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The Subterranean Brotherhood by Julian Hawthorne

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In the cell over mine at night
A step goes to and fro
From barred door to iron wall--
From wall to door I hear it go,
Four paces, heavy and slow,
In the heart of the sleeping jail:
And the goad that drives, I know!

I never saw his face or heard him speak;
He may be Dutchman, Dago, Yankee, Greek;
But the language of that prisoned step
Too well I know!

Unknown brother of the remorseless bars,
Pent in your cage from earth and sky and stars,
The hunger for lost life that goads you so,
I also know!

Hour by hour, in the cell overhead,
Four footfalls, to and fro
'Twixt iron wall and barred door--
Back and forth I hear them go--
Four footfalls come and go!
I wake and listen in the night:
Brother, I know!

_(Written in Atlanta Penitentiary,
May, 1913.)_







These chapters were begun the day after I got back to New York from the
Atlanta penitentiary, and went on from day to day to the end. I did not
know, at the start, what the thing would be like at the finish, and I made
small effort to make it look shapely and smooth; but the inward impulse in
me to write it, somehow, was irresistible, in spite of the other impulse
to go off somewhere and rest and forget it all. But I felt that if it were
not done then it might never be done at all; and done it must be at any
cost. I had promised my mates in prison that I would do it, and I was
under no less an obligation, though an unspoken one, to give the public an
opportunity to learn at first hand what prison life is, and means. I had
myself had no conception of the facts and their significance until I
became myself a prisoner, though I had read as much in "prison literature"
as most people, perhaps, and had for many years thought on the subject of
penal imprisonment. Twenty odd years before, too, I had been struck by
William Stead's saying, "Until a man has been in jail, he doesn't know
what human life means." But one does not pay that price for knowledge
voluntarily, and I had not expected to have the payment forced upon me. I
imagined I could understand the feelings of a prisoner without being one.
I was to live to acknowledge myself mistaken. And I conceive that other
people are in the same deceived condition. So, with all the energy and
goodwill of which I am capable, I set myself to do what I could to make
them know the truth, and to ask themselves what should or could be done to
end a situation so degrading to every one concerned in it, from one end of
the line to the other. The situation, indeed, seems all but incredible.
Your first thought on being told of it is, It must be an exaggeration or a
fabrication. On the contrary, words cannot convey the whole horror and
shamefulness of it.

I am conscious of having left out a great deal of it. I found as I went on
with this writing that the things to be said were restricted to a few
categories. First, the physical prison itself and the routine of life in
it must be stated. That is the objective part. Then must be indicated the
subjective conditions, those of the prisoner, and of his keepers--what the
effect of prison was upon them. Next was to come a presentation of the
consequences, deductions and inferences suggested by these conditions.
Finally, we would be confronted with the question, What is to be done
about it? Such are the main heads of the theme.

But I was tempted to run into detail. Here I will make a pertinent
disclosure. During my imprisonment I was made the confidant of the life
stories of many of my brethren in the cells. I am receiving through the
mails, from day to day, up to the present time, other such tales from
released convicts. The aim of them is not to get their tellers before the
public and win personal sympathy, but to hold up my hands by supplying
data--chapter and verse--in support of the assertions I have made. They do
it abundantly; the stories bleed and groan before your eyes and ears, and
smell to heaven; the bluntest, simplest, most formless stuff imaginable,
but terrible in every fiber. Before I left prison I had accumulated a
considerable number of these narratives, and had made many notes of things
heard and seen--data and memoranda which I designed to use in the already
projected book which is now in your hands. Such material, however, would
have been confiscated by the Warden had its existence been known, and none
of it would have been permitted to get outside the walls openly. The only
thing to do, then, was to get it out secretly--by the "underground

There is an underground railroad in every penal institution. There is one
at Atlanta. I attempted to use it, but my freight got in the wrong car. A
prisoner whom I knew well and trusted came to me, and said he had found a
man who would undertake to pass the packet through the barriers; he had
already served such a need, and was anxious to do it in my case. This man
was also a prisoner of several years' standing, and with several years
yet to serve; he had recently applied for parole, but had been refused.
I met and talked with him, found him intelligent and circumspect, and
professedly eager to do his share toward helping me get my facts before
the world. He intimated that he was on favorable terms with one of the
guards or overseers who was inclined to help the prisoners, and would
take the packet out in his pocket and mail it to its address. I addressed
it to a friend of mine living near New York and on a certain prearranged
day I handed it to my confederate. He hid it inside his shirt, and that
was the last I saw of it.

The packet never turned up at its address, and it was only long after that
I was told what had occurred. My confederate wanted his parole badly, and
made a bargain with the Warden, by the terms of which his parole should be
granted in return for his delivering to the Warden my bundle of memoranda.
The terms were fulfilled on both sides, and my data are at this moment in
the Warden's safe, I suppose, along with the letter that I wrote during my
confinement to the Editor of the New York _Journal_ (mentioned in the text
of this book).

The Warden thought, perhaps, that the lack of my accumulated data would
prevent or embarrass me in writing my book. I thought so myself at first,
but had not long been at work before I found that the essential book
needed no data other than those existing in my memory and supplied by the
general theme; my material was not scant, but excessive. My knowledge
of prison and my opinions and arguments based upon that knowledge were
not subject to the Warden's confiscation, and they were quite enough to
make a book of themselves, without need of dates, places, names and
illustrations. Indeed, even of such supplementary and confirmatory matter
I also found an adequate amount in my own unaided recollection--more
than I cared to give space to; for it was my belief that such things
were not required to secure confidence in the truth of what I had to say
in the minds of persons whose confidence was worth my winning. They would
believe me because they couldn't help it--because truth has a quality
which compels belief. Moreover, of illustrations of my statements the
public had of late had more than enough from other sources; what was now
wanted was not so much instances of the facts, as a general presentation
of the subject into which special and apposite cases could be fitted
by the reader according to his previously acquired information. Finally,
I reflected that the introduction of names, places and dates might injure
the men thus pointed out; secret service men, post-office inspectors and
other spies, and the prison authorities themselves, would be prompted
and helped to give them trouble. Accordingly, I was sparing even of such
data as I had; and I noticed, as the chapters appeared serially in the
newspaper syndicate which published them, that they were criticised in
certain quarters as of the "glittering generality" class of writings;
I made assertions, but adduced no specific proof of them. The source of
such criticisms was obvious enough, but they did no harm, and were not
accompanied by denials of my facts. The only other form of attack brought
against the book is comprised in the claim that I am a writer of fiction
and as such incapable of telling the truth, about anything; that I was the
dupe of designing persons who made me the mouthpiece for their factitious
grievances or spites; and that I was myself animated by a spirit of
revenge for the injury of my imprisonment, which must render anything I
might allege against prisons and their conduct worthless.

I have touched upon the two latter counts of the indictment in the text of
the book; of the assertion that fiction writers cannot stick to facts or
convey truth, I will say that it is unreasonable upon its face. Fiction
writers, in order to attain any measure of success in their calling, must
above all things base their structures upon facts, and to seek and
promulgate undeniable truth in their descriptions and analyses. The
"fiction" part of their stories is the merest outside part; all within
must be true, or it is nothing. A novelist or story writer, therefore, is
more likely to give a true version of any event or condition he may be
required to present, than a person trained in any other form of writing,
with the exception, perhaps, of journalism. And I have been a journalist,
as well as a story writer, for more than thirty years past, and what
success I attained was due to the accuracy and veracity of the reports I
sent to my papers. In short, I am a trained observer of facts if ever
there were one; and no facts in my experience have been so thoroughly
hammered into my mind, heart and soul, digested and appreciated, as were
the facts of my prison life. Whatever else that I have written might be
cavilled at on the plea of inaccuracy, certainly this book cannot be.
Whether the statements which it contains be feebly or strongly put may
properly be questioned, but none of them can be successfully denied.

But this aspect of the matter gives me small uneasiness. The important
consideration is, will the book, assuming that it is accepted as the
truth, do the work, or any large part of the work, which it was designed
to do? Will readers be influenced by it to practical action; will it be an
effective element in the forces that are now rising up to make wickedness
and corruption less than they are? The proposal toward which the book
points and in which it ultimates is so radical and astounding--nothing
less than that _Penal Imprisonment for Crime be Abolished_--that the
author can hardly escape the apprehension that the mass of the public will
dismiss it as preposterous and impossible. And yet nothing is more certain
in my opinion than that penal imprisonment for crime must cease, and if it
be not abolished by statute, it will be by force. It must be abolished
because, alarming or socially destructive though alternatives to it may
appear, it is worse than any alternative, being not only dangerous, but
wicked, and it breeds and multiplies the evils it pretends to heal or
diminish. It is far more wicked and dangerous than it was a thousand or a
hundred years ago, because society is more enlightened than it was then,
and the multitude now exercise power which was then confined to the few.
Whatever person or society knowingly and wilfully permits the existence
of a wickedness which it might extirpate, makes itself a party thereto,
and also inflames the wickedness itself. And the ignorance or the
impotence which we could plead heretofore in history, we cannot plead
to-day. We know, we have power, and we must act; if we shrink from
acting, action will be taken against us by powers which cannot be
estimated or controlled. This book is meant to confirm our knowledge and
to stimulate and direct, in a measure, our action; and to avert, if
possible, the consequences of not acting. Its individual power may be
slight; but it should be the resolve of every honest and courageous man
and woman to add to it the weight of their own power. Wonderful things
have been accomplished before now by means which seemed, in their
beginning, as inadequate and weak as this.

In the sixth chapter of the Book of Joshua you may read the great type and
example of such achievements, the symbol of every victory of good over
evil, the thing that could not be done by man's best power, skill and
foresight, accomplished, with God to aid, by a breath. The defensive
strength of Jericho was greater, compared with the means of attack then
known, than that of Sebastopol in the fifties of the last century, or of
Plevna in the seventies, or of Port Arthur a few years since. Those walls
were too high to be scaled, too massive to be beaten down, and they were
defended by a great king and his mighty men of valor. From any moral point
of view, the enterprise of destroying the city was hopeless. Nor did the
Lord add anything to such weapons of offense as Joshua already possessed.
Seven trumpets of rams' horns were the sole agents of the destruction
provided; and not the trumpets themselves, but the breath of the mouths of
the seven priests who should blow through them, should overthrow those
topless ramparts, and give the king and his army and his people into the
hand of the men of Israel. Were such a proposition presented to our
consideration to-day, we can imagine what would be the comments of the
Army and Navy departments, of Congress, of the editors of newspapers, of
witty paragraphers, and of the man on the street. Possibly the churches
themselves might hesitate before giving their support to such a plan of
war: "We must take the biblical stories in a figurative sense!" But stout
Joshua had seen the angel of the Lord, with his sword drawn, the night
before; and he knew nothing of figures of speech. He got the seven
trumpets of rams' horns, and put them in the hands of the seven priests,
and led the hosts of the Israelites round and round the walls of Jericho
day after day for six days, the trumpets blowing amain, and the hosts
silent. And on the seventh day, the hosts compassed the walls of the city
seven times; "And at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the
trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you
the city.... So the people shouted when the priests blew with the
trumpets; and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the
trumpets, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the walls fell
down flat, so that every man went up into the city, every man straight
before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that
was within the city."

Yes, the biblical stories are to be taken in a figurative sense; they
stand as symbols for spiritual actions in the nature of man; though that
is not to say that the events narrated did not actually take place as
recorded. But Joshua had faith; and faith in the hearts of the champions
of right begets fear in the hearts of supporters of wrong, and the
defenses they have so laboriously built up tumble distractedly about their
ears when the trumpets of the Lord blow and the people who believe in Him
utter a mighty shout. Our jails are our Jericho; the evils which they
encompass and protect are greater than the sins of that strong city; but a
breath may shatter them into irretrievable ruin. Not compromises; not
gradual and circumspect approaches; not prudent considerations of
political economy, nor sound sociological principles; but simple faith in
God and a blast on the ram's horn.

