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The Subterranean Brotherhood by Julian Hawthorne

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abundant means in the prison for carrying on useful and energetic work,
but they are not properly employed. Neither the convicts nor the
community benefits by it.

Not that it is wholly without benefit to anybody, either. Good clothes
are made in the tailor shop, but they are not worn by convicts. At least
one excellent dwelling house has been made by prisoners, but it is
occupied by a high prison official. Unexceptionable meals are cooked in
the convict kitchen, but convicts do not eat them. There is an admirable
and productive kitchen garden attached to the prison, but its contents
never appear on convict tables. There is a fine lawn, diversified with
brilliant flower-beds, in front of the main prison building, and it is
greatly admired by visitors and passers-by; but the convict sees it
twice only during his term--once when he is brought into the prison, and
again when he is led out. On neither occasion is he, perhaps, in the
best mood to profit by it. Perhaps the prison officials do profit by it;
but if so, the results are not seen in their intercourse with the
prisoners. There is nothing flower-like in that.

Idleness is an evil thing; purposeless work is idleness in another and
worse form. Aimlessness, as my friend Ned said, is a miserable state for
a man; it tortures him in prison, and the habit of it, acquired in
prison, cripples and degrades him after he gets out. Contract labor is a
crime which is getting recognized as such; it disgraces the nation or
the state which tolerates it, and the shame of it, if not its
immorality, may lead to its general suppression. Unpaid convict labor
for the state, as on roads and so forth, is better than private contract
labor, but is also a disgrace to the employer--a contemptible saving of
pennies at the cost of human souls. Honest work is a manly thing, and
those who do it should be treated like men, and as laborers worthy of
their hire. Because we have rendered them helpless to demand their
rights is no excuse for denying them. It is cheap, but shameful, and can
only teach them that the community can be as dishonest as the veriest
thief of them all.

But a system of work of which that at Atlanta is a type (and, alas! the
type is far too numerous) is anomalous and abominable; it is aimless,
and abhorrent to man, God and devil alike. It is difficult to absolve
such a prison from the charge of being run at the expense of prisoners,
for the benefit of its officials, since they alone appear to prosper by



Tigers love their cubs, hens their chickens, dogs love their masters and
all these will fight and die in defense of what they love. Human mothers
generally love their offspring. Love in the common sense is common or
instinctive, and involves no moral quality. It is love of one's own, and
contains a better form of self love.

But mercy is of higher birth. Animals know nothing of it; savages and
the lower types of man ignore it. We ascribe a divine source to it when
we pray God to have mercy on us; we do not ask Him to love us. All
higher religions enjoin it. Mercy is love purified from self, or wholly
altruistic. It is a man loving another not because of blood
relationship, or because of expected benefits, or even because of
benefits bestowed, but on the simple ground that he is his human
brother, child of the same Divine Father. It is purer than the racial
feeling, and it includes the animal creation outside humanity in its
scope--as the Bible puts it, "the merciful man is merciful to his

It is the Golden Rule in manifestation; we see in the one to whom we are
merciful ourself in another form, under different conditions, and we do
to him as we would have him do to us. It seems to require a certain
maturity of mind, acquired or inherited; children below puberty seldom
have it. It is easily forfeited, and indifference to the suffering of
others is readily established. It is to be guarded and developed as a
sacred possession of man at his highest, and constantly nourished by
thought and deed. And no man is so high and strong but he may and does
need the mercy of some being loftier and more powerful than himself,
which he cannot claim if he have not himself done mercifully to those
below him.

I have remarked heretofore that officials of prisons should be men of
the highest character in the state--at least as high as what we would
wish to ascribe to our judges of the criminal bench. Judges send men to
prison; but prison guards and wardens have charge of them during their
imprisonment, with powers practically unlimited.

Unlimited power is a trust too arduous for any mortal, for it should
presuppose perfect knowledge, all-penetrating intelligence, boundless
experience, and the mercy which is born of these--for there is a bastard
brother of mercy which is of the parentage of ignorance and cowardice,
which shrinks from the sight of suffering from mere pusillanimity of the
nerves, and does not recognize that suffering may be mercifully
inflicted or permitted and beneficently endured.

But the community does not select its prison officials on the basis
above indicated; it is satisfied if they be competent to "handle men,"
have a sagacious familiarity with human depravity, will tolerate no
nonsense, can indict plausible reports for the Department, and show a
good balance at the end of the fiscal year, or, as guards and
under-strappers, keep the men submissive and orderly and allow no
outbreaks. As for knowledge, a public school education is ample, with
such intelligence as may be supposed to go with it; and the experience
of a ward heeler or a thug will ordinarily suffice to pass a candidate.
As a matter of fact, the community never knows anything about its prison
officials until some special scandal transpires under their
administration, or unless some heaven-sent phoenix of a warden
unaccountably manifests humane and enlightened tendencies. Their
appointment is left to the political machine, which hands it out on the
principle of what is he, or was he worth to us? As for justice and
mercy--my good sir, you seem to forget we are talking of convicted

I affirm, however, that justice--which is intelligent mercy--is required
nowhere so urgently as with convicts; that any punishment which aims at
more than restraining convicts from practises calculated to injure their
own best interests, is a crime; and that cruelty to persons imprisoned
and helpless, be the plea in extenuation of it what it may, is damnable
and unpardonable wickedness. Meanwhile, there is not and has never been
in the United States a jail in which revengeful, malicious and
unjustifiable punishments have not been inflicted, and in which cruelty
does not stain the record of each year and day.

There have appeared lately in the newspapers stories of enormities
perpetrated in Russian prisons. Terrible barbarians, those Russians!
Yet, barring one feature of them only, they can be paralleled by what is
currently done in prisons here. This one feature, is the absence in the
Russian infernos of all hypocritical protestations to the public of
humane treatment and of aversion from severities. The Russian cannot do
more than beat, torture and kill his prisoners; but we do the same. It
is done at Blackwell's Island, at Sing Sing, at Auburn, at Jefferson
City, at Leavenworth (until the other day at least), in San Quentin, and
countless others, including my own Atlanta: only, there, the policy of
suppression of news and promulgation of falsehood is perhaps carried to
a more nearly perfect extreme than in most other prisons.

A few years ago, but under the present regimen at Atlanta, the workers in
the stone shed there were pursuing their occupation in the torrid heat
of a summer day, when one of them, a young man named Ed Richmond, asked
the guard on duty for leave to retire for a few moments. Such requests
must of course often be made. But Richmond was a man who had not been
lucky enough to win the favor of the higher officials in the prison, and
this was known to the guards, who felt that they might with impunity
treat him harshly. Richmond had been a good deal abused, and his mind
had become somewhat unbalanced; he would sometimes talk incoherently and
act oddly. It had been noticed that the stone shed guard "had it in for
Ed," as the prisoners say; but nothing very serious was looked for.

Be that as it may, something serious was about to occur. Five or six
years after this day, I was walking, under convoy of the Deputy Warden,
in the prison grounds that lie outside the walls, when we stumbled upon
the prison graveyard. It lay at the crest of some rising ground, partly
overshadowed by second growth timber, and was merely an unenclosed
clearing in the rough undergrowth with rows of headstones standing one
behind the other, each with a name and date on it. But under all of them
lay all that remained on earth of prison tragedies; for even if a
prisoner die a natural death in prison, he dies with a broken heart and
poisoned mind, abandoned, in gray despair, friendless, shut out from sky
and freedom, hearing with dulled ears the clanging of steel gates,
seeing the blank walls, deprived of the sympathetic words and glances of
friends--a miserable, unknown death. Silence and obliteration close over
him; and here he lies.

On one of the headstones I read the name of Ed Richmond, and the date of
his end. He had not died a natural death, but there was nothing on his
tombstone to show it. I already knew his story, having heard it from
several eyewitnesses.

On the day above mentioned, the guard had granted his request; but after
the man had been absent a few minutes, he called to him to come out.
Richmond did not at once respond. The guard called to him again, more
peremptorily, and advanced toward the place where he was, outside the
stone shed building. Richmond, as the guard came nearer, mumbled
something; the guard seemed angered, and stepped up to him, raising his
club to strike. Richmond instinctively put up an arm to ward the blow,
and as it descended he caught the end of the club in his hand. This was
the head and front of his offending, and for this he was to die.

The guard dropped the club, drew his revolver, and shot Richmond four
times in the body. He also fired another shot, the bullet going through
a wooden partition into a part of the shed where some prisoners were
working, barely missing one of them. Richmond slowly dropped where he
stood and lay huddled on the ground; the guard stood looking coolly at
him. One of the prisoners, a negro, ran up and took the dying man's head
on his knee; others looked on. After awhile an official came up and
ordered the man taken to the hospital. But his hurts were mortal, and in
a few minutes he was dead. The men in the stone shed continued their

An investigation within the walls was held, the guard was exonerated,
and was still on duty when I was in the prison. The officials who had
disliked Richmond were relieved of the annoyance of his presence. There
were no inconvenient newspaper reporters about. If the dead man had
friends outside, they never were able to do anything. It seems unlikely
that the guard who killed him would have done it had he not felt
confident that the higher officials would condone the deed. Perhaps, had
he been arrested and indicted, he might have uttered some names; but he
was exonerated, and he has kept his mouth shut. This happened before the
date of Attorney-General Wickersham's visit to the prison, and therefore
before the change in Warden Moyer's ideas as to the expediency of severe
measures in the handling of convicts. Were the thing to be done again
to-day, it would probably not occur out in the open air and sunshine,
with persons looking on, but under circumstances of decent seclusion.
The outside public is becoming a little squeamish about prison killing.

But in Russia there is no public opinion, or none that is audible, and
the prison guards there are not hampered in their work by the necessity
of doing it under cover, as they are here. It is a question which method
is preferable. I believe some of our prisoners would vote for the open
way of killing and torturing. It is exasperating to be "done up" in
secret, in the dark, stifled and gagged, with no chance to die fighting.
I have no comparative statistics as between us and Russia, but it would
not be surprising if our record of men beaten, starved, poisoned, hung
up in chains in dark cells, and killed by neglect and cruelties, were to
size up fairly well against what Russia has to show. Considering the
restrictions put upon them, our prison autocrats certainly do well.

Some doubt has been created in the public mind as to whether there
really are dark cells in the Atlanta Penitentiary, or, if there be,
whether their use has not been long discontinued. I never heard any
categorical statement in denial of it from any of the officials, though
I have read something to that effect in local newspapers. Visitors never
see them, and I know of no prison inspectors who have done so; they are
shown instead the light cells on an upper floor, which are habitable
enough, with windows admitting daylight, and a cot bed. But the dark
cells are another story altogether, and their existence can no more be
denied successfully than that of the prison itself.

A man named H.B. Rich was employed in the prison for nine years as
foreman of the blacksmith's shop; he says that he helped build two dark
cells in the basement, and often riveted chains on convicts there. "They
were chained to the door," he goes on, "hanging by their hands,
sometimes for twenty-four hours. Often they were thus chained up during
the day, but at night the chain attached to the frame of the door was
loosened; the other chain was attached to a vertical rod, the ring
sliding up and down, so that the man was able to lie on the bare cement
floor. There were no cots. The food was generally one slice of bread and
a cup of water a day, sometimes two or three. Men were often kept thus
for weeks at a time, and would come out so pallid and weak that they
could scarcely walk, and blinded from long confinement in darkness. A
convict named S. was kept in the dark hole two weeks; I was often called
to chain him, as he was a powerful man; but when he would come out, he
was so weakened that he could scarcely move."

I may add here that I have often talked with the convict here mentioned,
and he told me details of his experiences. I would print his name and
story, but he is still in confinement--he has lived two and twenty
continuous years in prison--and he might be made to suffer for his
revelations. Among other things, he said that he had been in the
punishment cells, in the aggregate, eight years! If he were not a lion
of strength and courage, he would have been dead long since. The Atlanta
penitentiary claims to be the most humane in the world. But eight years
in chains and darkness seems a long time, even taken in instalments.

