and affront to my spirit and
to my sense of justice. Such discipline does not sweeten a man. I
emerged from that first jacketing filled with a bitterness and a
passionate hatred that has only increased through the years. My
God--when I think of the things men have done to me! Twenty-four
hours in the jacket! Little I thought that morning when they kicked
me to my feet that the time would come when twenty-four hours in the
jacket meant nothing; when a hundred hours in the jacket found me
smiling when they released me; when two hundred and forty hours in
the jacket found the same smile on my lips.
Yes, two hundred and forty hours. Dear cotton-woolly citizen, do
you know what that means? It means ten days and ten nights in the
jacket. Of course, such things are not done anywhere in the
Christian world nineteen hundred years after Christ. I don't ask
you to believe me. I don't believe it myself. I merely know that
it was done to me in San Quentin, and that I lived to laugh at them
and to compel them to get rid of me by swinging me off because I
bloodied a guard's nose.
I write these lines to-day in the Year of Our Lord 1913, and to-day,
in the Year of Our Lord 1913, men are lying in the jacket in the
dungeons of San Quentin.
I shall never forget, as long as further living and further lives be
vouchsafed me, my parting from Philadelphia Red that morning. He
had then been seventy-four hours in the jacket.
"Well, brother, you're still alive an' kickin'," he called to me, as
I was totteringly dragged from my cell into the corridor of
"Shut up, you, Red," the sergeant snarled at him.
"Forget it," was the retort.
"I'll get you yet, Red," the sergeant threatened.
"Think so?" Philadelphia Red queried sweetly, ere his tones turned
to savageness. "Why, you old stiff, you couldn't get nothin'. You
couldn't get a free lunch, much less the job you've got now, if it
wasn't for your brother's pull. An' I guess we all ain't mistaken
on the stink of the place where your brother's pull comes from."
It was admirable--the spirit of man rising above its extremity,
fearless of the hurt any brute of the system could inflict.
"Well, so long, brother," Philadelphia Red next called to me. "So
long. Be good, an' love the Warden. An' if you see 'em, just tell
'em that you saw me but that you didn't see me saw."
The sergeant was red with rage, and, by the receipt of various kicks
and blows, I paid for Red's pleasantry.
In solitary, in Cell One, Warden Atherton and Captain Jamie
proceeded to put me to the inquisition. As Warden Atherton said to
"Standing, you're going to come across with that dynamite, or I'll
kill you in the jacket. Harder cases than you have come across
before I got done with them. You've got your choice--dynamite or
"Then I guess it is curtains," I answered, "because I don't know of
This irritated the Warden to immediate action. "Lie down," he
I obeyed, for I had learned the folly of fighting three or four
strong men. They laced me tightly, and gave me a hundred hours.
Once each twenty-four hours I was permitted a drink of water. I had
no desire for food, nor was food offered me. Toward the end of the
hundred hours Jackson, the prison doctor, examined my physical
condition several times.