My business in this book was to show that penal imprisonment is an evil,
and its perpetuation a crime; that it does not reform the criminal but
destroys him body and soul; that it does not protect the community but
exposes it to incalculable perils; and that the assumption that a
criminal class exists among us separate and distinct from any and
the best of the rest of us is Pharisaical, false and wicked. The
"Subterranean Brotherhood" are our brothers--they are ourselves, unjustly
and vainly condemned to serve as scapegoats for the rest. What the
criminal instinct or propensity in a man needs is not seclusion, misery,
pain and despotic control, but free air and sunlight, free and cheerful
human companionship, free opportunity to play his part in human service,
and the stimulus, on all sides of him, of the example of such service.
Men enfeebled by crime are not cured by punishment, or by homilies and
precepts, but by taking off our coats and showing them personally how
honest and useful things are done. And let every lapse and failure on
their part to follow the example, be counted not against them, but
against ourselves who failed to convince them of the truth, and hold them
up to the doing of good. Had we been sincere and hearty enough, we would
have prevailed.

I do not underrate the difficulties; they are immeasurable; the hope seems
as forlorn as that of the Israelites against the walls of Jericho. But
they are forlorn and immeasurable only because, and so long as, we let our
selfish personal interests govern and mold our public and social action.
Altruism will not heal the inward sore, but at best only put on its
surface a plausible plaster which leaves the inward still corrupt; for
altruism is a policy and not an impulse, proceeding not from the heart but
from the intelligence--the policy of enlightened selfishness. It has
already been tried thoroughly, and proved thoroughly inefficient; it is
the motive power behind charitable organization; it breeds a cold,
impersonal, economic spirit in charity workers, and coldness, ingratitude
and resentment in those who are worked upon. It will not do to speak of
Tom, Dick and Harry as cases Nos. 1, 2 and 3. You must call them by name
and think of them as flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, to whom
you owe more than they owe you, or than you can repay. Put a heart into
them by giving them your own heart; do not look down on them and advise
them, but at and into them and take counsel with them; or even up to them,
and learn from them. They know and feel much that you have never felt or

The book is full of shortcomings, imperfections, omissions, and
repetitions. But there is meaning and purpose in it, and I hope it may do
its work.




Conspiracies of silence--it is a common phrase; but it has never been
better illustrated than in regard to what goes on in prisons, here and in
other parts of the world. The conspiracy has been attacked sometimes, and
more of late than usual, and once in a while we have caught a glimpse of
what is occurring behind those smug, well-fitting doors. But they have
been mere glimpses, incoherent, obscure, often imaginative, or guesswork
based on scanty, incorrect, at any rate secondhand information; never yet
conclusive and complete. In England, Charles Dickens and Charles Reade
have personally visited prisons, talked with prisoners, written stories
that have stirred the world, and forced improvements. Great prisoners
like Kropotkin have related their experiences in Russia, and our own
George Kennan prompted us to congratulate ourselves, in our complacent
ignorance, that our methods of generating virtue out of crime were not
like those of the Russians. It was annoying, after this, to be assured by
writers in some of our magazines--called muckrakers by some, pioneers by
others--that after a sagacious, eager, well-equipped investigation into
our own prison conditions, peering into depths, interrogating convicts,
searching records, they had found little difference in principle between
our way of handling offenses against law, and that of our Cossack
neighbors. The latter are more sensational and red-blooded about it, that
is all. These revelations compelled some removals and a few reforms; but
they too failed to bring home livingly to public knowledge and
imagination the whole ugly, sluggish, vicious truth.

Then, only yesterday, an amiable, naive and impressionable young gentleman
underwent a week of amateur convictship in one of our jails, and came
forth tremulous with indignation and astonishment; though, obviously and
inevitably, he did not have to endure the one thing which, more than
hardship or torture, is the main evil of penal imprisonment--the feeling
of helplessness and outrage in the presence of a despotic and unrighteous
power, from which there is no appeal or escape. The convict has no rights,
no friends, and no future; the amateur may walk out whenever he pleases,
and will be received by an admiring family and friends, and extolled by
public opinion as a reformer who suffered martyrdom in the cause. Yet what
he has experienced and learned falls as far short of what convicts endure,
as the emotions of a theater-goer at a problem play (with a tango supper
awaiting him in a neighboring restaurant) fall short of the long-drawn
misery and humiliation of those who undergo in actuality what the play

Meanwhile, scores of animated humanitarians, penologists, criminologists,
theorists and idealists have consulted, resolved, recommended, and
agitated, striking hard but in the dark, and most of their blows going
wide. Commissioners and inspectors have appeared menacingly at prison
gates, loudly heralded, equipped with plenipotentiary powers; and the
gates have been thrown wide by smiling wardens and sympathetic
guards--tender hearted, big brained, gentle mannered people, their
mouths overflowing with honeyed words and bland assurances, their clubs
and steel bracelets snugly stowed away in unobtrusive pockets--who
have personally and assiduously conducted their honored visitors
through marble corridors, clean swept cells, spacious dining saloons,
sanctimonious chapels, studious libraries and sunny yards; and have
stood helpfully by while happy felons told their tales of cheerful hours
of industry alternating with long periods of refreshing exercise and
peaceful repose; nay, these officials will sometimes quite turn their
backs upon the confidences between prisoner and investigator, lest there
should seem to be even a shadow of restraint in the outpourings. "Is all
well?"--"All is well!"--"No complaints?"--"No complaints!" What, then,
could inspectors and commissioners do except bid a friendly and
apologetic adieu to their ingenuous entertainers, and go forth bearing in
each hand a pail of freshest whitewash? And if, during the colloquies,
any malignant prisoner had happened, in a burst of reckless despair, to
venture on an indiscreet disclosure, the visitors were allowed to get
well out of earshot before the thud of clubs on heads was heard, and the
groans of victims chained to bars in dark cells of airless stench,
underneath the self same polished floors which had but an hour before
resounded to paeans of eulogy and contentment.

This is not a fancy picture--no, not even of what is known to judges and
attorneys (but not to prisoners) as "The model penitentiary of America,"
down in sunny Georgia. Fancy is not needed to round out the tale to be
told of conditions existing and of things done and suffered in this age
and country, behind walls which shut in fellow creatures of ours whom
facile jurors and autocratic courts have sent to living death and to
worse than death in accordance with laws passed by legislatures for
the benefit of--What, or Whom?--Of the community?--Of social order
and security?--Of outraged morality?--Of the reform of convicts
themselves?--These questions may be considered as we go along. Meanwhile
we may take notice that a number of persons, more or less deserving, gain
their livelihood by the detection, indictment, arrest, conviction and
imprisonment of other persons more or less undeserving; and whether or
not these proceedings or any of them are rash or prudent, straight or
crooked, just or tyrannous, lenient or cruel, honest or corrupt--is of
secondary importance. What is of first importance is to supply fuel for
the furnace of this unwieldy machine which operates our criminal system.
Our costly courts must have occupation, our expensive jails must be kept
full. We have succumbed to the disease which has been called legalism--the
persuasion that the craving for individual initiative born of the
unsettling of old faiths and the opening of new horizons, as well as
the consequences of poverty, misery, ignorance, and hereditary
incompetence--that this vast turning of the human tide, manifesting itself
in many forms, some benign, many evil--that this broad and profound
phenomenon can be met and controlled only by force, suppression,
punishment, the infliction of physical pain and moral humiliation.

This disease perverts that beautiful and ideal impulse toward mutual
order and self-restraint, which is Law, into lust for arbitrary and
impudent power to control the acts and even the thoughts of men down to
petty personal details; so that human life, at this very moment when it
most needs and aspires to enlightened liberty, is crushed back into
mechanical conformity with statutory regulations to which no common
assent has been or can be obtained, and the logical consequences of which
are as yet but obscurely recognized, even by the limited portion of the
community which has been active in establishing them. To give it its most
favorable interpretation, it is a sort of crazy counsel of perfection,
incompatible with the healthy tenor and contents of human nature, and
sure in the end to involve in its errant tentacles not only those who are
the avowed objects of its pursuit, but likewise the lawmakers and
enforcers themselves. Like all abuses, in its own entrails are the seeds
of its destruction. Laws now on our books, if radically applied, would
land almost every mother's son of us behind prison bars. And no doubt,
when the murderer, forger, swindler, or white slaver, in his cell, begins
to recognize in his new cell mate the judge who sentenced him, the
attorney who prosecuted him, the juryman who convicted him, or the
plaintiff who accused him, we shall find it expedient to subject our
legal nostrums to a system of purgation, and our fever of legalism will
abate. But if we will take thought betimes we may meet the trouble half
way, and thus avert, perhaps, the danger that the fever will be checked
only by the overturning of all law, sane or insane. The following
chapters are designed to help in defeating a catastrophe so unlovely.

Be it observed, first, that the only persons competent to reveal prison
life as it is are persons who have been sentenced to prisons and lived in
them as prisoners. Such showings might have been made long ago and often
but that those who knew the facts were afraid to speak, or could not win
belief, or had not education and capacity for expression requisite to get
their facts printed. Others, exhausted or unmanned by their sufferings,
wished only to hide themselves and forget and be forgotten; others have
indictments still hanging over them, to be pressed should they betray a
disposition to loquacity. Seldom, at any rate, has a man trained as a
writer lived out a prison sentence and emerged with the ability and
determination to throw the prison doors ajar and expose what has hitherto
been invisible, unknown, and unsuspected.

Such a story has importance, because there is no group of persons
anywhere but has some relation near or remote to what goes on in prisons.
And the constant output of new laws, creating new crimes (so that one
might say a man goes to bed innocent and wakes guilty)--this delirious
industry must goad us all into feeling a personal interest in the
administration of our penal machinery. You saw your friend tried and
sentenced yesterday; you may yourself stand in the dock to-morrow,
knowing yourself morally innocent, astounded at finding yourself
technically guilty. Yet you yourself by your civic neglect or ignorance
contributed to the enactment of the statute which now catches you
tripping. You had better search into these matters, and find out what the
authorities whom you helped to office are doing with their authority.

I have served my term in prison. The strain of that experience has not
sharpened my appetite to bear testimony; my desire, as evening falls, is
for rest and tranquillity. But I owe it to my American birth, parentage
and posterity, which connect me with what is honorable in my country, and
to my individual manhood, to do what I hold to be a duty. Especially am I
sensible of the claim upon me of those voiceless fellow men of mine still
behind the bars, who cannot help themselves, who have honored me with
their tragic confidences, who have believed that I would do my utmost to
let the truth be known and show the world what penal imprisonment really
means. I will keep faith with them.

I do not know that my attempt will succeed. Not every reader has
imagination or sympathy enough to step into another's shoes--especially
into the sorry shoes of a convict--and to realize facts which, even if we
credit them, are disquieting and unpleasant. They make us uncomfortable
and keep us awake at night. It is pleasanter to ignore or forget them, to
say that they must be exaggerated, or that their purveyor has some ax of
his own to grind; besides, do not abuses cure themselves in time?--and
there is always time enough!

Three or four men, while I was spending my months in jail, had time to
die of broken health and broken hearts, due to physical assaults or
neglect, combined with a system of mental torture yet more effective and
barbarous. Hundreds more are in similar plight, in Atlanta jail alone,
who might be saved by timely attention and common humanity. Of this, more
anon. I wish now to say that I undertake this work with a purpose as
serious as I am capable of; and that among the inducements that move me,
personal grudge and grievance are not included. Individual enmities are
foolish and sterile for the individuals, and a bore for everybody else.
Individuals are never so much to be hated as are the conditions which
prompt them to act hatefully. Improve the environment which produced the
murderer, robber, corrupt judge, rascally attorney, cruel warden, brutal
guard, and you are likely to get a creature quite humane and tolerable.
On the other hand, however, in the process of opposing evil conditions,
one cannot avoid contact with the human products of them--sometimes in a
stern and conclusive manner. Without going the length of the Spanish
Inquisition, which tortured the body on earth in order to save the soul
for heaven, it is not to be denied that punishment for evil deeds is
latent in the bowels of the evil doer and will make him suffer in one way
or another. We cannot strike a bad condition without hitting somebody who
is carrying it out; and I am in the position of the Quaker who went to
war: "Friend," he admonished his foe-man, "thee is standing just where I
am going to shoot!"