A man lately released has this to say: "The administration of the
penitentiary is a sham and pretense. 'Reform' is a show, for the benefit
of government inspectors and visitors, with, underneath, a callous and
brutal disregard for the welfare of the convicts moral and physical. No
tortures? I was trussed up, face to wall, with arms outstretched, for
ten hours. When loosed, I just dropped to the floor from exhaustion, and
did not rise till the next morning. That was during the present
administration. When visitors and newspaper reporters go through the
prison, 'there isn't any hole'; but the prisoner who thoughtlessly
infracts a rule knows that there is one!

"In the Isolation Building there is a number of three-cornered cells
where men are chained to the doors; they have little cots; these cells
are shown. But down beneath there is the real hole. These underground
cells have no cots; when a man drops, he drops on the cement floor. If
they wish severely to discipline a man, they can make these cells
practically airtight, and then turn on the steam through the pipes."

Let us have more testimony as to the dark hole. "The hole," writes
another inmate, "is not a hole in the wall or in the ground, but it is a
place to turn a man's cheeks white and to make his knees shake and his
lips tremble, when, for some infraction of very strict rules, he is
ordered to the hole. It is a row of holes; far down in the bottom of the
big bastile is a row of little cells, six feet wide, nine feet long, and
perhaps ten feet high. Solid concrete, with iron grating in the narrow
door. Absolutely dark. Furniture, one iron rod, one blanket. The man is
handcuffed between the rod and the wall, hands apart as far as he can
hold them; at night the wall fastening is loosed, and he can lie down
sliding the ring of his handcuff down the rod. No mattress or bed--just
floor. Food, three ounces of bread and a glass of water at noon. The
rules are said to be less severe than formerly; but two half-breed
Indians, former friends, recognizing each other in Sunday school,
ventured to whisper a greeting; they were put in the hole two days and
nights, and one of them, a stout hardy boy, came out trembling and
shaking as with mortal illness."

A man who served as guard in the prison under the present warden, but
left in 1907, affirms that barbarities were not the exception at that
time, but the "horrible custom. The dark hole is a reality; men were
kept there weeks at a time, to my certain knowledge, within stifling
walls, chained standing for intolerable periods, with great suffering.
The public understands 'solitary confinement' to mean a cell by one's
self; but this cell is a dark dungeon below earth level. One convict had
to be brought out on a litter, his legs swollen to a frightful size; he
could not stand erect. I was reprimanded for entering his cell and
helping him to sit up. A man named L. who had drawn back his hammer
threateningly when a guard advanced upon him armed with a 'square,' but
who ceased to resist when the guard drew his revolver, was sentenced to
one hundred and forty-five days in the dungeon, with three slices of
bread, with water, per day. Christian Endeavorers," this witness adds,
"never have an opportunity to observe the real conditions. No outsider
comes in contact with things as they are. No outsider in Atlanta has
ever seen the dungeons."

G.W., formerly employed in the prison, says that "the hole near the
plumber's shop was built while Morse, the banker, was in the prison, for
I helped build it, and the warden, with another official, was down to
see it at ten in the morning." Speaking of the statement that the dark
hole was no longer in use, he adds, in his letter to me, "You know of
the hanging up in the dark cell of the old Englishman, in October"--the
month I left the penitentiary. I do know of it; the fight of this
stubborn old fellow against the oppression of the prison authorities was
the talk of the ranges just before my departure; he had done nothing
worse than to use bad language; he would not give in; and I believe that
it was found advisable at last to release him.

The case of poor little B. had a less agreeable sequel. He was dying of
diabetes during the latter months of his confinement; he was an
incorrigible little thief, a man of extraordinarily acute mind, and a
sort of saturnine humorist withal. He had been repeatedly convicted and
imprisoned, but "I can't let it alone," he would say. He was plump and
flabby, ghastly pale, with protruding eyes, very clear and penetrating.
He was ridiculously impudent, but being so soon to die, as he himself
well knew, none of the prisoners bore him a grudge. The authorities,
however, thought it well to discipline him, and he was so repeatedly
maltreated by them, and put in the dark hole, that his disease was
greatly inflamed and the end hastened. I said something designed to be
encouraging to him shortly before I left; but he fixed me with those
singular eyes, and said, "I am doomed!"

The last I heard of B. was in a letter from a lady who has done much to
help and relieve the sufferings and wrongs of prisoners in the jail. "B.
is in a dying condition," she writes; "he was severely punished while
suffering from his disease. W.," she goes on, "died three days after a
ten-days' punishment. He had to be lifted from the dark cell and carried
to the hospital by attendants." Upon the whole, one has grounds for
believing that the dark hole is not a fairy tale, and that it still
exists and is at work in Atlanta Penitentiary, in spite of the
impression to the contrary of the humane warden and his officials.

The geography of the places is, however, obscure, and is known to the
elect only; it is said by inmates of old standing that underground
passages connect the prison buildings and lead from one dungeon to
another. This sounds romantic, but would be obviously useful in
practise. A map of the premises, surface and subterranean, would be
interesting, and may hereafter be achieved by some inspection which
really inspects. I have not spoken of some features of the dark cells,
as described by men who have experienced them, because they are so
revolting that editors of newspapers would decline to print them. Human
beings are compelled to endure many things which the fastidiousness of
other human beings cannot tolerate even the hearing of.

A prisoner named Keegan was killed at Atlanta not long before I was
released, not by a guard's bullet, but by means as sure though slower
and more cruel. We were all conversant with his case at the time, but I
will quote the man who knew him and his sufferings most intimately. Here
is his crude narrative written to me on prison paper.

"William Keegan died in August of this year (1913) at the Pen. He was
first taken sick with pains in the legs, hands and arms, and went to
morning sick call, but could never get anything done, because he was a
little deaf and could not hear what the doctor said, and so could
explain no further, and he was in a very bad fix. They did nothing for
him, and he was afraid to see the doctor, because he would have been
impatient, and would have sent him to the hole, and then he would lose
time. But he did go up to see him after the pains got into his back
also, and he told him he would like to get out of the stone shed; and
the doctor told him there was nothing the matter with him, but he was
only faking and trying to get out of work--which I know and can swear to
as being true.

"If ever there was a sick man, Keegan was him. He told M. the foreman
about it one day, who told him to have the doctor look him over, and
sent him up one afternoon; the doctor looked him over and told him he
was only a crank--nothing at all the matter with him. Soon after he was
taken very sick, and one night I called the prison nurse to his cell,
and he had him taken to the hospital, where he stayed some time, but it
did him no good, for he came back to the cell house in just as bad a fix
as before. Then they put him to work in the paint-house, and after he
had been there about a week, they said he was crazy, and put him in the
hole. He was treated shamefully in the hole, for the prison nurse even
told me so. Then he was taken again to the hospital, and he never came
out of it, for he died there, and the prison nurse told me he suffered
terribly before his death. This I will swear is true before God.

"Very near every man in the Pen had a bad stomach, and could get nothing
for it, for if you went to the doctor, he would tell you you ate too
much, and give you a big dose of salts, and if you did not take them, he
would put you in the hole, and then you would lose good time. But if a
man had a pull, he would get along right enough. There was A., a bank
wrecker, he was clerk in the stone shed, and I have seen him have eggs
right in the kitchen, when we had only rice to eat with cold water and
bread which was sour. If he didn't want to work he didn't have to, for
when I worked as runner for the plumber I have seen A. lying down and
smoking and reading or pretty near anything he wanted to do; but if
other men had done less than half the things he did, they would have
been put in the hole and lost good time also. Things should be looked
into, for it is sure run shamefully."

Readers would perhaps like to know more of the doctor, whose
professional activities are so engagingly described in the above
statement. He is a medical graduate of recent vintage, poor but
aristocratic, engaged to attend four hours a day at the penitentiary at
a salary of fifteen hundred dollars a year. "I need the money," he once
admitted to a colleague in the prison. Keegan, as we have seen, was
under his penetrating eye for months, and he died a few days after the
young gentleman had assured him that there was nothing the matter with
him. The doctor dresses well, and has an air; he has the use of an
automobile, and sometimes escorts good looking young nurses, or other
young ladies, about the prison grounds. He has a knack at surgical
operations, and urges prisoners to be operated upon; they sometimes
recover, and sometimes do not. His use of drugs in his practise seems to
have been mainly restricted to prescribing salts, and the hole, both
effective in their way, but not always happy in their application to the
cases under consideration.

He was always civil to me, and put me under the obligation of saving my
life, for he ordered me a milk diet when I was succumbing to the
influences of prison hash and "hot dog." It was part of his duty to
visit the dining room every day--or was it every other day?--and inspect
the food served to the prisoners. During my six months' stay, he
appeared twice in the doorway, where he exchanged amenities with the
guard; and once he traversed the aisle between my row of tables and the
next, accompanied by some very nice looking girls. He had other duties,
which he discharged with similar punctuality and fervor. And all for
fifteen hundred a year.

There was a hearty, full-blooded, good natured young fellow, with red
hair, who worked in the blacksmith's shop, and worked well. His overseer
was a negro--this often happens in Atlanta Penitentiary. The heat in the
forge room during summer was intense, and the red haired boy used to get
rush of blood to the head, and finally asked a high official for leave
to step out in the open air occasionally and cool off. It was granted.
But on one of these outings his negro master ordered him to go back and
do a job of work for him; the other quoted his official permission;
there was a wrangle, ending in an appeal to a higher official still. The
latter, in the face of the lower official's testimony that he had
authorized the recess, supported the negro, and the young blacksmith was
sentenced to five days in the dark cell and thirty days' loss of good
time. Discipline must be preserved.

Are such conditions as I have described general? The newspapers during
my stay at Atlanta described a discussion in local prison circles as to
the propriety or expediency of whipping female prisoners in the Georgia
female prison (not connected with the federal penitentiary), and
confining them in the dark hole. The warden of the prison, a gentleman
named Mitchell, and his guards, said that women did not mind confinement
in the dark hole, and got no harm from it--though it was shown that
after being so confined for a day or two, they were scarce able to stand
and wholly unfit for work. The guards declared that the women could not
be effectively disciplined except by flogging, and threatened to quit in
a body if the practise were disallowed. Dr. MacDonald, of the prison,
testified that although some wardens might abuse the power of flogging,
and had lashed women on the bare back instead of over covering of one
garment, as prescribed by the rules, still he favored whipping for them;
he said the use of the "leather" was really more humane than the
dungeon. Secretary Yancey, of the Prison Commission, also favored the

On the other hand, State Representative Blackburn said that it was "a
dangerous policy to give such wide discretionary powers to wardens
scattered about the state. It would give rise to terrible abuses and
mistreatment. The sovereign power of the state should not be delegated
to individuals only remotely accountable. The punitive system should be
carefully guarded, and the line of punishment mapped out, otherwise
evils will creep in; no corrective measures that border upon cruelty
should be used." Representative Smith added that if we "put the power to
use the whip on women in the hands of brutal and incompetent wardens,
the same cruelties and atrocities which have shocked the civilized world
will be repeated. Wardens, drunk with power, abuse their positions; they
are appointees of a system, inexperienced and incompetent in many cases;
chosen, not because of their fitness, but more likely to repay some
political favor. When a good warden is found, it is more or less an
accident. Give permission to whip, and the public would be horrified at
the result, if ever they should learn the circumstances."

That is fine; but the concluding words mean more than they say. How is
the public to know? If you had a mother or a sister or daughter in that
jail, would you feel entirely reassured by the declamations in the
legislature of these kindly gentlemen? Would it not occur to you that,
when this little flurry had blown over, the warden and his guards might
possibly, and as quietly as might be, revert to what they held to be the
only effective means of keeping order? It is easy, in a prison, to gag a
woman so that she cannot scream, and to take her down to a secluded
place, and there to lay on the leather heartily, with or without first
removing the inner garment. Who is to know, or to tell? We are not
Russians, to boast of these things openly.