I am not disposed to present here, in the way of credentials, any account
of the circumstances that landed me in prison; still less to plead
anything in the way of extenuation. The District Attorney, in his
address, described me as a member of one of the most dangerous band of
crooks and swindlers that ever infested New York. The government of this
country authorized his statement; the news was bruited afar, wherever men
read and write and invest money on the planet, and it appealed to every
city editor and scandal-monger. Julian Hawthorne, son of the author of
"The Scarlet Letter," a pickpocket. Well, what next!

If ever I cherished the notion that the charge was too preposterous to be
believed, I was abundantly undeceived. To jail I went, and there served
out my time to the uttermost limit allowed by the law. But in this
connection I must touch on a matter which caused me some annoyance at the

In June of 1913 an editorial appeared in a New York newspaper endorsing
some petitions which had been circulated asking the President of the
United States to pardon me, mainly on the ground that in my ignorance of
business I had been more of an innocent dupe than a deliberate
malefactor. I had known nothing of these petitions; had I known of them,
I would have omitted no effort to prevent them.

But I did get hold of the editorial; and found myself placed in the
position of admitting myself guilty of the crime charged against me, but
cowering under the pitiful excuse of having been bamboozled by others.
What was even less tolerable, it presented me as entreating pardon of a
government from which I would in fact have accepted nothing short of an
unconditional apology. The Government had done me an injury under forms
of law; I am only one man, and the Government stands for a hundred
millions; but justice has no concern with numbers. My mining company and
I were ruined; the iron and silver which we tried to put on the market
will enrich others after we are gone; but I knew that what I and my
partners had said of them was true. What had I to do with "pardons"?
Pardon for what?

I lost no time in writing a letter to the editor of the paper, defining
my attitude in the matter; but it never reached him. It is in the private
safe of Warden Moyer, of Atlanta--or so I was informed by the Deputy
Warden, when I was released in October--and for aught I know or care it
may remain there forevermore.

Whether my respect for Law is higher or lower than is that of those
persons who are responsible for my being sent to prison and kept there,
may appear hereafter. But if crime be the result of anti-social impulses,
then I hold that our present statutes fail to include under their
categories, numerous and inquisitive though they be, a class of criminals
who do, or intend, quite as much harm as was ever perpetrated by any man
now under lock and key. Many of these persons occupy high places; most of
them are respectable. We meet them and greet them in society. I know
them, and also the murderers, highwaymen and yeggs of the penitentiary;
and when I want sincere, charitable, generous human companionship, my
choice is for the latter.



The judge pronounced our several prison sentences; that they were not also
sentences of death was due to circumstances which developed later. The
jury had previously dispersed, clothed in the sanctity of duties
discreetly performed, knowing why they did them, and enjoying whatever
consolation or advantage appertained thereto. Marshal Henkel cast upon us
the look of the turkey buzzard as he swoops upon his prey, and we found
ourselves being hustled down the familiar corridors, and into a room which
we had not visited before; a few assistant marshals were there, and ere
long a knot of newspaper men entered, observant and sympathetic, ready to
receive and record the last words of the condemned.

It was about six o'clock of a dark and rainy March evening. "Any statement
you would like to make?" One stands upon the brink of the living world,
facing the darkness and silence, and hears that question.

Here is an end of things, a nothing, a sort of death. The support and
countenance of one's fellow creatures are withdrawn; you are no longer a
part of organized social existence. The rights, privileges and courtesies
of manhood are stripped from you. You are adjudged unfit to touch the hand
of an honest man in greeting; you are made impotent, disgraced, consigned
to the refuse heap. The helpless shame put upon you is borne tenfold by
those who bear your name, those you love and who love you. All that
touches you henceforth shall be sordid, base and foul.

The prison officials who stand near you meet your eye with a leer of
familiarity; they have handled thousands of men in your situation; they
will have a grin or a growl for any remonstrance or protest you may make;
power over you has been given to them; in you there is no power. You
cannot blame them; their authority was deputed to them by men above them,
who in turn received it from others; they are parts of the great machine,
working irresistibly and automatically.

The judge is blameless; he had said, "The verdict of the jury makes it my
painful duty to sentence you!" The jury is not to blame; they had decided
upon the evidence, in accordance with their oath. The witnesses who bore
testimony against you--did they not testify upon a solemn adjuration to
utter nothing but the truth, at the peril of their immortal souls? The
indictments to whose truth they bore witness--were they not made and
brought by officers appointed by law to seek only impartial justice, and
sworn to seek it without fear or favor?

Go back yet another step if you will, and consider the inspectors and
detectives who gathered the complaints against you--is the beginning with
them? No: they did but act for the protection of the community against a
crime of which you were suspected, which was resolved to be a crime by the
representatives of the nation in Congress assembled--that is, by the
nation itself. You yourself, therefore, as part of the nation, share with
the rest the responsibility for your present predicament. Then, whether
the verdict against you were right or wrong--whether you be innocent or
guilty--the blame at last comes home to you.

Such is the _reductio ad absurdum_--the lawyers' argument, technically
flawless, though proceeding upon a transparent fallacy. That fallacy I
shall consider hereafter; the question of the moment is the
reporters'--"Have you any statement to make?"

Of what avail to answer? Has not enough been said during the trial of the
past four months, and in vain? The young fellow stands there, courteously
inquisitive, not unsympathetic perhaps, his pencil suspended. Have I any
last words for the world which I am leaving? Shall I declaim of injustice,
outrage, perjury? Shall I threaten revenge, or entreat mercy? Shall I
"break down," or shall I "maintain an appearance of bravado"--he is ready
to record either.

No, I will do none of these futile things. In such extremities, a man's
manhood and dignity come to his support. I am helpless, to be sure, but
only physically so. All this portentous paraphernalia of court and prison
can touch nothing more than my body--my spirit is unscathed. It is the
ancient consolation, coming down through poetry and history even to me.
The Government--the Nation--can destroy my life, separate me from my
people, throw mud on my name; but they cannot take away one atom of my
consciousness of the truth. And it is better to have that consciousness
than to retain all the rest without it. Blessed ethical truisms, which
come to our succor when all else falls away!

Accordingly, the reporters were supplied with a few grave, not sensational
words, suggested by the spur of the moment; they receded into the
background, and Marshal Henkel, zealous to do his whole duty, and prevent
the escape of an elderly gentleman through locked doors, echoing
corridors, and the resistance of half a dozen lusty guards, advanced to
the front of the stage and gave the order, "Handcuffs!" Knowing my marshal
as I did, I was prepared for him, and extended my arm, till I felt the
steel close round it with a solid snap. I was a manacled convict, and the
community was saved.

But no time was to be lost; it was already after hours for the city
prison; and the stout party of the other part of the handcuff and I passed
out through the opening door promptly. As we turned the corner of the
corridor, I suddenly saw the face of one of my sons-in-law, pale in the
electric light; he forced a smile to his lips, and threw up one hand in
greeting and farewell. Ah, those who are left behind! who can compensate
them, and how can the injury done them be forgiven? I smiled a moment to
myself as I thought of the ready answer of the august purveyor of the
law--"You should have thought of that when you committed your crime!"
That answer is also a part of the automatic machinery, and comes out, when
the button is pressed, as inevitably as the package of chewing-gum from
its receptacle--even more so!

I felt the rain on my face as we emerged from the old postoffice building,
and saw the slanting drops as we passed through the rays of the street
lamp on the corner. It was a memorable journey for me, short in its
material aspect, long otherwise; and I noticed the particulars. Newspaper
Row loomed on the right, strange in its familiarity, my work-place of many
years. Here was the Third Avenue terminal, whence, a few hours before, I
had confidently expected to take the train homeward, a free and vindicated
man. There were glimpses, in the wet glare, of black headlines of
newspapers, and the shrill professional cries of the gamins, "Hawthorne
convicted!" It was like living in a detective story--but this was real!

But then came the thought that had often visited me in the past months, as
I sat in the dingy courtroom, and listened perfunctorily to the legal
wrangle, the abuse and defense, the long-drawn testimony of witnesses, the
comment of the precise and genial judge, and contemplated idly the jaded,
uncomfortable jury, the covert whispering of Assistant District Attorneys
and postoffice inspectors, the dangling maps and the piles of
documents--when I had asked myself, "Is all this real, or are they
transient symbols importing a concealed significance?" Then, to my
imagination, the empty walls would seem to melt away, and I saw a great,
benign face and figure above the bench of the judge, holding a trial of
those who labored so busily--a trial not entered in the books, and alien
from that which occupied us; and recording judgments, unheard here, but

Was that the reality? Then let come what might on this plane of foolish
contention, where we strive to cover the Immutable with the petty mask of
our mutabilities. We sweat and toil for ends which we know not, and our
paltry and blind decisions, our triumphs and failures, determine nothing
but the degree of our own ignorance and impotence. The Lord's aims and
issues are not ours, and ours do but measure our spiritual stature, and
direct our immortal destiny, in His sight.

Yes, but this palpable world has its place and function nevertheless, to
be accepted and used while time lasts. If those who tried me were on
trial, I had no personal concern in the matter. My business, now, was to
keep pace with my companion, who obligingly allowed his arm to swing with
mine, so that passers-by, even if they could afford to divert their
attention from their own footing on the muddy pavements, and from the
management of their umbrellas, would not have noticed the bond uniting him
and me. For this courtesy--the only possible one in the circumstances--I
took occasion to express my recognition, to which he responded with easy
friendliness. "We don't never make no trouble for them as don't go to hunt
none," was his remark.

We were now in Centre Street, and the Tombs was close at hand; and I drew
into my lungs full draughts of the open air, murky though it was,
reflecting that my opportunities of doing so in future would be limited.

Here were the steps supporting the tall steel gate, through which, in
former days, I had seen many a poor devil pass; it was now others' turn to
commiserate, or to jeer, the poor devil that was myself. There was no
delay--we seemed to be awaited; and in the next minute I had felt what it
is to be locked into a prison. I was behind bars, and could not get out at
my own will--nor at any one else's, for that matter; only at the
impersonal fiat of the machine.

My marshal chatted and laughed a moment with the keeper, then gave me his
buxom paw in farewell. I was led through stone passages, past rows of
barred cells from which peered visages of fellow prisoners, incurious and
preoccupied, or truculent and reckless--men under indictment and without
bail, convicts making appeal, and culprits jailed for minor offenses. Such
men were to be my comrades for the future. Some were out in the corridors,
pacing up and down or chatting with friends; for the laws of the Tombs are

It is a unique place, a Devil's Antechamber, where almost anything except
what is decent and orderly may happen. It is not so much a prison or
penitentiary as a human pound, where every variety of waif and stray turns
up and sojourns for a while; murderers, pickpockets, political scapegoats,
confidence men, old professionals, first-time offenders, even suspects
afterwards to be proved innocent. There is nothing that I know of to
prevent thorough-going convicts from getting in here permanently; the
Tombs is of catholic hospitality. But they do not properly belong here; it
is but their halfway house--the antechamber.

And discrimination must be observed in classifying the inmates; no one
here likes to be regarded as beyond hope of bettering or escaping from his
restricted condition. He wears his own clothes, for one thing--and no
small thing; he is not known by a number; it is not, I believe, en regle
to club him into insensibility at will and with impunity, or to starve him
to death, or so much as to hang him up by the wrists in a dark cell. The
guards or keepers do not go about visibly armed with revolvers or rifles;
talking and smoking are not prohibited; the grotesque assemblage is let
out into the corridors occasionally, where they shamble up and down and
exchange observations and confidences; and they have an hour outdoors in
the stone paved, high-walled yard.

Moreover, extraordinary liberties can be obtained, if you know how to go
about it, and possess the means of bandaging inconvenient eyes. Not only
are we permitted to stampede our quotas of bedbugs, but leave may be had
to decorate our cells with souvenirs of art and domesticity, to soften our
sitting-down appliances with cushions, to drape the curtain of modesty
before the grating of restriction, to carpet our stone flooring, to supply
our leisure hours with literary nourishment, to secrete stealthy cakes and
apples for bodily solace, to enjoy surreptitious and not over-hazardous
corridor outings when others are locked up, to write and receive any sort
of letters at any times, without having them first read and stamped by
licensed letter-ghouls.