At the turpentine camp at Atmore, Alabama, thirty-five convicts whose
contract had been annulled by Governor O'Neal, were brought to Mobile
October 10th, 1913, and placed in the county jail. All but fourteen had
been whipped with heavy straps loaded with lead, and affidavits were
offered showing that two of them had been whipped to death. But
Superintendent of Prisons Riley of New York, in a letter to Warden
Rattigan of Auburn prison, writes: "I do not believe that any one was
ever reformed by physical torture." This was not the view taken,
apparently, in Jefferson City (Mo.) prison, for there, a few weeks ago,
a negro was given a very hard task each day (says the _Post-Dispatch_ of
St. Louis), more than he could perform. At evening he would be taken
out, strapped to a post and beaten with a heavy strap. There were cuts
and sores all over his body. Favored prisoners were allowed to break
rules, while others were severely punished for the same thing. The
penitentiary there is described as a "small hell entirely surrounded by
masonry and incompetent officials." Dozens of men were brutally whipped
for minor offenses.

We have all heard about Blackwell's Island, New York City, where
"beatings by officials, and much worse, resulted in the death of a man."
Trustee Hurd found two men in dark cells, one stupefied, the other
hysterical and sobbing. They had been punished for whispering. The dark
cells had been ordered discontinued some weeks before. Warden Hayes, on
being asked by the official why he had permitted them to be used,
replied, "Well, the fact is, I've been so busy I haven't had time to get
round to it!" What is his business?

In Atlanta we do not use the leather; we find the club handier, and some
guards are skilful in so applying it to the bodies of their patients
that, while the external evidences are negligible, it occasions internal
troubles which can be ascribed to "natural" causes. And there are
indications that we do use the dark cell, described by Dr. MacDonald,
above, as more inhumane than the lash. If this expert be correct, he
gives us a standard whereby to measure how inhumane they must be.

I cannot go on, though I have used only a fraction of my notebook.
Moreover, I am inclined to think that the physical punishments I have
instanced are not the worst that are administered in Atlanta and perhaps
in other prisons. Great ingenuity is shown in the application of mental
tortures, which have their outcome in insanity, but which never can be
investigated by commissions and inspectors. An insane man is as safe as
a dead man--if he tells tales, no one will pay attention to him. The
cat-and-mouse game is a favorite with the inhumane type of wardens. Give
your man alternations of hope and despair, and the results will soon
reward your pains. Then there are the insults, the gibes and threats,
the obscure forms of tyranny and outrage, the degradation of
manhood--there are a hundred subtle ways of destroying and corrupting
the spirit of a man. To be compelled to occupy the same cell with
certain types of criminals is a most successful form of inhumanity; and
when, as often happens, one of the two is a comparatively innocent boy,
the results are awful. "Insufficient number of cells" is the explanation
given; and at Atlanta at least there are the unfinished cell houses,
which might have been finished years ago, had the appropriations been
properly applied.

"Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!" we pray in our churches. But He
says, "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again."
We do not set the Lord a good example of mercy in our prisons.



I have spoken of punishments inside the prison. When a man has served
his time and is set free (as it is called) another punishment begins,
which may be worse and more disheartening than the suffering endured
inside the walls.

As I listened, on Saturday afternoons, or at other times, to the stories
hurriedly and guardedly told me by my fellow convicts who had served
more terms than one, I said to myself, "The wrong of prison is bad
enough; but this of what happens to a man after prison is worse, and
monstrous." The endless tentacles follow him, reach out after him,
surround him, fasten upon him, and draw him back whence he came. And not
that only, but they mark him and isolate him, disable him from free
action, make honesty impossible for him. No citizen of whatever
integrity and standing, if so pursued, maligned and undermined, would
have any choice left him but either to perish or to break the laws. The
spies of the government, with the prestige and power of the government
behind them (however despicable and vicious they may be in themselves),
can ruin any man; but ex-convicts are their staple food.

In the latter part of June, 1913, a federal judge named Emory Speer was
accused of evil deeds on the bench, and a congressional investigation
was announced. The judge was taken ill, and at this writing the
investigation still hangs fire. Now, the evidence against him had been
collected, it would appear, by the agency of government spies, and this
fact caused great indignation in some quarters. Here was a man not
convicted of felony, but a pillar of the state, being pursued by
detectives just as if for all the world he were an ordinary person--an
obscure private citizen, say, or an ex-convict! The judge himself was
very indignant, and his friends on the local press were rasping in their
comments. In a long editorial entitled "The Shadow of the Spy," one
Atlanta paper denounced the proceedings root and branch. It affirmed
that the governmental spy system had assumed such proportions during the
past few years as to threaten one of the mainstays of free government.

All this interested my comrades, not because the spy system was news to
them, but because no public notice had been taken of it until it began
to wring the withers of persons who had hitherto supposed themselves to
be in the position of promoters instead of victims of the practise. A
federal judge had never protested against pursuing with spies men
suspected of crimes, or men who, having served time upon conviction, had
then gone out into the world and attempted to lead a new life. The spy
system, so conducted, seemed to such persons proper and normal. But the
moment they found their own acts investigated, their own footsteps
dogged, they became indignant, and denounced the whole principle of the

No man convicted in a federal or state court, or set free after having
done his time in prison, but is abundantly conversant with the methods
of the American spy.

As we all know, the first thing done with a new prisoner is to take his
bertillons, and the record of these measurements and observations,
together with two photographs of him, or with four, if he had a beard
when convicted, is sent to every police office in the country, and is
there studied by the detectives and police. The intention, of course, is
to render easier the recognition of "old offenders," and to curtail
their future industries. It is generally affirmed that bertillons cannot
be mistaken; but in a Detroit court, on January both, 1914, an expert
declared that "a difference of one-eighth of an inch in the laying on of
the fingers made an entirely different impression"; and "judgment was
awarded against the bank," which, relying upon the infallibility of the
finger record, had brought the action. At any rate, the bertillon is
still a potent weapon with the police, and when they want a man for a
crime committed, or when they desire to drive out of any given place on
the face of the earth a man who has been previously a convict, they have
but to point to his bertillons, and the thing is done.

Let us see how this may work out in practise. A convict, having served
his term, is presented by the United States (or a state, as the case may
be) with a suit of new clothes, and with a five dollar bill. He also
gets a ticket on the railway to the place of his destination, and,
though he is in theory a free man from the moment that he passes the
prison gates, as a matter of fact an official is assigned to take charge
of him and put him on his train; he cannot remain in Atlanta (supposing
for the once that Atlanta Penitentiary has been his abiding place during
his sentence) on penalty, if he do, of forfeiting his ticket and having
to pay his own way. This may be a provision of the law, or it may be
simply a measure to prevent ex-convicts from talking to newspaper
reporters or other enquiring persons. The thing is invariably done,
unless the man's residence happens to be Atlanta itself.

In my own case (to cite an instance) the regular procedure was observed,
with only one accidental modification. I received my suit of clothes, my
five dollars, and my railway ticket--at least, the latter was given to
the guard detailed to accompany me to the station, to be by him
delivered to the conductor of my train. But I had previously made up my
mind to say a few things to the reporter of a certain local newspaper,
and I was ready, in case of necessity, to abandon my eleemosynary ticket
and to pay my own way to New York on a later train. I had money of my
own to do this with; most ex-prisoners, of course, have not. But the
sacrifice was avoided by the circumstance that Mr. Moyer, the warden,
was absent at the moment in Indianapolis, and the deputy incautiously
let me out an hour or more before my train started. I lost no time in
meeting my reporter, and during the next forty minutes, in an automobile
provided for the occasion, we drove about the streets of Atlanta, while
I imparted to his astonished ears my reasons for thinking that the
penitentiary was not the paradise on earth that it had hitherto been
believed to be. He brought me to the railway station in season for my
train, and I got safely away, leaving mischief behind me.

That was my good luck. On the other hand, a friend of mine recently
released told me that the warden had called him into his office at the
last moment, and had extracted from him a promise not to talk to any
reporter in the town before leaving. That is the usual way; but it is
the exception, sometimes, that counts.

Let us return to our average convict, just out, and with the world
before him, where to choose to display his prison-made garments and to
spend his five dollars. It not seldom happens, to begin with, that he is
not so much out as he had imagined. Our present method with convicts has
peculiarities. Here is a common example.

A man was convicted and jailed for robbing a postoffice. The sentence
was five years. The specific charge was of stealing postage stamps.
Having done his bit in the federal penitentiary, he was given his outfit
and the gates were opened. He was proceeding joyfully on his way, when a
sheriff laid a hand on his shoulder, and informed him that he was his
prisoner. What for? The sheriff smilingly explained that the sentence he
had just served was for a federal offense; he was wanted now on a state
charge of breaking into the grocery store in which the postoffice was
housed. For this, the state prison accommodated him with lodging for
five years more. The man outlived that, and fatuously imagined that his
payment of that debt was fully discharged. He was awakened by the hand
on his shoulder again. What was the matter now? Why, he had, while in
the grocery store, and in addition to stealing the federal postage
stamps, possessed himself unlawfully of a box of matches, thereby
committing a second state crime, involving a further detention in the
state prison of five years more.

This is an example of our cat-and-mouse way with convicts, and is, of
course, much more destructive to the victim than an outright sentence of
the same length would have been. But in what manner it tends to reform a
man, or to protect a community, does not clearly appear.

Sometimes, the sheriff is dilatory in arriving to make the second or
third arrest, and it would seem that the prisoner might have a chance to
escape. But in such a case the warden himself would take a hand in the
game. In an instance of which I heard a good deal, the man's sentence
expired, we will say, on June 1st. The warden had been apprised that he
was to be re-arrested, but the sheriff was not on hand--could not get
there for two days. But the law, or prison regulations, or something,
enables a warden to detain a prisoner beyond his fixed time, in the
event of his committing some prison irregularity. The warden informed
the man that he was reported to have broken a plate in the dining room,
the penalty for which was three days more in his cell. Before the three
days were up, the sheriff had arrived, the man was re-arrested, and
justice was satisfied. We will suppose, however, that our man has no
second or third or other indictments hanging over him, and that he
really does get clean away. What will be his adventures?

If the weather be not rainy he reaches his train unscathed. But if that
new suit, with "jail-bird" written all over it in characters which all
detectives and police, at least, can read as they run, chance to get
wet, the raw shoddy forthwith shrivels miserably up, and the wearer's
ankles and wrists stick out so betrayingly that a mere child might
recognize the sinister source of the garments. But, anyhow, a few days'
wear will so wrinkle and crease and deform the suit that it becomes
unwearable, and the man might as conveniently and more prudently go
about in shirt and drawers. Should he present himself in it requesting a
job from some virtuous citizen, the latter is less likely to grant it
than to step to the 'phone and call up the police station. "There's a
suspicious character here--better look him over!" The officer looks him
over accordingly, and either advises him to betake himself promptly
elsewhere, or, if a crime happen to have been committed recently in that
neighborhood, the perpetrators of which are still at large, he takes the
man into custody on suspicion.

That the man is utterly innocent makes small difference; his status as
an old offender is readily established, and the rest follows almost
automatically. "You did the job all right; but, if you didn't, you're a
vagrant, without visible means of support, and they'll put you in the
lockup for six months or a year. And let me tell you, our lockup is no
joke! Likely you'll get on the chain gang, and then, God help you! If
they don't take a fancy to you, they're liable to croak you any time.
Now, I'd like to see you get out of this easy, and here's what you'd
better do. You own up to the crime, and I'll have a word with the judge,
so he'll let you off with a short sentence in a place where they treat
men right, and you'll get out in about three or four months. That's what
you'd best do; and if you don't, I wash my hands of you! What do you

What would you do? Stand on your rights, demand a full and fair trial,
prove your innocence, and be acquitted without a stain on your
character? That is the proper and righteous course for a free and
independent American citizen.

But you are not a citizen, in the first place; your civic rights are
gone for good, and instead of your innocence being assumed till your
guilt is proved, it is the other way about. Your friend the detective is
prepared, for one, to swear that to the "best of his knowledge and
belief," you are the culprit; and there is commonly a number of other
easy swearers hanging about the court room to support him. You have no
friends; on the contrary, every eye you meet is hostile. You have no
money to hire a lawyer, for that five dollars had gone before you had
mustered courage to ask for the job that got you into this trouble. And
above all, your spirit is cowed and prostrate from years in prison; you
have known the long, sterile bitterness of penal servitude, and you have
no stomach for a fight. No, you will not fight--you cannot. You will
stand up in the dock and confess to something you never did, and throw
yourself on the mercy of the court. Your friend the detective whispers
to the judge--"He's an incorrigible--he ought to get the limit!" And His
Honor gives you ten years. It is less than a week since you put off
stripes, and went out into the world resolved to make good. If you
outlive your undeserved sentence, will you ever resolve to make good

Can such things be? Indeed they can, and they are. There is poor C. in
Atlanta now, the victim of such a deal; and S., and H., and many more.
C., indeed, told me, and I believe him, that he never committed any
crime at all, other than to get drunk and to sleep out on the road; he
was apprehended for vagrancy, then charged with a post-office robbery in
another state (which he had never visited), advised by the detective who
"took an interest" in him to confess, upon the promise of being let off
with a light sentence; he got the limit, and will wear out his youth in
jail, while the detective is complimented for his efficiency.

The Government is extravagant. What is the use of spending money on a
shoddy suit of clothes for each one of thousands of convicts every year,
and giving each of them a five dollar bill, with the certainty that, in
a large majority of cases, they will be back in their cells in a few
days or weeks, or months? Look up, if you please, the statistics as to
the number of convicts who are second or third offenders. Nay, the
Government is itself the prime and most effective cause of their getting
back, since it is government spies that provide the evidence that sends
them up.

But can we afford to trust ex-convicts? Must we not keep a strict eye on
them? If the strict eye were also a friendly one, it might be of some
avail. But our hand is against them, and we need not wonder that theirs
is against us. Not only are we their enemies when they emerge from jail,
but (as has been repeated interminably by every investigator who has
been qualified to speak on the subject) jails are the best and only
schools of crime. In other words, we first educate men to be criminals
by putting them in places where they can learn nothing else, and then we
keep them criminals by shutting against them, when freed, every
opportunity to earn food and lodging in legitimate ways. And then we
complain that they are not to be trusted.

Neither can men fed on poisons be trusted to be well. Jail life is
poisonous; I think it was Judge McLeland who said, last summer, "Our
million dollar reformatories offer university courses in bestiality and
crime; it is as logical to send a man to jail to make him better as to
shut him up in a garbage-can to improve his digestion. Forty per cent.
of those who go to jail, go back again," he added; "one man went back
one hundred and seventy-six times. Others are sent because they are poor
and cannot pay a fine, and they are there made real criminals."

An instance of this occurred in a Georgia chain-gang while I was in
Atlanta. A man was sentenced for playing cards for money. He could not
pay the $45 fine demanded, and in default, was sent to the chain-gang
for eight months. He wore stripes, night and day, and if contumacious,
was whipped by the guards. His work was in a stone quarry, a deep hole,
into which the summer sun poured an insufferable heat. He was forced to
do his work with a 49-pound hammer in that funnel-shaped pit, at a
hundred degrees in the shade--if he could find any shade. One day he
told the guard he was sick, and could not work any longer. The guard
shifted the quid in his mouth and remarked that he ought to have said so
that morning. But the man meant what he said, and proved it by dying a
day or two later. Probably you may have played cards for money at some
time in your life. Did it ever occur to you that you merited torture and
death for it?

Or do you think that, after such an experience (if you survived it), or
after being twice arrested for the same crime and kept in jail five
years three times over, or after doing time for a crime you never
committed--that you would come out at the end of it all, smiling, full
of energy and enterprise, loving your neighbor, eager for honest toil?
Would you embrace Mr. Moyer (or whomever your jailer was) and tell him,
with tears of gratitude, that you could never repay him for his
warm-hearted, big-brained care of you--the starving, the dungeoning, the
clubbing, and all the rest of the university course?

Would you feel like that? Or would you stare out upon the world into
which you were contemptuously tossed with dull, hating, revengeful eyes,
suspicious of all men, hopeless of good, but resolved to get even, so
far as you might, by plying the evil trades which your life of slavery
had taught you? Would you behave like Christ upon the Cross, or like an
ordinary man? Convicts are ordinary men, except that they are often, to
begin with, diseased men, or hemmed in by conditions so untoward as to
make an honest life ten or a hundred times harder than it ever was for

But you did not scruple to put this diseased or unfortunate version of
yourself into the jail cauldron, to stew there with others like or worse
than himself, for doing what, in most cases, he actually could not help
doing; and when at last he was ejected like stale refuse, you were
indignant because his looks did not please you, because he bore upon him
the stains and the stench which the cauldron had fastened on him,
because he did not, in the teeth of the secret service, the postoffice
inspectors, the detective bureaus and the police, at once begin to lead
an honest life and support the commonwealth. Do you say that none of
this was your doing? But it is your doing, in just so far as you have
not striven in every way open to you to extirpate the doing of it by
this representative government.

The wonderful thing--the unexpected and pathetic thing--is, that so many
convicts come out of jail in a kindly and inoffensive state of mind.
They are men who were born weak, humble and yielding, never esteemed
themselves, were always ready to take a back seat and give precedence to
others. They do not understand the rights of the matter, but suppose it
must be all right, that penal servitude is the proper thing for them,
that laws were made by wise men and must be enforced. They admit their
stealings and their trickery, and blame themselves, observing
regretfully that they didn't seem able to help it. Next time--if they
get a next time--they will try very hard to be straight, and perhaps
they will succeed after all!

There was little J., in the barbers' gang, a cheerful, smiling, sweet
tempered fellow, who had served I know not how many terms for small
larcenies and turpitudes. "I've always been such a damned little fool,"
he would say to me, as he smoothed off my chin. "The boys would get
round me and rope me into some scheme, and I didn't seem able to keep
clear of 'em. But I'm goin' to be let out again next July, and I've made
up my mind I'll never be seen here again! No, sir! Oh, I've been talkin'
with the chaplain, too, and I've been reading the Bible, and all that,
and I'm going to be a good man. Yes, sir! I've had my fling, and I'm
through with it; when the boys get round me and tell me of some easy
job, I'll tell 'em, No! Not for J."

He was a man of forty, as naive and "innocent" (in the unmoral sense) as
a child; and he had been in jail off and on since he was ten years old.
I happened to be in the front office at the moment when J. was signing
receipts and receiving his property preparatory to leaving. He was
dressed in a neat business suit of his own--not a prison-made
monstrosity. He was clean and smooth and bright, and tremulous with
excitement. He signed his papers with a shaking hand, he took up and put
down again his well packed gripsack, he shook hands with a sort of
clinging, appealing grasp, as if he were afraid of being left alone, he
giggled and looked profoundly solemn by turns. The officials stood
about, indifferent and contemptuous, the men who had been hard and cruel
to him, and those who had not been so hard.

It was a bright, beautiful day, full of sunshine; J. picked up his grip
and marched down the corridor and out into the free air. He wore a brave
air of hope and determination, but one could detect underneath it
symptoms of misgiving. He had vowed to be good, but could he keep the
vow, when "the boys got round him"? I wished him good luck with all my
heart. Six months have passed, and J. is not back in jail yet, so far as
I have heard. But the spies are watching him, and he won't be safe till
he is dead.

A man with whom chance brought me frequently in contact was H., a yegg,
as the term is.

When a guard is escorting a batch of visitors about the prison, he
speaks of the yeggs in an ominous tone, as if they were some deadly
monster, hardly to be even looked at with impunity. But yeggs, as a
body, are the best men in the prison; they have a code of honor, and
strength of character. Outside, they blow open safes, and do other risky
jobs; and they will shoot to kill on the occasions when it is their life
or the other man's. They will do this, because they know what a prison
is, and also what spies outside prison are. But they will spare your
life, if possible; not because they care for you--they hate and despise
you, as being a man who would be and have in the past been merciless to
them, and as a hypocrite who is either a rascal on the sly or would be
if you possessed the courage or were subjected to the temptation--they
spare you not from mercy but a settled policy; killing is bad business,
and means sooner or later a violent end for the killer.

Most yeggs are men of more than average intelligence, and sometimes of
fair education; they were not born outlaws; but, if you can win them to
speak of themselves, you will generally find that they have undergone
things both in and out of prison enough to make an outlaw out of a
saint. Most men succumb under such things, and either die, or become
cowed in spirit; the yeggs have survived, and their spirit is unbroken.
They hold the highest place in the estimation of their fellow prisoners;
and the warden and the guards fear them. By that I mean that they fear
to inflict severities upon them except upon some pretext at least
plausible; for the yeggs know the rules, and though they will submit
without a whimper to the crudest punishments if cause can be alleged for
it, yet wanton liberties, such as prisoners less well informed or more
pusillanimous submit to, cannot safely be taken with them.

The yeggs stand together; they have esprit de corps, and if, as happened
last summer at Atlanta, the food supply drops actually to the starvation
point in both quantity and quality, they stand forward--as they did
then--as champions for the rest of the men; they protest openly, they
will not be wheedled or terrorized, and they go to the hole as one man.
Nor will they come out thence until the warden comes to them and
promises improvement. The warden promises, not because he desires
improvements, but because he fears the scandal of mutiny in the
prison--an inconvenient thing when one is supposed to be conducting a
model institution; and even an easy going public, which will tolerate
other forms of cruelty to convicts, feels compunction about starving
them, especially when it is taxed to provide them with wholesome and
sufficient food.

About my friend H.--I have no space here to tell his story, nor to
outline it even; it is a terrible one. I may be able, some time, in
another place, to present it in full. I will say now only that he was
once confined for three years in a contract labor jail which has the
worst features conceivable in any prison of to-day or of a hundred years
ago, and men are killed there by overwork and punishments as a matter of
routine; few survive the treatment so long as H. did. Once during his
three years he uttered three words aloud; for that he was punished so
long and so savagely that the horror of it yet remains with him.
Prisoners constantly maim their hands voluntarily in the machinery in
order to be quit of the torture of the work; the bleeding stumps of
their fingers or hands are roughly bound up, and they are driven back to
their machines. The warden is an oily, comfortable rogue, who beams upon
visitors and fools the prison commission to the top of its bent, and he
bears an excellent reputation for the large amount of work he gets out
of his prisoners; "They just love it, my boys do," he avers; "nothing
like work to keep men happy, you know." And then, when the coast is
clear, he turns upon his boys like a bloodthirsty tiger.

But what I wish to say here is, that when H. at last finished his term
and was thrust forth into the crowded street of the city, his legs
failed him, and he tottered along scared like a wild beast at the noise
and bustle. A man addressed him, and he stared at him blankly, and could
not command his tongue to speak words. He wandered on irregularly,
starting at imaginary dangers, unnerved at the height of the sky, the
noise, the movement. He sought the least frequented streets, but his
aspect and bearing made people look suspiciously at him, and he found
his way to the slums, where he got a room and shut himself in with a
feeling of relief. It was several days before he could school himself to
talk and act like an ordinary human being. His health was shattered,
though he was naturally a strong and hearty man; eating made him sick,
though he was faint for lack of right feeding.