More, there was at least one man among my companions there who contrived,
by devices which I never sought to fathom, to pass the immitigable outer
gates themselves every day, attend to his business in the outer world for
as many hours as might serve, returning quietly in time for last
roll-call. He took a keeper with him, of course, but only in order to
assuage possible anxiety on the part of those responsible for his
security; and one cannot help suspecting that as soon as the two found
themselves under the free sky, the keeper betook himself to some friendly
saloon, moving-picture palace, or other inviting retreat, and only saw the
other again when they met by appointment in their trysting place.

It was safe enough no doubt; the prisoner would hardly think it worth his
while to attempt actual disimprisonment; he was content to sleep at night
in his cosy and comfortable cell. But the Moral Powers who live in white
waistcoats and saintly collars might have been restless in their innocent
sleep, had they known what things are practicable under the austere name
of incarceration in the City Prison.

Revolving these matters, I could only come to the conclusion that they
pointed in one direction, namely, toward the anachronism and absurdity of
our whole theory of punishment by imprisonment. As I shall have plenty of
cause to give full discussion to this subject later on, I will only touch
it here; but the fact is that we imprison malefactors or law-breakers (not
always synonymous by any means, since there are a score of artificial
crimes for one real one) not because we believe that to be the right thing
for them, but simply by reason of our inability to imagine anything more
suitable and sane. Moreover, there are the steel and stone jail buildings
themselves, which cost much in money and more in graft; what shall be done
with them? The wardens and guards, too--all the fantastic appanages of
these institutions--are they to be cast incontinently upon a frigid world?

The law, in short, lags leagues and ages behind the moral sense of the
community, so encumbered with its baggage train that it can never fetch up
lost ground. We know perfectly well that the only punishments that can
improve men are punishments of conscience from within, and of love from
without--which is practically the same thing; and that punishment by
imprisonment is punishment by hate in fact, whatever it may be in theory,
and therefore diabolical and destructive. It can only inflame and multiply
the evils it pretends to heal; and this is no theory, but a certified and
established truth. Everybody who has been through it, knows it, everybody
who dares to think may know it.

The whole thing is ridiculous, a huge and clumsy absurdity, stepping on
its own feet and smelling to heaven. And here in our America it is to-day
worse than in Italy or Russia, in some respects, because we know better
that it is wrong, and therefore try to hide its enormities from open
daylight. We lie and dissimulate about it, investigators whitewash it,
conservative citizens deprecate exaggeration about it, wardens and
guards--some of them, not all--are more wicked in their secret practises
with convicts than they would be if they did not know that they would be
stopped if the community knew of them. And it was inevitable that only a
low type of men would accept positions as guards and wardens, because no
honest man worth his salt could afford to work for the pay that these
officials get; and the latter themselves would not work for it, did they
not depend upon stealing twice as much, or more, by the graft.

But the system, inwardly rotten, crumbles; and in the interval remaining
before it falls, the devil is getting in some of his most strenuous work.
I know, and rejoice, that enlightened and magnanimous methods are
obtaining in some places; hearty and brave men, here and there, are making
themselves wardens of the good in men instead of exploiters of the evil.
But in most prisons--among them, in that one down in Atlanta, whence I
come--the devil is laboring overtime, conscious that his time is short.

The worst criminals there--as God sees criminals--are not the men in
branded attire who sit in their cells and slouch about their sterile
tasks, but men who walk the ranges in uniform, and who sit in the rooms of
managers; for the crimes of the former are crimes of poverty or of
passion, but those of the latter are voluntary, unforced, spontaneous
crimes against human nature itself. They are upheld in high places; they
are fortified by difficulty of "technical proof"; they are guarded by the
menace of the spy system, and of criminal libel; but there is some reason
to think that their term is near.

But let us return to that queer Antechamber of the Devil at the corner of
Centre and Franklin Streets.

There is a picture by that strange and unmatchable English artist of the
Eighteenth Century, William Hogarth, of the mad house in London know as
Bedlam. If he were here, he might draw a companion picture of the Tombs.
The one is as much as the other a crazy, incoherent, irrational, futile
place, yet embodying very accurately a certain aspect of the civic
attitude toward the insanity of vice and crime of the day. There is
nothing intelligent, purposeful, trenchant or radical about it; it is
planted in ignorance and grows by neglect.

The keepers of it are good natured people enough, with a sense of humor,
and free from trammels of principle, official or ethical. Their greatest
severity is exercised toward those who stand outside the gates and crave
permission to visit their friends within; these find the way arduous and
beset with pitfalls of "orders," hours, and other mystic rites, except
where they blow in miraculously, enforced by some breath from on high.

The inmates themselves, meantime, get on quite prosperously, so long at
least as their money or money's worth holds out. There is no license or
aptitude on their guardians' part to club them for relaxation's sake, or
to kick them into underground dungeons for "observation" (you will
understand that term by and by), or in any manner to hold a carnival of
wanton brutality with them. The general idea is merely to keep them
somewhere inside the building for the appointed or convenient time; beyond
that, a liberal view is adopted of the conditions of their sojourn. They
can buy eats to suit themselves, and have them served to them in their
cells; they can hold communication with one another and with the outer
world; I suppose they might wear evening dress after six o'clock if they
wanted to. They are not victims of despotic and irresponsible power, and
this is not only good for them, but also for the keepers, who are not led
into the degradation and monstrous inhumanities which the possession of
such power breeds in regular prisons.

Most of these prisoners expect to get out before long, either to go on to
more permanent quarters, or to be liberated altogether; many of them
emerge with comparatively small loss of social standing; for, indeed,
highly respectable persons occasionally stray in here. The Tombs is not
regarded as a final or fatal misfortune in a man's career. Yet it has its

Dirt is one of the more obvious of these; I might call it filth, but it
depends on how one has been brought up. The impurity, at any rate, is not
confined to the surfaces of the cells, floors and walls, but it creeps
into the current language, and permeates the atmosphere. I am convinced
that there never has been or could be a houseful of people who hear or use
fouler and more unremitting obscenities than are those which flow
sewer-wise and unhindered from the lips of many of this population.

It dribbles and exgurgitates, black and noisome, at the slightest
provocation--nay, at none whatever, but with the delight of the past
master and artist in verbal nastiness, anxious to display his erudition.
It is a corruption of thought and expression so foul and concentrated, and
withal so limited in its vocabulary and scope, that it fastens itself in
the ear by a damnable iteration which no diverting of the attention can
overcome; and it announces a depth of moral and mental debasement which
seems as far from human as from merely animal possibilities; it is of the
uttermost soundings of Tophet, and would probably be modified by
fresh-heated gridirons even there.

This speech, or verbosity rather--for it has none of the logic or
continuity of mortal utterances--does not continue uninterruptedly during
the day, but observes special hours, when the guards are paying even less
than their usual attention to the vagaries of their charges. Of these
periods, the hours of early dawn are the most fertile.

When I dwelt in the environs of the city, it was my fortunate habit, in
summer, to awake at dawn, just before sunrise, when the wide pasture
outside my window was still obscure with the shadows of night, but the sky
had begun to kindle with the splendors of day. In a group of darksome
trees beside a little stream two hundred paces distant a song thrush was
wont to trill forth the holy soul of awakening nature in such a paean of
deathless Pan as inspired John Keats to utter the melodies of his magic
ode. It consecrated the footsteps of the approaching sun, and the hearer
was borne back on its swelling current to those pure early aeons of the
human race, when love was the lord of life and innocence went forth
crowned with rapture.

For this hymn of the primal gods was now substituted the hideous strophes
and antistrophes of the grimy spirits of darkest New York. As one
performer after another took up the strain, to and fro and from upper to
lower tiers of cells, one awaited some seismic cataclysm to put an end to
it and them; and the pauses of it were punctuated by bursts of dreary
laughter, applausive of the incredible gushings of blighting depravity.
They were the heralds of the prison day--the tune to which its steps were
set. After it was over--when the yawning keeper had rattled the bars and
threatened a twelve-hour close confinement to the perpetrators--one was
amazed to identify with the latter persons outwardly in human shape,
instead of malformed and sooty fiends from the bottomless abyss. I doubt
whether anything to range with this occurs in any other criminal cauldron
in the world; and therefore, with stopped nostrils, have I tried to give
some faint adumbration of its character.

The head keeper of the menagerie I saw but once or twice; he was of
Falstaffian proportions, with a clear and steady masculine eye and a
demeanor of genial and complacent authority. He knew what and when to see
and not to see, and had his own measure of the legalities and the
proprieties. Little gusts of investigations and reforms passed by him as
the eddying dust of the street sweeps by granite skyscrapers. "_J'y
suis--J'y reste!_" was his motto. The subordinates had a general Irish
complexion to my feeling; they were there to gather tips under the
humorous guise of marshals of order. They were affable and easy, going as
far as they could with only so much show of resistance as might lend more
value to their yielding.

The prisoners were as heterogeneous as the contents of a rag-picker's
auction. Yet they associated with little friction, herding uniformly kind
with kind, only rarely lending themselves to transient ructions. They
played little jokes on each other; a fat and serious captive was sitting
of an evening at his cell door, absorbed in the perusal of a wide-spread
newspaper; a gnome-like passerby in the corridor lit an unsuspected match,
and suddenly the newspaper was a sheet of flame.

There were uglier spectacles; we had among us a fresh murderer, who after
killing his wife had retained grudge enough against her to hack off her
head. He kept darkly to his cell, sitting hour after hour with his head
leaning on his hand, and eyes unswervingly downcast. His crime was not
popular in that company, and none sought his companionship. At the other
end of the scale were dazed, foreign creatures, guilty of they knew not
what, gropingly and vainly striving to understand and to make themselves
understood. There was the scum of the gutters; and there were men of
intellect and high breeding, arming their hearts to resist shame and
despair, and bending to soften the plight of children of misery below

The soul of the new comer blenches and shivers occasionally as he
contemplates the grisly, crazy scene, and thinks of all that menaces the
women at home. And when, in the visiting hours, the women come and stare
palely at the faces of those they love between the bars, wishing to cheer
them, but appalled and made giddy by the abject and sordid horror of the
solid fact, those who stare back at them and try to smile feel the grating
of the wheels of life on the harsh bottom of things. But a man's manhood
must not give way; there must be no triumph over him of these assaults and
underminings of the enemy. Soul gazes at soul; but the talk is superficial
and trivial. He is drowning in the gulf, and she stands yearning on the
brink, but there shall be no vain outcries or outstretched arms. It is a
condition wrought by men, not countenanced by God, and the spirit must
command the flesh to endure.

Punch the button and listen once more to the refrain--"You should have
thought of that before!" But can our posterity ever be induced to believe
that such inhumanities could have been committed in the divine name of

I am not qualified to write the epic of the Devil's Antechamber; I abode
there but ten days, as we reckon time. On a cool and clear Easter Sunday
morning the summons came to go forth to further adventures. Accompanied by
three deputies, but free of the Henkel handcuffs, we passed the gates and
trod the sunny pavements. Not a cloud in the blue sky, nor a taint upon
the pure wings of the free air. None that saw us pass suspected our
invisible fetters. Yet to me at least the thought that had ministered to
me in the actual courtroom and prison, that the fetters were a dream and
freedom the reality, was not accessible then. The absence of physical
bonds seemed to render the imprisonment more, not less undeniable.

But we stepped out briskly, and breathed while we might.



Five of us stood on the platform of the Pennsylvania station; one stayed
behind as the train moved out. He was the answer to the question, "_Quis
custodiet ipsos custodes?_"--"Who shall watch the watchman?" Our two
marshals were to see that we did not escape; he was to see that they saw.
But his function ended when the departing whistle blew. He was a lean,
pale, taciturn personage in black; Marshal Henkel had perhaps substituted
him for the handcuffs. There was nothing between us and freedom now but
our brace of tipstaves, the train crew, the public in and out of the
train, the train itself moving at a fifty mile an hour pace, the law, and
our own common sense. Moreover, we had decided to see the adventure
through. Something more than nine hundred miles, and twenty-six hours, lay
between us and Atlanta.