He could find no steady employment, but helped himself along with odd
jobs here and there. He was resolute to keep straight, but an old pal of
his happened to meet him, did him some good turns, and finally proposed
his joining two or three men in a promising burglary. H. asked time to
think it over, and that night he left the city in a sort of panic, and
traveled to a large town a hundred miles away. Here he succeeded in
getting a good job; his spirits began to revive; he made some good
acquaintances, and prospered beyond all expectation for nearly a year.
One day he noticed a man in the street who stared hard at him; not long
after he saw the same man standing in front of the house in which he
lodged; the next morning his landlord came to him and, with some
embarrassment, said that he would have to ask him for his room; a
relative was about to visit him and he needed the accommodation.

It was as he had feared--the detectives had run him down. He put what he
possessed in a trunk and left town that evening for a place nearly a
thousand miles west. Here he was left undisturbed for fifteen months,
and made a new start in business. Then the chief of the local police
sent for him and said, "I don't want to be rough on you; but the best
thing you can do is to skip; we're on to you--understand?" "But I'm
doing a straight business," H. pleaded. "You may be; but you're a
crook," was the reply.

We need not follow him further; he was driven from one place to another.
At last he was caught with stolen goods on him, he having undertaken to
help an old friend of his out of a tight place by carrying his gripsack
from one place to another; it proved to contain some plunder from a
recent burglary. He got off with a two year sentence; but it was the end
of his attempt to reform. "Crooked or straight, I'll end in jail," he
said to me, with that strange convict smile which means such unspeakable
things. "I've got two years more here; if I last it out, they'll get me

I firmly believe that he would have been an honest and successful man if
he had been let alone.

It sometimes happens that the manhood of a convict is so sapped by long
sufferings that even his desire for freedom is lost. He is afraid to be
free; he cannot live at ease outside of his cell walls. Perhaps you will
say that goes to prove the gentleness and humanity of prison discipline.
To me it seems a thing so appalling that I must be content with the bare
statement of the fact. A man is afraid to be free, afraid of the great
wonderful world, and of his fellow creatures, and can endure what he
supposes to be life only in his steel cell. What has put that fear in
him? But our laws provide no penalty for dehumanizing a fellow creature
under the forms of law. If it be legal, it must be right.

I knew a man in our prison who had been thirty-five years in
confinement, with short intervals of liberty. The best favor he could
ask was to be allowed to stay all day and all night in his cell, doing
nothing. Year after year, nothing else than this appeared to him worth
while. He was well educated, as prisoners go, quiet and inoffensive. "I
wish some doctor would examine me and tell me what is the matter with
me," he remarked to me once. "Maybe I'm crazy!"

After all, the world, in its way, is as hard a place for ex-convicts as
a jail; more cruel, perhaps, inasmuch as it seems to offer hopes that
jails deny. But can a world be called civilized that is satisfied with
that arraignment?



How many convicts, during the past twenty years, have served their terms
and been released? and yet what does the public know of the real inside
of prisons? This used to perplex me at first. My fellow prisoners with
whom I talked were bitter and voluble enough in denouncing the
conditions; but no sooner had they passed the gates to freedom than they
became strangely silent. Some of them even were quoted in the local
papers as praising and upholding what they had just before condemned.

There was a Japanese prisoner, for example, the only man of his nation
there, I think, who gained attention by copies of well-known pictures
which he made, to be hung on the walls of the chapel, and by designing
back and side scenes for the stage. I never talked personally with him,
or saw him but at a distance, as he hastened along the corridor; but men
who knew him said that he was especially savage in his diatribes against
the prison and its keepers, and had promised, as soon as he was freed,
to make numerous ugly disclosures to the world. But when we searched the
local papers after his release, what we found was a hearty and explicit
laudation of the prison and its officials. Had it been written by the
warden himself, it could not have been more sunny and satisfied.

Again, there was a man with us who had been sentenced for life on a
murder charge of a singularly revolting kind; he had been in confinement
seventeen years when I first knew him, but had always consistently
protested his innocence. He applied for parole, and his application was
granted. At this time he occupied a large cell containing eleven other
prisoners, of whom I was one; and he attached himself very closely to
me, and upon coming in from his work each evening, would sit beside my
cot and hold my hand and pour out his heart to me in lamentations,
asseverations of his innocence, picturings of the horrors of his long
confinement, forecastings of what he meant to do when he was freed--to
address audiences from the pulpit and rostrum, and convince the world of
the horrors of penal imprisonment. He was deeply religious, and had the
moral courage to kneel down, before all the men in the cell, and spend
five minutes or more in prayer every evening before going to bed. Every
one believed that he had been wrongly convicted, if for no better
reason, because he had never once wavered from his claim of innocence
during those seventeen years, and because his conduct and bearing in the
prison had always been exemplary. He was a man of powerful body and
strong, impressive mind; his speech was simple and convincing, and I
told him that I thought he would succeed as an avatar of prison
iniquities. He professed an ardent affection for me, and expressed
enthusiastic anticipations as to the outcome of my own projects for
calling public attention to the evils in question.

This man was tortured for five or six weeks by unexplained delay in
fulfilling the promise of his parole, during which time it fell to my
daily lot to comfort and encourage him; and I suffered no little
emotional stress myself from this constant drain on my sympathies. Every
evening, sitting beside my cot, he would repeat over and over again the
same lamentations and speculations, interjecting at the end of each
apostrophe, "It's terrible--terrible!" until at last I felt that I would
gladly give up my own "good time" for the sake of seeing him freed
without further procrastination. I was convinced, and so told him, that
the delay could be due to nothing but neglect, inadvertent or criminal,
on the part of LaDow, the President of the Parole Board, or of the
Attorney-General himself; the papers had been thrust into a pigeonhole,
and been forgotten or ignored.

What were the tortures of a man imprisoned for seventeen years, and now
standing on the brink of salvation or despair, to a supercilious
official up in Washington?

Finally, without explanation or apology, the order for release came; and
for me and his other friends, as well as for him, it was a day of
rejoicing and thanksgiving. But, remembering that he was on parole, and
therefore liable, on the least infringement of discipline, to be thrust
back in his cell, none of us expected that he would venture to denounce
the wrongs and expose the miseries of the imprisoned; we were glad to
learn that he had secured a position paying him twenty or thirty dollars
a month, with a chance of better things later, and that he had announced
his purpose of running down the real perpetrator of the crime for which
he had suffered, and forcing him to confess. For a few days, one or two
local papers gave him half a column, and then there was silence.

I had been denied parole, and the restrictions thereof did not apply to
me when my own day of freedom arrived; and I gave a short interview to a
reporter, in which I said that the warden was unfit for his position,
that the food was abominable, and that punishment in dark cells and
otherwise was still practised, though under cover.

The next day the newspapers printed an interview with my late friend, in
which he was quoted as declaring that every statement I had made was a
malicious lie, that the warden was in all respects the best, kindest and
most lovable man he had ever met, and that the men in confinement had
all the food they asked for, of the best quality, and that all tales of
hardships and cruel punishments were false and wicked.

Is it conceivable that these statements were really given out by him? It
seemed more likely that the words had been put into his mouth, under a
threat, should he disavow them, of being sent back to prison. From such
a threat the bravest man might shrink. But that statement of his still
stands unmodified. And whether made spontaneously, or under the
compulsion of a threat, its motive seems to have been fear of punishment
for telling the truth. Such is the power of the System over its victims!

It is a state of things nothing less than nauseating. It is bad enough
that men should be held in prison and maltreated; but that the truth
should be imprisoned with them, gagged and terrified into silence, is a
grave matter indeed. New York is complaining just now of the strength in
corruption of its police system; but it seems almost trivial compared
with this, for while the police ring profits by cooperating with the
criminals they are paid to suppress, the prison ring profits by maiming
or destroying human lives entrusted to their care to be restrained for a
season from their own evil impulses, and thus if possible reformed; and,
when they are released, it guards itself against exposure by the menace
of revenge more formidable still. The parole and the indeterminate
sentence, framed to open the way to reform of prisoners, is used by
prison officials to intimidate and debase them; and if any ex-convict
ventures to defy this fortified despotism, the immediate rejoinder is,
"Who can believe a jail-bird? A man wicked enough to steal or murder is
wicked enough to lie, and is not the malicious motive of the lie

That rejoinder has been brought, and will continue to be brought against
me. Among those who protested against the statements in my interview
above mentioned was a lady whom I never spoke to--it is strictly against
rules for a prisoner to speak with a visitor--and never knowingly saw,
though I understand she was wont to sit on the stage during the Sunday
exercises. She is thus quoted: "Julian Hawthorne is nothing more than an
old grouch. A short time ago this old man told me himself that he was
getting plenty to eat and had no complaint to make of his own or anybody
else's treatment in the prison.... When he says such things as he is
reported to have said, he should be made to prove them, or keep his
mouth shut." Warden Moyer himself, less imaginative than this lady,
contented himself with denying all charges and courting investigation,
and added that he bore me no grudge, believed me to have been the dupe
of malignant guards (since dismissed) and considers my motive to have
been mainly the desire to make a little money. "The Department attaches
little importance to these outbreaks," he remarked, "and I consider it
unnecessary to place my word against that of convicts."

This may seem feeble; it is the mere instinctive stuttering of persons
in a disturbed frame of mind. But the System will not depend for its
defense upon persons of this kind. It has many strong forces at its
command, of which the Secret Service, and the favorable prejudgments of
the Government and of a large part of the public are but part. Any one
opposing it may expect to be kept under strict surveillance in all his
movements, his mail will be violated, his words, written or overheard,
will be scrutinized for material that can be used against him. Nor is
the line drawn there. While I was in prison, I received the confidences
of many prisoners as to their own experiences, among others that of a
Maine boy who had been convicted of robbing a postoffice. He had been
arrested in the first instance as a vagrant, and while in the local jail
had been approached by a postoffice inspector who charged him with the
post-office crime. The boy had never been in the state in which the
crime was committed; but he was told that, if he would plead guilty to
it, he would be sent to Atlanta for a short term, whereas, should he
refuse, he could be kept in jail awaiting trial for a year, and would
then receive at least six months on the vagrancy charge. "Do as I tell
you, and I will see that you get off easy," the inspector, who posed as
a friend, told him. When he finally acquiesced, however, the judge
imposed on him a sentence of five years, the inspector having testified
that he was an old offender, implicated in many other crimes. The fact
was, of course, that the real perpetrators of this postoffice robbery
had not been caught, but it was expedient for the reputation and welfare
of the detectives that a perpetrator should be produced--if not the real
one, then one manufactured for the purpose. I learned of many cases
similar to this--it is a common routine practise with the System.
Moreover, when this innocent youth has completed his term, he will be
thenceforth a marked man--"an habitual criminal," with a record against
him; and he can be rearrested on general principles at any time. He will
be given no opportunity to earn an honest livelihood, and it would be
surprising indeed if his wrongs, not to speak of his empty stomach and
hopeless circumstances did not make him a bona fide criminal ere long.
Obviously, meanwhile, such a man is effectively gagged; if he be asked
whether prison be a paradise, he will reply ardently in the affirmative,
though his whole body and soul know it as a hell. For if, having
blasphemed the Holy System, he is returned to the cell whence he came,
every word of his rash revelation will be avenged upon him in torture
and misery.

Am I attempting to retaliate upon the System for personal indignities
and mishandling; or am I the dupe and tool of designing
miscreants--convicts, guards or foremen--who plied me with false
statements to wreak revenges of their own? I have already said that I
was never harshly treated by any of the prison officials, and after the
two first months indulgences were allowed me beyond the customary prison
usage. During my two first months, to be sure, it seemed unlikely that I
could live out my term, because I was kept at work in an underground
place without ventilation or other than artificial light, and permeated
with the hot-water pipes which supplied the buildings with heat and
power. I was also unable to eat the prison fare, and was slowly
perishing for lack of food. I never complained of this treatment, for it
was in the ordinary prison course; but when the consequences of it
became visible in my physical appearance, I was put on a diet of oatmeal
and milk, morning and evening, and allowed to exercise in the open air.
I voluntarily, during this period, went without dinner, being unwilling
to poison myself with the rancid grease and garbage served under that
name; but I made the most of the simple but nourishing milk diet, though
it was insufficient in quantity; and I improved to the utmost the
outdoor privileges, besides adhering resolutely to a regimen of daily
calisthenic exercises; so that, when I was set at liberty at the end of
six or seven months, I was in physical condition quite as good as when I
went in. I was never denied leave to write "special letters," and my
intercourse with the warden and his deputies, though always as seldom
and brief as I could make it, was uniformly suave and smiling. The
reasons for all which I shall have occasion to discuss later.