The elder of our two guardians was a short but wide gentleman of
forty-five, of respectable attire and aspect, as of one who had seen the
world and had formed no flattering opinion of its quality, yet had not
permitted its imperfections to overcome his native amiable tolerance. He
was prepared to take things and men easy while they came that way, but
could harden and insist upon due occasion. Human nature--those varieties
of it, at least, which are not incompatible with criminal tendencies--was
his "middle name" (as he might have phrased it), so that in his proper
social environment he was not apt to make social mistakes. This
environment, however, could not but be constituted, in the main, of
convicts either actual or potential; and there was probably no citizen,
however high his standing or spotless his ostensible record, who in this
official's estimate might not have prison gates either before him or
behind him, or both. To be able to maintain, under the shadow of
convictions so harsh, a disposition so sunny, was surely an admirable
trait of character.

His assistant in the present job was still in the morning stage of his
career; a big, red-headed, rosy-cheeked, and obtrusively brawny youth of
five and twenty. He might be regarded as the hand of steel in the glove of
velvet of the combination. He may have carried bracelets of steel in his
rear pockets; but his associate earnestly assured me that such was far
from being the case. "I don't mind telling you the truth, Mr. Hawthorne,"
he confided to me with a companionable twist of the near corner of his
mouth, "I'd as soon think of cuffs, for gentlemen like you two, as nothin'
in the world! Why, it's like this--as far as I'm concerned, I'd just put a
postage-stamp on you and ship you off by yourselves--I'd know you'd turn
up all right of yourselves at the other end! That's me; but of course, we
has to foller the regulations; so there you are!" And the ruddy youngster
stretched his herculean limbs and grinned, as who should say, "Cuffs!
Hell! What d'yer know about that? Ain't I good for ten of yer?"

As the comely Pennsylvania landscape slid by, my friend of a lifetime and
I looked out on it with eyes that felt good-by. For us, the broad earth,
bright sunshine and fresh air were a phantasmagoria--we had no further
part in them. From college days onward, through just fifty years of life,
we had traveled almost side by side, giving the world the best that was in
us, not without honor; and now our country had stamped us as felons and
was sending us to jail. It had suddenly discovered in us a social and
moral menace to its own integrity and order, and had put upon us the
stigma of rats who would gnaw the timbers of the ship of state and corrupt
its cargo. The end of it all was to be a penitentiary cell, and disgrace
forever, to us and to ours.

But was the disgrace ours and theirs? When you kick a mongrel cur it lies
down on its back and holds up its paws, whining. But the thoroughbred acts
quite otherwise; you may kill it, but you cannot conquer it. We would not
lie supine under the assault of the blundering bully. Disgrace cannot be
inflicted from without,--it can only come to a man from within. And the
disgrace which is attempted unjustly must sooner or later be turned back
on those who attempted it; the men whom our country had deputed to handle
the machinery of law had blundered, and had convicted and condemned those
who had done no wrong. I had never felt or expressed anything stronger
than contempt for any particular persons actively concerned in our
indictment and trial--the pack that had snapped and snarled so busily at
our heels. Till the last I had believed that their purpose could not be
accomplished,--that the nation would awake to what was being done in the
nation's court, under sanction of the nation's laws. The public must at
last realize the moral impossibility that men who had all that is dearest
to men to lose, should throw it away for such motives as were ascribed to
us--ascribed, but, as we felt, not established. And when the public
realized that, thought I, they would perceive that the shame which the
incompetent handling of the legal machinery aimed to fix on us must
finally root itself not in us but in the public; since the world and
posterity, which, more for our names' sake than for our own, would note
what was being done, would not distinguish between the employee and the
master--the country and the country's attorneys, and would hold the former
and not the latter accountant.

I was mistaken; the public took the thing resignedly to say the least. And
though I consented to no individual animosities--for individuals in such
transactions are but creatures of their trade, subdued to what they work
in, like the dyer's hand--I could not so easily absolve the impersonal
master. The fault inhered of course not in any grudge of the community
against us, but in the prevalent civic neglect (in which, in my time, I
had participated with the rest) of duties to the state, theoretically
impersonal, but which cannot proceed otherwise than on personal accounts.

Man is frail; but, next to sincere religious conviction, no principle
exists so strong to control him as _noblesse oblige_--the impulse to keep
faith and to deal honestly imposed not by his individual conscience alone,
but by the pure traditions of his inheritance. The man who has the honor
of his forefathers to preserve--an honor which may be a part of the
nation's honor--is a hundred-fold better fortified against base action
than is the son of thieves, or even of nobodies. The latter may find
heroism enough to resist temptation, but the former is not tempted; he
dismisses the thing at the start as preposterous. It is no credit to him
to put such temptation aside, but it is black infamy and treachery to make
terms with it. If he do make terms with it, no punishment can be too
severe--though I take leave to say that the external penalties which state
or nation can inflict are trivial compared with those deadly ones which
torture him from within; but before crediting him with having yielded, the
state or nation should not merely assume his innocence--a stipulation
which our law indeed makes, but which is notoriously disregarded by
prosecuting attorneys--but should weigh and sift with the most anxious and
jealous scrutiny anything and everything which might appear inconsistent
therewith. A son of a thief who steals does but follow his inborn
instinct; but a thief whose ancestors were gentlemen is a monster, and
monsters are rare.

In England and the other older countries, the principle of _noblesse
oblige_ still has weight with the public as well as with the individual;
here, the welter of democracy, which has not evolved into distinct human
form, uniformly ignores it; leveling down, not up, it is quick to see a
scoundrel in any man. Meanwhile, instead of taking thought to abate the
public mania for success in the form of concrete wealth which multiplies
inducements to crime, it creates shallow statutes to punish acceptance of
such inducements, with the result that while in its practical life it
rushes in one direction, it erects in its courts a fantastic counsel of
perfection which points in a direction precisely opposite. Our law tends
not merely to the penalizing of real crimes, but to the manufacture of
artificial ones; and the simple standard of natural or intuitive morals is
bewilderingly complicated with a regimen of patent nostrums, conceived in
error and administered in folly.

Sitting in the car window with my friend, I revolved these things, while
the sunny landscape wheeled past outside, and our guardians chewed gum in
the adjoining section. After all was said and done, amid whatever was
strange and improbable, he and I were going to the penitentiary in the
guise of common swindlers. A pioneer on the western plains, in the old
days, riding homeward after several hours' absence, found his cabin a
charred ruin, his property destroyed, his wife lying outraged with her
throat cut, his children huddled among the debris with their brains dashed
out. Sitting on his bronco, he contemplated the immeasurable horror of the
catastrophe, and finally muttered, "This is ridiculous!"

"This is ridiculous!" I remarked to my companion; and he consented with a
smile; when language goes bankrupt, the simple phrase is least inadequate.
"We may as well have lunch," he said; and we rose and journeyed to the
rear of the train, sedulously attended by our deputies. The spontaneous
routine of the physical life is often a valuable support to the spiritual,
reminding the latter that we exist from one moment to another, and do
wisely to be economical of forecasts or retrospects. We journeyed back,
through innocent scenes of traveling life, to the smoking compartment,
which happened to be vacant; and under the consoling influence of tobacco
our elder companion sought to lighten the shadows of destiny.

"You gentlemen," he said, uttering smoke enjoyingly through mouth and
nostrils, "don't need to worry none. It's like this: the judge figured to
let you off easy. He's bound, of course, to play up to the statute by
handin' you your bit, but, to start with, he cuts it down all he can, and
then what does he do but date you back four months to the openin' of the
trial! All right! After four months you're eligible for parole on a year
and a day's sentence, ain't yer? Your trial began on November 25th, and
to-day is the 24th of March. That means, don't it, that you make your
application the very next thing after they gets you on the penitentiary
register to-morrer! Why, look-a-here," he continued, warming to his theme,
and becoming, like Gladstone as depicted by Beaconsfield, intoxicated with
the exuberance of his own verbosity, "it wouldn't surprise me, not a bit,
sir, if you and your mate was to slip back with us on the train to-morrer
evenin', and the whole bunch of us be back in little old New York along
about Wednesday! That's right! An' what I says is, that ain't no
punishment--that's no more'n takin' a pleasure trip down South, at the
suitable time o' year! An' I guess I been on the job long enough to know
what I'm talkin' about!"

We guessed he knew that he was talking benevolent fictions; and yet there
was plausibility in his argument. The law did not allow parole on
sentences of a year or under, but on anything over one year, a convict was
eligible, and our sentence of twenty-four hours over the twelvemonth
therefore brought us within this provision. In imposing that extra day,
the judge could hardly have been motived by anything except the intention
to open this door to us; and although the regular meeting of the parole
board at the prison was not due just then, we were informed that an extra
meeting might be summoned at any time. The board consisted of the warden
of the prison, the doctor, and the official who presided at all parole
board meetings at the various federal penitentiaries throughout the
country,--Robert LaDow. The law declares that a majority of the board
decides the applications that come before it; and as two members of the
board make a quorum, it seemed obvious that the warden and the doctor of
Atlanta Penitentiary would serve our turn--if they wanted to. Mr. LaDow,
of course, might be appealed to by telegraph if expedient.

Turning the thing over, therefore, with the cozening rogue in front of us
drawing our attention to the buttered side as often as it appeared, we
could hardly avoid the conclusion that there was a possibility of his
being right. We might be required to remain in Atlanta barely long enough
to don a suit of prison clothing and to have our bertillons made, and
forthwith make a triumphal return home, with our scarlet sins washed white
as snow. Of such an imprisonment it might be said, as wrote the poet of
the baby that died at birth,

"If it so soon was to be done for,
One wonders what it was begun for,"

but it would not be the first thing that we had noticed in Federal
administration of justice which might have been similarly criticized.

My allusion to this subject here is only by way of leit-motif for a
thorough discussion hereafter. The juggling with the parole law, by the
Department of Justice and the parole boards, is one of the most
indefensible and cruel practical jokes that "the authorities" play upon
prisoners. It caused two deaths by slow torture while I was at Atlanta,
as shall be shown in the proper place; and there is no reason to suppose
that the percentage at other prisons was not as large or larger. The
sufferings short of death that are due to it cannot be calculated. A
practical joke?--yes; but there is a practical purpose back of it. The
miserable men who are practised upon by this means, helpless but hoping,
are led to believe that they may buy freedom at the price of treachery
to their fellows. Can it be credited that a convict in his cell, with
perhaps years of living death before him,--you do not yet know what that
means, but if I live to tell this story, you will be able to guess at
its significance before we part--will refuse the opportunity offered to
end it at once in return for merely speaking one or two names?--a
convict--a creature outlawed, crushed, damned, dehumanized,
despised,--can we look from him for a heroism, a martyrdom, which might
shed fresh honor on the highest name in the community? I confess that I
would not have looked for it a year ago, and I doubt whether you look
for it now. But, I have to report, with joy in the goodness and
selflessness in men whom you and I have presumed to look down upon, that
in very few instances that I have heard of, and in almost none that I
know, has a convict thus terribly tempted even hesitated to answer--NO!
But many an old and cherished prejudice will begin painfully to gnaw its
way out of your complacent mind before we are done.

The City of Brotherly Love flickered by and was left behind, like the
sentiment which it once stood for. We were headed for Washington, where
the will and conscience of the nation take form and pass into effect.
Government of the people by lawyers, for lawyers; did they know what
they were doing? The Constitution, bulwark of our liberties; the letter
of the law, technicalities, precedents, procedure, the right of the
individual merged in the public right, and lost there! The House--five
hundred turbulent broncos, each neighing for his own bin; the
Senate--four score portentous clubmen, adjusting the conservative
shirt-front of dignity and moderation over the license of privilege and
"the interests"; the Executive--dillydallying between nonentity and the
Big Stick; the Supreme Court--a handful of citizens and participators in
our common human nature, magically transmuted into omniscient and
omnipotent gods by certificates of appointment! And the rest of our
hundred millions, in this era of new discoveries and profound upheavals,
on this battlefield of Armageddon between Hell and Heaven, in this
crumbling of the old deities and the looming of the Unknown,--are we to
lie down content and docile and suffer this hybrid monster of
Frankenstein, under guise of governing, to squat on our necks, bind our
Titan limbs, bandage our awakening eyes, gag our free voices, sterilize
our civic manhood, and debase us from sons of divine liberty into the
underpinning of an oligarchy?

My friend and I--while our licensed proprietors napped with one eye
open--smiled to each other perhaps, recognizing how the prick of
personal injury and injustice will arouse far-reaching rebellion against
human wrongs and imperfections in general. But our famous American sense
of humor may be worked overtime, and, from a perception of the
incongruity and relative importance of things, be insensibly degraded
into pusillanimous indifference to everything, good or bad. The soberest
observer may concede that there is a spiritual energy and movement
behind visible phenomena, whose purport and aim it is the province of
the wise to understand. The peril of Armageddon lies in the fact that
evil never fights fair, but ever masks itself in the armor of good. Not
only so, but good may be changed into evil by hasty and misdirected
application, and do more harm--because unsuspected--than premeditated
evil itself. Public endowment of chosen persons with power is good and
necessary in our form of civilization, and the chosen ones may accept it
in good faith. But in a community where everybody has business of his
own to mind, and is put to it so to conduct it as to keep off the poor
rates, deputed powers, designed to be limited, always tend to become
absolute. It is heady wine, too, and intoxicates those who partake of
it. And it is only a seeming paradox that absolute and irresponsible
power is more apt to develop in a democracy than under any other form of
human association. Holders of it, moreover, instead of fighting for
supremacy among themselves, and thus annulling their own
mischievousness, as would at a first glance seem likely, soon learn the
expediency of agreeing together; each keeps to his own area of
despotism, cooperating, not interfering with the rest. But the system
inevitably takes the form of rings within rings, each interior one
possessing progressively superior dominion. At last we come to a central
and small group of men who are truly absolute, and are supported and
defended in their stronghold by the self-interested loyalty of the rest.
But they do not proclaim their supremacy; on the contrary, they hide it
under clever interpretations of law, and, at need, by securing the
enactment of other laws fitted to the exigency of the occasion. If there
is remonstrance or revolt among their subjects, they subdue it partly by
pointing out that it is the law, and not themselves, that is
responsible; and partly by employing other legal forms to put down the
resistance. You cannot catch them; they vanish under your grasp as
principles, not men. Their voice is never heard saying, "I will!" but
always, "The law requires." And these autocrats--this oligarchy--are
only men like ourselves, with like passions, limitations and sinful
inheritance. They were not born to the purple--they just happened to get
to it. But being possessed of it--and apart of course from any crude and
obvious malfeasance in office--they cannot be "legally" dislodged; and
if they step aside, it is only to let alter egos take their place. The
King of England--the Emperor of Germany--can be deposed by the people,
and his head cut off; but the free and independent--but
law-abiding--citizens of the United States cannot throw off this subtle
tyranny, because it is identified with legal provisions which we have
insensibly allowed to creep into the inmost and most personal fibers of
our lives. As for modifying or abolishing the law itself--that would be

It would be foolish to contend that our rulers are actuated by any
personal malevolence or even, at first, by unlawful personal ambition;
they are, as I have said, for the most part lawyers, and law is their
fetish--their magical cure-all and philosopher's stone. They almost
persuade themselves, perhaps, that we the people make the laws; whereas
not more than one man in ten thousand--even of lawyers--knows what the
law in any given case is, nor would the majority of us approve any
particular law, if we were afforded the chance. Any one of us will
support the law against his enemy, but not, in behalf of his enemy,
against himself. But our legalized sultans and satraps, Councils of Ten
and Grand Inquisitors, keep an easy conscience; the Law is King and can
do no wrong. A few centuries ago it was law in England to kill a man for
taking any personal liberties; there was not much harm in that, for most
of the persons that counted were above the law, being nobles or
gentlemen. But our way is far more injurious; if a man takes a personal
liberty, the cry is, Put him in jail! Death is a penalty which only
disposes of a man forever; but jail is poisonous; the man survives, but
he becomes criminal, and an enemy of society. And this cry for jail does
not appear to emanate from legal tribunals merely, but we the people
ourselves have caught it up, and invoke cells and chains for the
lightest infraction of public or personal convenience; nay, we clamor
for more laws to supplement our already overburdened statute-books. Thus
do we thoughtlessly strengthen the hands of our masters. The nostrum
which they manufactured to govern us withal, and which at first had to
be administered to us willy-nilly, has now become like that notorious
patent medicine for which the children cry. We kiss the rod--as long as
it is laid across our fellows' backs and not our own. And the rule of
Law, by lawyers, for lawyers, shows no signs of vanishing from our
earth. Only convicts and ex-convicts dissent; for they know what they
dissent from. As an unidentified friend wrote to me of late, "No thief
ere felt the halter draw, With good opinion of the law"; but the thief
had reason on his side. And it may yet come to pass that his reasons may
be listened to.

Darkness set in as we entered the sacred soil of Virginia; night lay
before us--our next night would be spent inside penitentiary walls. Was
it a dream, or would some cosmic cataclysm occur in season to prevent
it? No: the ancient routine of one fact after another, of cause and
effect, would keep on with no regard for our sensibilities; however
important we might appear to ourselves, we were but specks infinitesimal
in the vast scheme of things. Miracles and special providences are for
story books; if you are the victim of abuses, be sure that the remedy
will come not through averting them, but by carrying them out to the
finish. On the morning of his execution, it seemed incredible that
Charles I should be beheaded; but he mounted the scaffold, laid his head
upon the block, and the masked man lifted his sword and cut it off. All
that is left for you is not to falter--to keep down that tremor and
sickening of the heart; when Danton of the French Revolution reached the
guillotine, he was heard to mutter, "Danton, no weakness!" And many an
unrecorded Danton, on the night before his appointed death, has lain
down and slept soundly. It recurred to my memory that my father, shortly
before his death, had said to an old friend of his, "I trust in Julian."
On the day following his death, that friend had journeyed to Concord to
tell me those words--returning to Boston immediately. My father's son
had lived to be proclaimed a felon; but I slept sound that night.

All next day we were passing through the raw red soil of the South, with
its cotton plantations, forlorn at this season, its omnipresent idle
negroes, and its white folks, lean and solemn, standing guard over what
fate had left to them. At stopping places we would step out for a few
minutes on the platform of the observation-car, to breathe the air and
feel the sunshine,--the affectionate deputies close at our elbows. Some
of our fellow passengers were bound for Florida or Cuba, to escape the
crudity of the northern March; "May be we'll meet up again there!" some
of them said, innocently unsuspicious of what sort of characters they
were addressing. Paradise and the Pit travel side by side on this earth,
and find each other very tolerable company.

Into Atlanta station the train at last rolled; the journey to oblivion
was all but finished. The restless little city, turmoiling in its boom,
swarmed around us; we had to wait half an hour, our gripsacks in our
hands, for the surface-car to the prison, three miles or more beyond the
town. We awaited it with some impatience--such is the unreasonableness
of our mortal nature. At last we were rumbling off on our trip of twenty
minutes, sitting unnoticed in the midway seats, our considerate but
careful guardians on the watch at the front and rear platforms. The car
took its time; it stopped, started again, stopped, started, after the
manner of ordinary cars; oh, for a magic carpet or pneumatic tube, to
make an end of this! or for a thousand years! It was as if the headsman
were making preliminary flourishes with his sword, ere delivering his
blow. These were difficult minutes.

They ended; "Here we are!" We alighted, and advanced to the entrance of
an expanse of ornamental grounds, with a cement pathway leading up to an
extensive fortified structure--a wall thirty feet high sweeping to right
and left from the tall steel gateway, with the summits of stone towers
emerging beyond. I stepped out briskly, in advance of the others; I
noticed some bright-hued flowers in a bed on the right. In a few moments
I was ascending a wide flight of steps; as I did so, the gateway yawned,
and two men in uniform stepped out. There was a transient halt, a few
words were exchanged; we went forward, and the gate closed behind us.



"Put the fear of God in his heart!"

This phrase, impious and ironic, is used by officials in prisons, and
repeated by prisoners. It has no religious import. The naming of God in
that connection reminds me of a remark I heard from a moonshiner--as the
distillers of illicit whiskey in the mountain regions of the South are
called--who had lately arrived at the penitentiary. He said, "I allus
thought this here Jesus Christ was a cuss-word; but these folks say he
was some religious guy!" His enlightenment was doubtless due to the
first aid to the unregenerate administered by our chaplain.

To "put the fear of God in a man's heart" means to break his spirit, to
cow him, to make him, from a man, a servile sneak; and this is effected
not by encouraging him to remember his Creator, but by instilling into
him dread of the club, the dungeon, and the bullet. He must learn to
fear not God, but the warden, the captain and the guard. He is to be
hustled about, cuffed, shoved, kicked, put in the hole, punished for not
comprehending surly and half inarticulate orders, or for not
understanding gestures without words; all of which encouragements to
obedience are, indeed, specifically forbidden by the rules which were
formulated in Washington and disseminated for the information of the
investigation committees and of the public, but which are disregarded
nevertheless by the prison authorities from the highest to the lowest.
For they risk nothing by disregarding them; there is no one except
prisoners to complain of illegal treatment, and there is no one for them
to complain to except the very persons who are guilty of the
illegalities; and the warden at Atlanta, at any rate, has repeatedly
stated that he would not accept the oaths of any number of prisoners
against the unsupported denial of a single guard. To do otherwise would
be to "destroy discipline." Moreover, these unverified complaints--such
is their inevitable category in the circumstances--are themselves fresh
causes of offense, and productive of the severest punishments--not only
clubbing and close confinement, often in the dark hole, but loss of good
time, which of course is more dreaded than anything else.

But may not the prisoners complain to the committees or inspectors,
appointed precisely to enquire into and relieve abuses of this sort?

I shall have a good deal to say about these agents of humanity
presently. I will only say here that no prisoner who cares whether he
lives or dies, or who possesses common sense or the smallest smattering
of experience of prison affairs, ever is so reckless as to impart any
facts to the persons in question. If he accuses any guard or other
official of cruelty, the entire force of prison keepers can and will be
at need marshaled to deny point-blank that any such thing occurred, or,
if any did, it was because the accused official was at the time quelling
a dangerous revolt, and deemed his own life in peril. If this evidence
be insufficient, it is a pathetic truth that some prisoners can always
be found so debased by terror and abject as to perjure themselves
against their comrades. It is among negro prisoners that such traitors
are commonly sought and found. White men uniformly have a sense of
honor--thieves' honor, if you please--which keeps them loyal. There are
exceptions to this rule, and there are also exceptions to the rule that
negroes betray. I have the pleasure and the honor of the acquaintance of
some negro prisoners at Atlanta who would sooner die than ingratiate
themselves with the officials by a falsehood.

Accordingly, complaints of brutal treatment at Atlanta are not frequent,
either to the officials or to investigators; otherwise, I need not tax
your imagination to picture what happens to the complainants after the
investigators have departed.

Order and discipline--as appertaining to prisoners, not to
officials--must be preserved; of course they must, if we are to have any
prisons at all. And since there is no way for the prisoners to compel
the guards to keep within the license accorded to them, we must compel
the prisoners to accept whatever injustice or outrage the unrestrained
despots of the ranges have the whim to inflict upon them. There are
desperate revolts at times--desperate in the literal sense, since they
have no hope of relief in them, but only the tragic rage against tyranny
which will sometimes blaze up in victims--and on the other hand there
are officials who will resign their positions rather than connive at
abuses. But every means is taken to avert this last; for guards know
things, and the System could be shaken by men who not only know, but,
unlike prisoners, have a chance to make what they know believed.