So much for the "grouch." As for being made the dupe of designing
persons among the lower officials, and my fellow prisoners,--beyond
replying tersely to questions put to me, I never had any communication
with the former, and never heard or spoke a word with them reflecting
upon the prison management. But what of my fellow prisoners?

They looked me over keenly and thoroughly to begin with; and no
inquisitors have more sensitive intuitions or are quicker to suspect
double-dealing than they. My aspect, my bearing, my speech, my
affiliations, my treatment, all came under their scrutiny, and were
debated in that secret court which prisoners hold. Not at first, nor
lightly, did they give me the honor of their confidence. I might be a
spy sent in from without, or a stool pigeon made within, or I might be
indifferent or loose-mouthed. But when they did resolve to trust
me--when I was elected a member of the "inner circle," as one of them
phrased it,--they had no reservations. I was called on to make no
protestations, to register no oaths, nor did I solicit any
communications. They came to me freely, and either by laboriously penned
or penciled letters written on surreptitious scraps of paper in
ill-lighted cells, or by circumspect word of mouth mumbled into my ear
on the baseball ground of a Saturday afternoon, they would disclose
their long hoarded and grievous facts. "I wouldn't lie to you, Mr.
Hawthorne--what would be the use? it would come back on me!" But I was
listening to the break and tremor in their voices, the hurry and awkward
indignation, the eager marshaling of insignificant details, the dreary,
apathetic recital of sordid or callous outrages, the hopelessness
striving once more to hope. "If they'd only send us an inspector who
wouldn't be always dining with the warden, and junketting in his auto,
and taking the screws' word against ours--a fellow who'd peel off his
coat and size things up independent!" Their wish was not fulfilled in my
time; the inspections were a farce and a scandal. There was a tradition
of one inspector who had really effected something--who seemed to think
of his duty, as well as of good dinners and joy rides--but that was long
ago. That he never repeated his visit would seem to indicate that his
report was found inconvenient.

Meantime, I did not need their asseverations of veracity; the truth
shone through their uncouth stories. They were widely different from the
glib patter that runs out of a crook's mouth in the presence of an
official. Some of these men were seasoned criminals; often they did not
themselves understand how iniquitous was the "deal" that had been given
them, being too much inured to the tricks and treachery of the
detectives' practises to feel special animosity regarding them; but more
or less dimly they felt that wrong was being done them that was not
contemplated or recognized by the law. The last thing to die in a man is
his sense of justice; "I'm as bad a man as you like, and I'm willing to
take my proper medicine; but they ought to give a man a square deal!"
There was a young fellow there, well educated, with an intelligent,
agreeable face and gentlemanly bearing; I got his story, not from him,
but from the reminiscences of others. One time "Bob got nutty, and
wouldn't come out of his cell, and started setting fire to his bedding.
His cell got filled with the smoke and he was near choking to death, and
fell down on the floor. A bunch of screws stood in front of his door
making fun of him, and they held a blanket up so the smoke wouldn't get
out. At last they opened the door and pulled him out, and they clubbed
him good and plenty, and then they dragged him down the stairs--he was
in an upper tier, understand--with his head bumping against every step.
They threw him into a dark cell, and left him there." There he had
leisure to recover from his "nuttiness." It was nothing much out of the
usual, only the incident happened to offer spectacular features which
served to keep the memory of it fresh. But does the Department of
Justice countenance such diversions?

To return to my theme--I came to feel that whether or not I was handled
softly, others as deserving as I, or less deserving, or more deserving,
were not; and that if I had no personal grounds for complaint, they had.
I could not adopt the point of view of one of the "better" class of
convicts: "The warden has always treated me decently, and I don't mean
to bite the hand that caressed me." I need not affirm, either, that my
good fortune was due to an expectation that I would respond in kind;
that would be an unverifiable inference. But it was plain that the
officials took interest in the prison paper as a medium for advertising
and gaining credit for the penitentiary; and that when I began to write
for it, newspapers all over the country quoted the articles and
commented kindly on them. My name was given a prominence, unwelcome,
though well meant; accounts of my doings and condition, entirely
apocryphal (for I never saw a newspaper man during my stay, or gave out
any form of interview), were published and featured from time to time; I
was kept more or less in the public eye. If, now, I were to be starved
and clubbed, dungeoned and otherwise maltreated, not only would I be
incapacitated from contributing to the paper, but some hint of the facts
might leak out and impair the reputation of Atlanta Penitentiary as a
Gentleman's Club and Humane Paradise. Accordingly, if I were found
smoking out of hours, or were missing from count,--"Never mind--it's
only Hawthorne!" It may be, of course, that my personal charm was so
irresistible that every official from the warden down fell victim to it,
and would rather prove recreant to their oath of office than interfere
with me; my vanity craves to believe so, yet I hesitate. At any rate,
with whatever sugar the gag was sweetened, or whether the suggestion of
it was inadvertent, I did not feel justified in accepting it; and when I
got out, the waiting reporters at last obtained what they had so long
awaited. But though my eight hundred comrades seem to have been
gratified with my words, I cannot think that they were equally
satisfactory to the officials; for I am informed that Hawthorne's
writings are henceforth barred from the penitentiary. I must have hurt
their feelings in some way; no one can please everybody.

The naive surprise expressed in some local quarters outside the
penitentiary went to show how unexpected and almost incredible my
statements appeared to be--or, from another point of view, how
successfully hitherto the truth had been suppressed. The truth being
once unshackled, I was anxious to get the widest possible circulation
for it, and therefore arranged for its publication in various newspapers
distributed over the country; but I was not altogether sanguine that my
plan of public enlightenment would prove an unqualified success. The
System, as I have indicated, had several guns which it might bring to
bear, and it was conceivable that some of the editors who had subscribed
to the syndicate might find reason to regard the articles as not adapted
to the taste of their readers, and decline to risk offending them any
further. If other guns of the System should prove inadequate, there was
always the great gun to be depended upon, known as the Law for Libel. I
took what precautions I could with respect to this formidable and most
respectable weapon; I stipulated that a competent lawyer should read
each article before it was offered for publication, and inform me of any
passage in any of them which might be obnoxious to the provisions of
this law, in order that such passages might be modified or expunged. He
carefully discharged his function; and if any reader should detect a
lack of continuity or explicitness in any of my statements, he may
charitably ascribe it to the consequences of the lawyer's advice; since,
even in this free country, the proprieties must be observed. If I were
fortunate enough to escape the missiles of the Libel gun, I had still to
be on my guard against more obscure and personal weapons; I am an
ex-convict, and any lenity of treatment which I had hitherto enjoyed is
not to be looked for in the future. If I were sent back to prison, my
shrift was likely to be short; and I could only hope, in that event, to
have been able to say enough to afford my entertainers ample provocation
for giving me, as my comrades would say, the limit.

"You would have only yourself to blame!"--I hear that comment. If you
are kicked, be like the puppy--roll over on your back and hold up your
paws for mercy. But if canine models are in question, I feel more
inclination to the thoroughbred bulldog, who does what he can and would
do more if he could. I have undertaken a heavy responsibility, and must
make the best showing I may with it. I no longer have a lifetime before
me, but I have learned while I have been alive that the methods of the
puppy are not remunerative in the end. Every natural instinct in me
calls out for rest and peace, and to forget the valleys of grief and
humiliation; but there is another voice which summons me to other
issues. I am sensible of my lack of strength and fitness for the
enterprise; but I believe that it was no idle circumstance that called
me to it; I believe in a Divine government of the world, which chooses
sometimes to use unlikely instruments to accomplish its will. The little
I can do may inspire worthier deeds by more powerful hands. Emerson
found simple words for a mighty thought--

"One accent of the Holy Ghost
The heedless world hath never lost!"

The prophets of old had no dignity or weight in themselves, but they
delivered messages which changed the world. "What! that old numskull be
the mouthpiece of Jehovah?" his townsfolk might exclaim. But so it was.
What is any one of us in himself?

However, I don't wish to bear too hard on this pedal. It is easier to
look at things from the commonplace standpoint. One thing or another
prevented any of my companions in the jail from doing what it was
desirable to do, and circumstances quite unforeseen opened a way for me
to do it. What I have said above was with a view of showing how
difficult it may ordinarily be to bring prison facts to light; and if,
by chance, some individual should find means to his hand to open a
window, he would be a poltroon if he forbore to do it. I am under no
illusions as to the obstacles in my way, nor do I anticipate that what I
am trying to do will result in prompt or vital changes for the better in
prison management. The facts I adduce may be discredited, but if they
are true they will not be lost. My eight hundred inarticulate comrades
are always present in my thoughts. I have left them in the body, but I
see their faces wherever I turn. It is a crime that any human beings
should be arbitrarily kept in the conditions which surround them, and if
I can loosen one stone of the Bastile which, at Atlanta and elsewhere,
annually engulfs and destroys so many of them, I shall be content.



The walls of jails are good non-conductors of what goes on behind them,
and this applies to other prisons as well as to that at Atlanta. Yet
once in a while a groan or protest, or a partial account of some
outbreak, finds its way through; and in many cases the gist of the story
is to the effect that the food is bad or scanty. Other things the men
behind the bars suffer stoically, or not so stoically; but lack of food
arouses them to despair and frenzy. We have lately heard reports from
Sing Sing illustrative of this condition there; and many another jail
could echo the complaints of the unfortunates in that gloomy

Convicts know that they are to be punished, that the government has
sentenced them, that it is the law; and though they may find cause to
disagree with the decree that consigns them to hopeless and useless
servitude, they accept it as at least legal and incident to the game as
played. But they do not believe that the government has condemned them
to starvation, or to poisoning (and the condition in which food often
comes to the convicts' table is practically poisonous). They know that
no such punishment is included in the statutes; and they can only
conclude, therefore, that it is an arbitrary and illegal piece of
cruelty or neglect on the part of the warden or commissary officer. They
are prone to think that these persons profit financially by cutting down
their supplies; and that they are careful to conceal the fact in their
reports to the Department, or to disguise it as a meritorious economy.
At the same time, they are conscious that there is no regular channel
through which they can make their injury known to the authorities, and
that nothing is more readily denied, or more easily concealed from
inspectors, than is this very abuse.

But the suffering which it occasions is constant and cumulative. They
are still required to perform their labor, as if in full physical vigor.
They are punished if physical weakness causes them to fall short in
their tasks. They feel their vitality ebbing, they find themselves ever
less able to resist the inroads of disease, their appeals to the doctors
are often met with sneers and even animosity; and what marvel is it that
stoicism and patience at last give way, and they break out in some wild
and savage excess which justifies the resort by their masters to the
dungeon and the bullet? But death may well seem to the rebels preferable
to the lingering pains of the alternative fate.