All this time we have been waiting just inside the prison gates. The
difference between just inside and just outside is important; for nine
convicted men out of ten, it would be punishment for their misdeeds more
than sufficient to be taken no further on the way to retribution than
that. Whatever humiliation and disgrace they are capable of feeling or
have cause to feel is at that first moment at its height; it strikes
upon them unaccustomed and defenseless--never so acutely sensitive as
then. Afterward, familiarity with misery and shame renders them
progressively more and more callous, without adding one jot to the
public odium of their position. They can never forget that first clang
of the closing gates in their ears; the whole significance of penal
imprisonment is in that. Many a man, the moment after that experience,
might turn round and go forth a free man, yet with a soul charged with
all the mortal burden that man-devised penalties can inflict upon him.
Moreover, not having been unmanned and his nature violated by physical
insults and outrages, he might find strength and spirit to begin and
pursue a better life thereafter. The "lesson" (word which our shallow
and officious moralists roll so sweetly under their tongues) would have
been taught him to the last tittle, and withal enough of the man remain
to profit by it. Whereas, under the existing conditions, no more than
four or five years in jail destroy any possibility of future usefulness
in most men; they have been hammered into something helpless, dazed, or
monstrous; and even if they have courage to attempt to take hold of life
again, they are defeated by the unremitting pursuit of our spy system,
which depends for the main part of its livelihood upon getting
ex-convicts back to jail--whether on sound or on perjured evidence is
all one to the spies. So, as I said some time ago, most prison sentences
are life sentences, to all practical intents. To the manhood of the man,
prison means death.

Do some of the above statements appear extreme? Read on, and decide.
Meanwhile I will observe that so long as prisons endure, such abuses as
have been hinted at must persist. Whatever reforms have in special
instances ameliorated them, have in so far only gone to show that the
whole system is vicious and irrational.

My friend and I looked at our new masters with curiosity; they looked at
us with what might be termed arch amusement. With such a look do small
boys regard the beetles, kittens, or other animals, power to torment
whom has been given them. It was after prison hours--the men had been
already locked in their cells, and the warden and deputy had gone home.
It was left to the subordinates to put the fear of God in our hearts; we
could only surmise how far they would go in that instruction. We did not
then know that their power was limited only by their good pleasure. But
it is an accepted and reasonable principle with them that the sooner one
begins to take the nonsense out a prisoner, the better. The strangeness
of his surroundings intimidates him at the start, and he more readily
realizes that he has no friends and that he is in prison--not (as one of
the guards afterward took occasion to remark) in a "sanitarium for
decayed crooks." A good scare thrown into him now will bring forth more
fruit than greater pains taken--and inflicted--hereafter.

Our anticipations, however, were the less formidable, because we had
been exhaustively assured during the past ten days that Atlanta
Penitentiary was not so much a penitentiary as a sort of gentlemen's
summer resort and club, where conditions were ideal and treatment almost
foolishly humane and tender. This information came not only from all
court officials with whom we had held communion on the subject, but from
our own counsel at the trial; the judge himself seemed to believe it,
and if you ask the prison authorities at Atlanta, they will earnestly
assure you that prisoners there are treated like gentlemen, are given
every material comfort consistent with their being prisoners at all, are
sumptuously fed and housed, and are helped in all ways to build up their
manhood, maintain their self-respect, and prepare themselves for a
career, after liberation, as valuable and industrious citizens. We were
naturally disposed to credit assertions so emphatically and variously
made,--some basis for them there must be. And it was obvious, at a
glance, that the corridor in which we stood was spacious and airy, with
a clean limestone pavement; that the disorder and shiftlessness of the
Tombs was absent here. The guards who attended us wore neat dark
uniforms of military cut; and if their caps were tilted back on their
heads, or cocked on the northeast corner, that was a pardonable
expression of their authority and importance. I saw no firearms and no
blood, nor were the groans of tortured convicts audible. I remembered
the flowers in the garden outside, and was prone to think that things
might have been very much worse; they were certainly better, at a first
glance, than at Sing Sing, which I had visited on a newspaper assignment
about fifteen years before. I had resolved beforehand to make the best
of everything, and it seemed already possible that I might not have to
make believe very much to do so.

No resolve, however, could overcome the influence of that locked and
barred gate, nor the realization that I was a convict, and that nobody
inside the penitentiary had any doubt that I was justly convicted.
Friends were remote and helpless; the support of former good repute was
annulled; I stood there impotent, one man against the Federal
Government, with nothing to aid me but the weight of my personal
equation (whatever that might be worth) and my private attitude on the
question of my guilt, which the trial had not modified, but which could
be of no practical benefit to me here. The sensation of confronting
everywhere a settled and hostile skepticism as to one's integrity was
novel, and hard to meet with a firm countenance. And I felt how easily
this sensation might crush the courage of one who was conscious of being
justly condemned. How many men must be sitting yonder in those cells who
lacked the moral consolations that I had! The thought sharpened my
perception of the horror of all imprisonment, but at the same time
stiffened my fortitude; for if these men could live through their
ordeal, how much more could I!

Meanwhile we were being hurried through the handsome corridor, and down
a flight of iron steps to a less presentable region. There was no
aggressive brutality, only a peremptory curtness, entirely proper in the
circumstances. Our only defense against physical severity was a bearing
of cheerful but not overdone courtesy, and we gave that what play we
might. I could not foretell how I might behave under a clubbing, and
would not bring the thing to a test, if I could decently avoid it. In a
long, low, shabby, ill-lighted room we were lined up against a counter,
on the other side of which were two or three of our fellow
prisoners--the first we had seen--whose function it was to fit us with
prison suits. They consisted of a sack coat and trousers of gray-blue
cloth--rather heavy goods, for the warm season had not yet begun--and
this was obviously far from being their first appearance on a convict;
suits are handed down from one generation of prisoners to another until
they are entirely worn out; my own was of an ancient vintage and a good
deal defaced, but I had no ambition to be a glass of fashion in jail. Of
course I could only conjecture what diseases previous wearers of it
might have suffered from; but I hoped for the best. Every new arrival at
the penitentiary is presumed to be dirty until he is proved clean, and
the only way for him to prove his bodily purity is to submit to a bath.
The regulation is commendable, and was welcome to us after our day and
night in the train; but a comrade of mine from the mountain wildernesses
of South Carolina, where bathing is still regarded as a degrading
innovation, described to me long afterward what a sturdy battle he had
put up against the disgrace, and being a lusty youth, it had taken the
best efforts of several guards to hold him under the spout long enough
to wet him--and themselves into the bargain. Though this was the first
time since infancy that I had bathed under compulsion, I complied very
readily, and even said to my friend, "This isn't so bad!" It is not
permitted, under the law, to give out any news about prisoners to the
world without, after they have once passed the portals; nevertheless,
this memorable remark of mine was printed next day in the New York
newspapers, together with the scarlet hue of my necktie, and some other
details,--my registered prison number among them, my own first knowledge
of which was derived from the published paragraph. It was my first
intimation of a fact which afterward exercised no small influence on my
destiny in the prison--that I was a "distinguished," or at least a
notorious prisoner. This influence had its good as well as its bad
aspect, in the long run, but the latter was in the beginning the more
conspicuous. The unidentified press-agent who disseminated to an eager
world the news about the bath and the necktie, continued to be active
during our stay in Atlanta, but his other communications were not even
approximately so accurate as the first one, and nearly all of them were
children of his imagination exclusively, and were more likely to be
gratifying to the officials than to my fellow prisoner and myself.

From the bath to the bedchamber. Up the darksome stairs again into the
stately corridor; through an inner gateway, and into a wide hall which
communicated to right and left, through small steel doors, with the west
and east ranges (dormitories). The west door was unlocked, and we were
pushed into a huge room, about two hundred feet by a hundred and twenty,
with tall barred windows along each side. Inside this space had been
constructed a sort of inner house of steel, seven or eight stories in
height, with zig-zag stairways at either end, leading to narrow
platforms that opened on the individual cell doors. These doors were
barred, and were locked by throwing a switch at the near end of the
ranges; but any particular door could also be opened by a key. The cell
doors of the inner structure were at a distance of some twenty feet from
the walls and windows of the outer shell, and got what light and air
they had from these--none too much of course. Also, the guard on duty in
the range, if the weather be chilly, will close the windows, against the
protests of the prisoners, and against the regulations too; but most of
the guards are thin-blooded Southerners, and diseased into the bargain,
and do not like cold air. The consequence is that the four hundred pairs
of lungs in each range soon vitiate the atmosphere; the prisoners turn
and toss in their cots, have bad dreams, and rise in the morning with a

We mounted three or four flights of iron steps, and were introduced into
a cell near the corner. It was, like all the others, a steel box about
eight feet long by five wide, and seven or eight high. On one side, two
cots two feet wide were hinged against the wall, one above another; they
reduced the living space to a breadth of three feet. The wall opposite
was made of plain plates of steel, and so was the inner end of the cell,
but in this, at a man's height from the floor, was a round hole an inch
in diameter. That was a part of the spy system; for between the two rows
of cells is a narrow passage, in which the guard can walk, and, himself
unseen and unheard, spy upon the prisoners and listen to their
conversation. All prisoners are at all times of the day and night under
observation. This seems a slight thing; but the cumulative effect of it
upon men's minds is disintegrating. At no moment of their lives can they
command the slightest privacy. And what right to privacy, you ask, has a
prisoner? Would he not use it to cut his way through the chilled steel
walls with his teeth and nails, or to plot revolt with his
cellmate?--Possibly; but even a beast seeks privacy at certain
junctures; and to deny all privacy tends to bestialize human beings. It
is a part of the "put-the-fear-of-God-in-his-heart" principle--to break,
humiliate, degrade the man, and render him unfit for human association.
There are a washbasin and a toilet seat at the foot of the cot, facing
the barred door. What difference can it make to a convict if the guard,
or any other passer-by, watches him while he uses them?

There had been issued to us sheets, a pillowcase, and a gray blanket of
the army sort; our first duty was to make our beds. Mattress and pillow
were stuffed stiff with what felt like wood chips, and was probably
straw and corn-husks; the pillow was cylindrical; the mattress was
hillocked and hollowed by the uneasy struggles with insomnia of
countless former users. There was a campstool whose luxuries we might
share. We had, each, a prison toothbrush, and a comb. In the ceiling of
the cell, beyond reach of an outstretched arm, was an electric bulb
which would be darkened at nine o'clock. But all this was welcome; I had
often roughed it in conditions quite as severe; my spirits could not be
dashed by mere hardships or inconveniences. We put our domestic menage
in order cheerfully, glad that we had been celled together, instead of
doubling up with strangers. Nor would it have discouraged us to know
that the west range was the one occupied by negroes and dangerous
characters. The place was silent; none of the demoniac chantings and
hyena laughter of the Tombs. We had our little jests and chucklings as
we made our arrangements; Courage, Comrade! the period of suspense and
anticipation is passed; we are at grips with the reality now!

Moreover--"Every prisoner, on installation in his cell, is supplied with
rolls and hot coffee, and with pipe and tobacco!" Thus would the
statement run in the report to the Department. What if the bread be
uneatable, the coffee undrinkable, and the tobacco unsmokable? The mere
idea of such things is something; besides, prisoners do contrive, being
hard put to it, to consume them. We ourselves at least tried all three;
if it proved easier to be abstinent than self-indulgent, that was our
own affair. Meanwhile, our mental appetites were appeased by a little
gray pamphlet, containing the rules governing the conduct of convicts in
the penitentiary. There were a great many of them, and not a few
required thought to penetrate their significance. Why, for instance,
should special emphasis be laid upon the injunction to rest one's shoes
against the bars of the door upon retiring? We were never informed; but
I presume it must have been to prevent a man being tempted to reach out
an arm a hundred feet long through his bars, throw the switch, steal
along the platform, open the steel door, unbar the two outer gates,
climb over the thirty-four foot wall, and escape--all the while avoiding
the notice of the range guard, of the guards in the corridors, and of
the watchman on the tower outside, all of whom were armed with magazine
rifles and were yearning for an opportunity to use them. Of course, he
would want to have on his shoes for such an enterprise, so that if the
shoes were visible inside his door, it was prima facie evidence that he
himself was also within. Another rule was italicized--"_Do not try to
escape--you might get hurt!_" I refrained from testing the validity of
either prohibition.