The under nourishment and malnourishment of convicts is, in fact, one of
the worst crimes of the many which their despots perpetrate upon them.
From any point of view, it is barbarous and wicked--the crime of a
Weyler upon the defenseless Cuban revolutionists, which, as much as the
destruction of the Maine, impelled this country to declare war. Yet,
knowing as we do that it is perpetrated upon the human beings in our
prisons, we sit supine and acquiescent, and thereby make the crime our

Have you not imagination enough to put yourself for a moment in the
predicament of the prisoner? There you sit in the narrow gloom of your
cell, or you toil in the stifling confinement of your work room, and
such is not only your state to-day, but for years to come it will be
unchanged. You are isolated from sight of and association with every man
and woman in the world who cares for you or thinks kindly of you;
silence and rigid obedience are imposed upon you; you meet no looks that
are not harsh, and hear no words but sharp commands or angry menaces.
Your very toil is idle and unpaid, and its diligent performance brings
you no credit or hope, except treacherous promises of a good constantly
delayed. And then picture yourself when, after wearisome hours, the
whistle blows that means intermission of labor and the renewal of
strength by food. Yet that summons, instead of cheering you, does but
make the burden of your misery heavier.

Sullenly and heavily, in the endless line, you tramp into the huge,
comfortless hall, with its hideous tables and benches, and as you pass
up the aisles you glance abhorrently at the dirty scraps and masses of
provender dumped carelessly out of noisome buckets by the filthy hands
of the servers upon plates still rough and foul with the hardened grease
of foregoing meals. You are faint for lack of nourishment, yet the sight
of what is provided, and the unclean smell of it, nauseate instead of
inviting you. Eat you must, if you would live and have strength to work,
yet if you eat you invite sickness and suffering, and if you could eat
all, and assimilate it, you would still leave the table but half fed.

Every tyro in physiology knows the effect upon the general organism of
dejection and resentment at meals. Prisoners more than men in any other
condition need abundance to eat and good cheer while eating; but the
food they get, and the circumstances in which they get it, causes them
to degenerate physically, and the body affects the mind. Physical
disease breeds the disease of evil thoughts and impulses. Criminals
might be generated by prison food alone, without taking account of their
previous records and future prospects.

We of Atlanta penitentiary used to hear occasionally of the
bills-of-fare of our repasts in the prison that were daily forwarded to
Washington, by way of reassuring the Department of Justice, and whom
else it might concern, as to the substance and excellence of our
nourishment. These alimentary documents might be compared with like
lists at Delmonico's and the Waldorf, and the names of the viands would
be found to be identical. The inference, to the legal mind, not to speak
of the penological one, was plain: the convicts at the penitentiary
fared as sumptuously as do the banqueters of the Four Hundred--at no
cost, moreover, to themselves, not even waiters' tips.

For here were rich soups and gravies, substantial roast beef, succulent
steaks and chops, the renowned baked beans of legend, comforting hashes,
pies and puddings, fresh vegetables, including the famous sweet potato
of the South in its pride; and long draughts of milk from the tranquil
cows of the pasture, together with tea and coffee from the Orient,
sugar, mustard, salt and pepper and vinegar, enough to beguile the most
squeamish appetite, and, to top off with, fruits in their season, led by
the incomparable Georgia watermelon. I may have inadvertently omitted
some items from this toothsome list, but it is enough as it stands to
make an epicure's mouth water. And if any skeptic were still
unconvinced, a photographer would be admitted with his undeniable camera
at certain seasons--Christmas and Fourth of July, for example--who would
place a picture of the revelry and the revelers on the everlasting
records, with garlands and festive decorations, and actual dishes of
some sort on the groaning boards, and serried rows of plump felons ready
to fall to.

The fame of all this went forth into the world, and Atlanta
Penitentiary, its warden, its guards, and its cooks shine in penal
annals as the acme and ideal of modern humanitarian ideas upon the
reclamation of convicts through gentleness and love, and a full stomach.

I found opportunity to study some of these historic scrolls, and was so
much impressed by them that I caused a suggestion to be conveyed to the
warden. Instead of sending all the menus to Washington, and to admiring
friends in the Atlanta neighborhood, let one or two of them be placed at
each meal upon the tables of the diners, to the end that they might be
stimulated, by the perusal of these literary masterpieces, to choke down
their gullets the actual garbage which was furnished in the name
thereof. But the warden's views seem not to have been in harmony with
mine on this occasion. I am glad to learn, however, from certain
graduates of the institution since my own departure from it, that the
food has greatly improved in quantity and somewhat even in quality,
since these chapters began to appear in newspapers.

I need not attempt to fathom the reason. If it were incomparable before,
why or how better it?

It could hardly have been done at the instance of the old and warm
personal friend of the warden and the Attorney-General who was sent to
Atlanta recently in the guise of a Spartan inspector of the alleged
abuses; because, for one thing, the improvement had set in long before
he made his investigation, and the investigator, in his report, appears
to have discovered no room for improvement anywhere. It must have just
happened--one of those miracles in the way of gilding refined gold and
painting the lily which are so common nowhere else as in our model penal

I had ample opportunity to study the subject personally while a guest at
the prison table, and to compare my impressions with those of my fellow
prisoners, as well as to enlarge them by conferences with persons
employed in the kitchen and commissary department. Men who had served in
other prisons--and their combined experiences covered a great many--were
unanimous and emphatic in declaring that the table at Atlanta was the
worst they had ever known, not only as to scantness of supply, but as to
the unwholesomeness or positively poisonous quality of the food
furnished. But let me tell a little of what I saw and knew myself.

When the change was made from long tables and benches to tables seating
eight and chairs, it was announced that table cloths would also be
supplied, and napkins. That was two or three years ago, but table cloths
have not yet appeared, and the eaters still wipe their mouths on the
backs of their hands in the good old way. Pepper and salt were on the
table, and a bottle of something that looked like beer and was supposed
to be vinegar, but was sampled only by the more reckless or
inexperienced convicts. Sugar was not provided except on rare occasions,
and to "diet" prisoners--men who were restricted to bread and milk and
oatmeal. Some beverage that dishonored the name of tea was served about
once a fortnight; a brown, semi-transparent rinsing of dirty kettles,
sugarless, thin and bitter, called coffee, came every day; but if your
stomach rejected either of these, you could fill up on plain water.

The latter, however, like the "diet" milk and oatmeal and the drinkables
generally, had to be taken out of metal mugs covered with white enamel,
minute particles of which chipped off and mingled with what you drank.
These particles were hard and sharp, like pure glass, and they cut and
lodged in the intestines, causing, with other things, an excessive
predisposition to appendicitis--a frequent disease in the penitentiary.
This was also promoted by the bread, which was made of the poorest grade
of white flour, without nourishing quality, the value per loaf being
about two cents; the flour was ground in steel mills, and microscopic
particles of steel were rubbed off into it--this fact I had from a
physician who had examined it. The flour, when received at the prison,
was frequently full of weevils, most of which but not all were sifted
out before it was used. The bread was tasteless and light; it was baked
in large quantities, and what was not consumed by the prisoners was sold

It is not provided in the prison regulations that officials shall be fed
at the expense of the prisoners. Nevertheless, a separate and superior
grade of flour is purchased at government expense, and is used to make
bread which is given to the officials; the loaves are placed in the
outer corridor, and are taken away by guards and others every day.
Separate cooks are also assigned to prepare the officials' food on the
prison ranges; the meats and vegetables are of a grade much better than
is supplied to prisoners; but some favored prisoners participate in
their consumption. The higher officials have the best food the market
affords and in such ample abundance that certain prison pets, usually
negroes, get their main subsistence from the surplus.

The beef given to prisoners was of the third grade--the worst on the
market--it is cow or bull beef, never heifer or steer, and often it is
rotten, and must be treated chemically before being offered even to
prisoners. It used to come on the table in gristly and bony gobbets,
after having lain on the kitchen ranges for hours, until it was reduced
to a hardness which resisted all but the most efficient and vigorous
teeth (which, except with negroes, are rare in prison). I used to
compare these "steaks" and other pieces with old blackened boot heels;
they were hardly less eatable and nourishing. Often it smelt so that
nature rebelled against it; but complaints were liable to be met by
committal to the solitary cells.

But groups of visitors used to appear in the dining room occasionally;
they were lined up along the wall adjoining the door, and were not
allowed to walk between the tables, so that the only food they could see
was what was put on the tables nearest the door; and this was always of
a quality superior to the rest, and there was more of it per man. It was
one of the little tricks employed to maintain the entente cordiale, by
which the prisoners who sat at those tables benefited, and the visitors
went forth to sing the praises of our warm hearted warden. On the days
when the bread was sour or the meat stank, visitors were headed away
from the dining room, and their attention directed to more important

The hash, which often made the breakfast, was composed of fragments of
gristle and refuse left on the prisoners' plates after dinner, mixed
with potatoes and rancid grease; this, and the soups and gravies, which
had a similar origin, gave out a most nauseating smell. The men would
gulp it down--it was that, or starve--trying to help it on its way with
all the condiments they could lay hands on; but the effect of it, and of
the food generally, upon the digestive tract was so disastrous in most
cases that they might better have left it alone. I myself retired from
the enterprise in my second or third week, and would have literally died
of inanition had not the doctor, moved by I know not what suggestion
(not mine), put me on the milk and oatmeal diet during the remainder of
my sojourn. This applied for breakfast and supper; I sat at dinner, but
satisfied myself with nibbling bread crusts, and witnessing the forlorn
and perilous efforts of my friends to walk the line between starvation
and acute indigestion. Not many were successful.

For vegetables we had Irish and sweet potatoes, turnip tops (uneatable),
black-eyed beans, bitter and greasy, and once a month, perhaps, a
tomato. The butter was made of an inferior quality of lard, and
cottonseed oil--a substance which entered into many other of our viands,
and of which, with grease, it was calculated by an expert in the
kitchen, we were offered as much as one pound per man every day. It
produced a calamitous effect upon the digestive tract, inasmuch as there
was hardly a white man in the prison who did not suffer chronically from
stomach troubles--constant suffering, often becoming acute. The
strongest digestions would resist for a while, but finally succumb.

There was a poultry farm on the grounds, donated by outside benefactors
specifically and exclusively for the benefit of prisoners, beginning
with the tuberculous patients. After it got going, there may have been
an average of six hundred fowls on the place. Of these, not one ever
appeared on the prison tables. With the exception of a possible few that
were stolen by prisoners having access to the yard, all were
appropriated by higher officials, and the eggs as well.

One official gave frequent dinner parties to his friends, and was said
to use as many as five or six chickens a day, though I cannot vouch for
that--it seems excessive. He certainly, sometimes, commandeered as many
as fourteen or more at one time. There was a story of a great cake which
he had made for some festival, into the composition of which entered one
hundred and four eggs from our farm. To neither chickens nor eggs had
he, of course, any title more legitimate than have you who read these
lines. He had a large and hungry household, and many guests--among them,
commonly, such government inspectors as were sent down from Washington,
to see whether he and his fellow officials were honestly discharging
their functions.

As for the tuberculous patients, I was never able to find any of them
who had eaten chicken from the farm, or any part of one. Some chicken
soup was at one time ordered for a patient by the doctor; a prisoner (a
famous physician), a deputy of the doctor, happened to be at the
tuberculosis camp when the soup arrived from the kitchen. It consisted
of some warm water with the shank--not the drumstick, but the shank and
foot--of a fowl in it. This aroused his interest, and twice again he was
present when a chicken soup prescribed appeared at the camp. On both
occasions--he stands ready so to testify under oath--he found the same
foot and shank in it, but nothing else recalling chicken. The foot was
identified by an imperfection in one of its toes.

Eggs were indeed provided for the hospital prisoners (never for the
general mass), but they were cold storage eggs, the cheapest grade that
could be bought in the market, and that is saying much for this sort of
product nowadays. Out of one mess of eight that were served in the
hospital, and of which I gained authentic news from the prisoner
physician already referred to, six were bad. I am informed that these
notes and comments of mine are not permitted to be read by the
prisoners; but perhaps the original donors of the poultry farm may see
them, and be prompted to inquire into their accuracy. Let us return to
the dining room.