In the midst of our perusal, we were interrupted by the arrival of a
visitor. He was a slight-built, slope-shouldered young fellow, in prison
garb, with a meager visage heavily furrowed with sickness and
suffering--he had tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, and the indigestion
with which all prisoners who eat the regular prison fare are afflicted.
Not that Ned (as I will call him, since it was not his name) mentioned
his condition; it was determined long afterward by the diagnosis of my
friend; Ned's object in visiting us was not to air his own troubles, but
to assuage, so far as he might, the gloom and uneasiness of the new
arrivals. In his haggard face shone a pair of very intelligent and
kindly gray eyes, and above them rose a compact, well-filled forehead. I
was fortunate enough to keep in touch with this young man during my
stay, and I found no more lovable nature in the penitentiary. He made no
secret of the fact that he had been guilty of a Federal offense, and he
never expressed contrition for it; "I made a mistake in taking another
man in with me," he remarked; "you are never safe unless you go it
alone." He had not been systematically educated, but he had read widely
and judiciously, talked correctly, though with occasional colloquial
idioms thrown in, and he was a concentrated and original thinker. His
opinions were bold, independent, and sound, his insight was very
penetrating, and his knowledge of matters of criminal procedure and of
prison conditions was accurate and ample. Facts which I afterward
learned for myself were never out of accord with information he had
given me; and the sanity and clarity of his judgments were refreshing
and remarkable. His courage was undemonstrative but indomitable; he
never complained of his own condition and experiences, but was instant
in his sympathy with the misfortunes of others. No more welcome and
valuable counselor than he could have come to us in those first hours of
our durance.

That he was able to visit us was due to his being a "runner," as those
prisoners are termed who are assigned to carrying messages and doing odd
jobs in the ranges. He leaned against the bars and spoke manfully and
pungently, with touches of gay humor now and then; advised us to our
conduct--what to do and what to avoid; and when he noticed the little
gray pamphlet, said scornfully, "Don't muss up your ideas with that!
There's a hundred rules there, and every one of 'em is broken every day.
Those rules are for show; what happens to you depends on who the guard
is, and how he happens to be feeling. You can go as far as you like
sometimes, and other times you'll get hauled up if you turn your head
sideways. The screw" (guard) "on this range is decent; he won't crowd
you too much. Keep quiet, and do what they tell you, and the odds are
you'll get by all right. Of course, if some fellow gets a grudge against
you, he's liable to hammer you like hell; there are some prisoners here
that get on the wrong side of a screw, and--well, it goes hard with 'em!
But if you're a little careful, I guess you'll get through all right.

"I've read all about your case in the papers, and I know you oughtn't to
be here; and Bill" (the Warden) "likely knows it too, and as folks on
the outside are on the watch for what happens to you, he'll think twice
how he treats you. Bill is a cunning one; he keeps his ear to the
ground; when he sees that the reform people are going to put something
across, he backs it up, and gives out that he suggested it himself; but
up to a year or two ago, he did the worst sort of things to the men;
even in his early reports and addresses he advocated treatment that he'd
never dare stand for now--except on the quiet! He gets himself written
up in the local papers here as the model warden--warm-hearted and
broad-minded, and all that flap-doodle! But if he had his way, you'd
think you were back in the dark ages in this penitentiary. Wickersham
threw a bit of a scare into him a couple of years back; and there have
been others; but most of the inspectors that are sent here stand in with
him; he gives them good feeds in his house, and takes them out in his
auto, and fills 'em up with soft talk--about 'his boys,' and his
fatherly interest in 'em, and all that--but he keeps the dark cells and
the rest of the dirty work out of their sight, and of course none of the
men dares say anything to 'em--it would be all day with them if they
did--as soon as the inspector turned his back. That's what gets the
men's goat--that he puts up such a humane front, and all the while
hammers them on the sly. They'd prefer being told at the start they were
going to get hell, and then getting it; but it goes against their grain
to get it, and meantime have folks outside believe they're in a
gentlemen's country club!"

Ned imparted his information by fits and starts; ever and anon he would
break off abruptly and walk off down the range, to give the guard the
idea that he was about his ordinary business; then he would return,
squat down on his hams beside the door, and murmur along in his rapid,
distinct tones. All that he said was abundantly confirmed later.

Finally--"Good night--sleep well--they'll put you on some job in a few
days; it's the first days that go hardest with most men, but you'll get
used to it; you might get out on parole, too--but don't count on it; of
all the frauds in this prison, parole is the worst! And if they ever
pass that 'Indeterminate Sentence' law--good-by! Imagine Bill with that
thing to use as a club over us! He'd make every other man here a lifer!"

He laughed in the prison way--silently, in his throat--and went away,
after warning us that it was near nine o'clock. Our watches had been
taken away from us; no doubt, a prisoner might commit suicide by
sticking his watch in his windpipe, or he could bribe a guard with it to
bring him cigarette papers, or "dope." Besides, what has a man in jail
to do with time? Our warm-hearted and fatherly masters desire their
charges to exist so far as practical in a dead, unmeasured monotony,
where a minute may seem to prolong itself to the dimensions of an hour;
to feel themselves utterly severed from the world they have annoyed or
injured. That is the penitentiary ideal; but it has of late become
impossible fully to realize it. A prison will always be a prison; but at
any rate, light shall be let in on it.

Meanwhile, our cell light went out; and we waited for the dawn.



I lay in the upper bunk. It was a six-foot drop to the cement floor
below. The mattress, though irregularly dented and bulged, was upon the
whole convex, and not over two feet wide. A vertical fence or bastion,
six or eight inches high, along the outer brink of this precipice would
have averted the danger of rolling off in the night; but nothing of the
sort had been provided. One must remember not to roll, even in the
nightmare. Convicts educate the subliminal self to a surprising degree,
and do not fall victims to this trap as often as one would expect; but
occasionally one of them forgets, and down he comes, sometimes getting
bruised only, but generally with a broken bone or so. I do not have
nightmares, and I lay prone, gripping the sides of the mattress with my
knees, as if it were a bucking broncho. So I journeyed, Mazeppa-wise,
through the abysses of that first night, and was not unhorsed.

Light glimmered obscurely through the bars of the cell from the
night-burner below. Odd sounds broke out at intervals. Half suppressed
coughs, sudden, brief cries, irregular wheezings and gurglings, due to
defective plumbing, occasionally a few muttered words; then a man in an
upper tier began to moan and groan dismally--a negro with a colic,
perhaps. Long, dead silences would be interrupted by inexplicable
noises. In the dead vast and middle of the night the prisoner in the
cell over mine began to pace up and down his floor, eighteen inches
above my head. Four paces one way, four back, over and over
interminably. Who was he? What was he thinking about? Something seemed
to goad him intolerably; that forging to and fro, like a tormented
pendulum with a soul in it, gave a stifling impression, as of one
tortured for air and space. How many years must he endure--how many
centuries? Was his wife dying, his children abandoned? Up and down he
padded; had he committed some ugly crime, for which he longed to
atone--but prison is not atonement! Had his conviction been unjust, and
was he raging impotently against injustice? Let him not rage too loudly,
for there was a guard yonder, indifferent to tortured souls, but
licensed to stop noises. A prison is a prison, not a sanitarium for
diseased crooks. But if the world could hear those footfalls, and
interpret their significance, how long would prisons last? A jail at
night is a strange place--eight hundred men packed in together, each
terrifyingly alone!

Some of the earlier workers had been roused at six or five o'clock or
earlier; but for the majority the six-thirty bell was the reveille. It
screeched violently and was silent. The watching devils or the guardian
angels of the night vanished, and up got the eight hundred members of
the Gentlemen's Country Club, to live as best they might through one day
more; coughing, hawking, spitting, murmuring--but all with a sense of
repression in it, the life-sapping drug of fear in its origin, but long
since become a mechanical habit with most of them. Eight hundred
criminals, herded beneath one roof to be cured of their crimes by
indifferent or threatening and hostile task-masters and irresponsible
discipline-mongers, and by association with one another--a regimen of
hell to extirpate deviltry! The twentieth century solution of the
problem of evil, unaltered in principle after thousands of years!

Civilization has progressed wonderfully, but always with this
death-house on its back. And the death-house gets bigger and more
populous every year. Reformers, exhorters, Christian Endeavorers,
humanitarians, Salvation Armies, social reformers, penologists,
scientific experimentalists with surgical apparatus, together with
parole laws, indeterminate sentences, commutations, pardons, not to
speak of a good warden here and there and a kind guard--all toiling and
tinkering to make prisons better, to sweep them, to air them, to instil
religion and education, to supply work and exercise and to pay
wages--and all the while the tide of criminals gets larger and the
accommodations for them less adequate. What can be the matter? Are we to
end by discovering that everybody is a criminal, and ripe for jail? or
shall we be driven to the realization that the fundamental idea of
imprisonment for crime is itself the most monstrous of crimes--and try
something else? What else is there to be tried? Are we to leave
criminals to their liberty among the community?

There will be time enough to discuss these riddles. It is time now to
get into your prison suit, with its "U.S.P." on the back of the coat,
and your number; its "U.S.P." on the back of the shirt, with your
number; its "U.S.P." on the front of your trousers-legs, and your
number; your canvas shoes and your vizored cap. But beware of putting on
the cap within prison walls, lest the guard report you to the captain,
the captain to the deputy, the deputy, if necessary, to the warden, and
ye be cast into the inner darkness. There shall there be thin slices of
bread, and water, and gnashing of teeth.

With a guard acting as cowboy, shepherd dog, or convict compeller, we
shuffled in a continuous line down the iron stairways and across the
hall into the dining room, a cement-floored barred-window desert sown
with tables in rows, seating eight men each; guards with clubs standing
at coigns of vantage or pacing up and down the aisles, and in one
window, commanding the whole room, a guard with a loaded rifle, licensed
to shoot down any misbehaver. At no time and in no part of this model
jail are you out of range of a loaded rifle, in the hands of men quick
and skilful in their use. They are the sauce for meals and the
encouragement to labor. But casualties seldom happen; when they do, they
are hushed up, and the body of the man is buried next day in the prison

I will postpone to a future chapter the subject of the dining room and
what is done there. As we filed out, I noticed "MERRY CHRISTMAS," and
"HAPPY NEW YEAR" emblazoned in green above the door. It was to remind
us, perhaps, of what we lost by being criminals. As we debouched into
the inner hall, separated from the corridor leading to the warden's
office, and to freedom, by a steel-barred gate, we saw a guard seated in
a chair with a rifle across his knees. Rats in a steel trap might have
mutinied with as much hope of success as we at that juncture; but the
guard had to be used for something, and convicts must not be allowed to
forget that they are in prison. At all events we forbore to mutiny, and
were rounded into our cells and locked up for half an hour, during which
we might smoke Golden Grain tobacco, fifty per cent, dirt, and the rest
the refuse of the weed, supplied to the prison by contract; or we might
read, or comb our hair, or do calisthenics, or invoke the Divine
blessing upon the labors of the coming day.

The interval is really provided as a measure of security; many of the
prisoners do their work outside the main buildings; but it is deemed
unsafe to unlock the outer gates while the whole body of prisoners is on
the move. They might make a concerted rush, and get out in the yard, to
be shot down in detail by the guards in the towers.

Mr. Sidney Ormund, to be sure, a special writer on the _Atlanta
Constitution_, makes the following statement in an issue of the paper
shortly after I had left the jail and recorded my opinion that "Warden
Moyer was unfit."--"It is safe to assume," Mr. Ormund affirms, "that if
all the prisoners at the Atlanta federal penitentiary were life-termers
and each had a voice in the selection of a warden to serve for a like
term, William Moyer, the present incumbent--a man who has done more to
make prison life bearable than any man in this country--would be
selected without a murmur of opposition."

That is a fine, explicit statement of Mr. Ormund's, such as any warden
in dire trouble and perplexity might be glad and proud to have a
faithful friend make concerning him. It has no strings to it, and is
followed up by similar sentiments throughout the article. But why, in
that case, are the gates into the yard locked, and the man with the
rifle provided? If Warden Moyer renders life at Atlanta prison more
bearable than at any other in the country, what conceivable grounds are
there that his affectionate inmates should wish to run away from him?
That warmhearted and big-brained gentleman would hardly put the
Government to the expense of supplying safeguards against a contingency
which his own tender and lovable nature renders unthinkable, even if the

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