Sweet potatoes abound in the South, and subsistence upon them
exclusively would reduce the cost of living; the only trouble is that
the human stomach refuses to cooperate in this economy. Sweet potatoes
were served at Atlanta during the season three times a day, baked,
boiled and in pies; the men were hungry enough, and the supply of
potatoes was adequate; but had they been of the finest instead of the
worst quality in the market, the experiment would have failed;
starvation proved preferable; we could not get them down. That soft,
slimy sweetness, foul with dirt and often tainted with decay,
reappearing day after day at every meal for weeks on end, outdid
endurance, nor could we be stimulated by the argument that the
Government was saving money by it. Had the sweet potato season lasted
the year round, the warden would have lost his job from mere dearth of
prisoners to earn his salary on.

I do not forget the corn, either; it was of the brand fed to farm
animals; but this enumeration becomes monotonous. We had apple pies once
a week or so; and I was told by an employee in the kitchen, who had been
a farmer in his time, that the apples were such as could be bought at a
dollar a barrel, and that the charge appearing in bills submitted to the
Government was five dollars. The quality of the apples in the pies
supports my informant's contention. As for the watermelons--a benefactor
of the prisoners bought a consignment of them sufficient for the prison
population, to be eaten on the Fourth of July, 1913. The contract was
for the best melons obtainable; and Georgia is famous for good melons. A
day or two before the Fourth, the benefactor called at the prison, and
asked to see the melons, which had been delivered some time before.
Examination showed them to be of an inferior grade, such as farmers used
for cattle and poultry. It was too late, however, to get a fresh supply,
and the benefactor had the mortification of seeing the kindly meant gift
dishonored. It is pertinent, here, that there is said to be an
individual in Atlanta not officially connected with the penitentiary who
is commissioned to make all purchases for the prison--food, tobacco, and
other supplies. He buys the stuff, and hands in his bills; but the bills
he pays are not submitted. It is conceivable that there may be a
discrepancy between the two amounts, and it might be interesting to
learn whether he alone benefits by it.

Guards walk up and down the aisles between the tables, during meals, to
keep order and also to attend to complaints or requests from prisoners.
There is also the man in the window with the loaded magazine rifle,
ready to settle any complaints that become too insistent. The common
protest is against the badness of a specific piece of food, or against
some example of dirt. The former seldom get relief; in the latter case,
the dish or cup is sometimes changed.

A prisoner at my table called the guard's attention to a quid of tobacco
which had got into his soup. The guard, who was of a humorous turn,
replied, smiling, "Well, you use tobacco, don't you?" and passed on.
This was the same guard who assaulted and clubbed a prisoner whom he was
taking downstairs, as described in a previous chapter. On another
occasion, a prisoner complained that there was a beetle in his hash. An
examination was made; but whether the beetle was alive and got away, or
whether the prisoner himself had "bugs," as the slang is, at any rate
the examiners reported no beetle. The matter was then brought before the
authorities, who ordered the complainant to the dark hole.

Another day, following some months of constant deterioration in the
food, and diminution in the quantity of it, a dinner of hash and bread
was served, and both bread and hash were sour. The air of the room was
full of the sour smell; the captain came down the aisle near mine, and a
prisoner had the boldness to stop him and hold up his plate. "It's sour,
Captain!" said he. The captain looked the man in the eye and replied
sternly, "It is not sour!" "But, Captain--" "I say it is not sour!" the
other repeated with a threatening look. It was either submit, or the
hole; the man sat down.

But a few minutes later, some one hissed; before he could be identified,
hisses came from every part of the room. It was a critical juncture. The
captain ordered the band to play, and play it did at the top of its
compass; but the hissing was audible and continued through the playing.
Presently the men got up and began to march out; it was then that a
group of guards from the smoking room below came running up the stairs
armed with clubs and revolvers and tried to get through the barred door
at the stair head, but were checked by the captain, who was a wise
tactician. The men went to their cells, and there began to howl and
screech like a crazy menagerie, and kept it up for hours. Twenty or
thirty of the supposed ringleaders were sent to the dark holes; but the
revolt was not checked until the warden personally promised reforms, and
gave his word that no further punishments should be inflicted--fair
promises, made to be broken.

The dining room windows were protected by wire netting; but there were
many holes in it, as large as a man's head, through which the flies, in
summer, entered in swarms; and there was no provision for keeping them
out of the kitchen, which opened into the dining room. Complaints were
constantly made, but the holes were never mended, and no means were
taken to kill the flies. Food sometimes was placed on the tables hours
before the men sat down to their meals, and the flies, not having the
same delicacy of appetite as the men, feasted freely in the meanwhile.
There was also frequent protest against the bits of loose enamel in the
bowls; many of these were made direct to the doctor; but he did nothing.
If a man whose digestion had given way called on him for help, a dose of
salts was the only reply, and several deaths, while I was there,
unquestionably had their beginning in this neglect. Upon the whole,
contentment with starvation was the most prudent policy in Atlanta

I am not a sybarite or an epicure. For fifteen years before I was sent
to prison I lived on the hardest and most Spartan diet, eating as little
food as possible and that of the simplest kind. Wheat, milk, a few green
vegetables, and fruit made my menus. I was therefore better fortified
against hardships than the majority of prisoners; I could hold out
against starvation longer; but against the poison of rotten or bad food
I had no protection.

The wardens and the chief clerks of prisons often wish, for motives of
their own, to make an economical showing, and perhaps do not much care
if it is made at the expense of the health or lives of prisoners. Some
friends of mine in Atlanta prison and myself made an attempt to
determine just what was paid out per man in the prison for subsistence;
we quietly obtained statements from men in the kitchen and commissary
departments, and made our calculations. After careful revision, the
figures showed that we were being fed at the rate of from eight to
eleven cents per head, a day.

About that time, a great scientific discovery was announced by the chief
steward. Food, he had been informed, contained a certain amount of heat
and power; and these heat units, called calories, could be estimated for
any given article of diet. (As I write this, an editorial on the subject
in a recent issue of a New York newspaper states the matter in terms
which I am happy to reproduce.) "Physiologists have determined by
repeated experiments that a definite quantity of certain foods furnishes
a definite number of calories or heat units, which produce a certain
quantity of energy in the animal or human body.... In twenty-four hours
a normal man of about one hundred and thirty pounds at rest, needs 1680
calories or heat units, while a man doing severe physical labor would
require sufficient food to produce 3000 calories.... Since the
efficiency of labor depends upon the energy of the body and this energy
or power is produced by the food, it is not difficult to calculate the
actual outlay required for this purpose.... The household requirements
of a family where two servants are kept would at this rate be from $1.00
to $1.40 a day, a sum sufficient to furnish all the energy for all
purposes of normal maintenance."

Such being the case, our steward figured that the convicts could be well
enough supported by about 2500 calories apiece; and upon making a
scientific estimate of the calories in our average bill-of-fare, he
found that we were being overfed rather than the contrary. Meat, so many
calories; soup, so many; sweet potatoes, so many; bread, so many; and so
on. It was found possible, on this basis, to retrench here and there;
the bills were reduced--it was hoped that we might ultimately beat even
eight cents. The sole difficulty appeared to be that the men, the
subjects of the experiment, began incomprehensibly and perhaps
maliciously to starve.

I was fortunate enough to have access to a physician (a fellow
prisoner), of forty years' eminence in his profession, who solved the
enigma for me. The sum of his comment was this: "Put a Delmonico dinner
in one bucket, and an equal bulk of swill or garbage in another; the
number of calories may be the same in both. The steward, in his
calculation, has forgotten to consider the condition in which the food
is served--its eatableness, in short. If men could devour swill, it
would be all right; but if they cannot, they will starve in spite of

So the steward's calories became a byword and a mockery in the prison
for many weeks afterward.

Similar conditions, perhaps due to the same cause, seem to have obtained
at Sing Sing and elsewhere. It is not enough that prison food should be
sufficient in amount; it must also be of a quality such that the men are
able to get it down their throats. Nor are the doctor's salts a remedy;
their violent and abnormal action finally paralyze the excretory and
digestive powers of the organism, and the man dies from poisons
generated by indigestible food in his own system. Even keeping him in
the dark hole fails to recuperate him, though it has been constantly
tried at Atlanta, and very likely in other reformatory institutions.

Plenty of vigorous and hearty outdoor exercise would help much; not the
exercise of prison toil, which but deepens the darkness of the heart;
but exercise for its own sake, for the cheer and excitement of it. Much
has been said of the baseball at Atlanta Penitentiary; and doubtless it
has been of benefit. But only a handful of the prisoners, and
nine-tenths of them negroes, play the game; the others can only stand
and look on. The games occur, weather permitting, once a week, on
Saturdays. From Saturday at half past three until Monday morning at half
past seven, the men are locked in their cells, absolutely inactive in
body, and abandoned to such mental activities as, for the most part,
breed no good either for themselves or others. The only outlet is the
Sunday church service hour--a crowded session in a blank hall, with
rifles ready to subdue any disorder. A very apostle might fail in his
efforts under such circumstances; and very apostles are few.

A man who is sick and sad day after day and year after year, and
conscious of his impotence to amend his state, is in no mood for moral
reform. Much of the sickness might be averted if the medical treatment
at the outset of disease were such as to encourage the patients to avail
themselves of advice. But each man, as he comes up in the sick line
every morning, is met with indifference or insults; he is presumed to be
a malingerer unless he can prove himself genuine on the instant; the
only other recourse is to become so sick as to be beyond help of
medicine, and then, taken belated to the hospital, to die outright. The
consequence is that the men will suffer silently in their cells rather
than appeal to the doctor; and many diseases become ineradicable from
this cause.

Even a convict, when he is miserable and weak from illness, shrinks from
facing rough and unsympathetic handling and words in the doctor's room,
with a good chance of being sent to the hole if he remonstrates. The
doctor of a prison could be its good angel, if he would.



The subterranean brotherhood waxes curiously indignant over being lied
to by prison officials. For why should criminals, whose success in their
trade must depend largely on lies either spoken or acted, be resentful
when they are paid back in their own base coin? I am inclined to think
that the anomaly may be due to some survival in prisoners of the old
belief, that honor and fair play do, or should, exist in officers of
justice; although their own experience should admonish them that
officers of prisons, at least, cultivate the art and practise of
fighting the devil with fire (as we say), and so far from ever thinking
of keeping faith with a convict, study the art of deceiving and
hoodwinking him, and appear to derive no small amusement from their
results. Indeed, any tendency on the part of a guard or other official
in a prison to deal honestly and above board with their charges would at
once awaken suspicion of his loyalty to the "system," and his superiors
would be apt to improve the first opportunity of getting rid of him.

The lies told to prisoners are sometimes told for art's sake merely--for
the delight of the artist in his fabrication. There is fun in overcoming
the suspicions and skepticism of some old timer, and beguiling him into
the belief that for once, and at last, he really is getting trustworthy
information--that he has finally succeeded in touching the elusive hem
of the robe of Truth. But commonly the official liar has some practical
object in view. This object is usually the tightening of the prison's
grip upon the convict; not only to strengthen the bonds which confine
his body, but to bring his spirit or soul under more complete subjection
and to make him feel that so far from moral reform being the end sought
in his incarceration, he will best consult his private interests by
abandoning all thoughts of decency and honor, and acting, with the
officials, against the welfare and hopes of his own fellows.

The consequence of the falsehood policy in prisons is, for one thing,
that the men most worthless morally are uniformly those who get most
favors. Men of unbroken spirit are handled in a hostile manner, and are
subjected to a regimen calculated either to kill or cure their obstinacy
and themselves. "You have no right to do this--there is no law for it!"
the convict may protest. The reply is a sneer: "What are you going to do
about it?" What do you think you would do in such circumstances?--write
to the President, or to some Senator or Congressman? awaken the country
to these iniquities? The warden and the clerk will smile over your
letter, and drop it in the waste-basket, or will make it the basis of an
adverse report against you to the Department,--insubordination,
incorrigibility, insanity perhaps.

Or, if you reserve your protest till after you get out, and can then
find any medium for ventilating it, the prison authorities will promptly
and smilingly "welcome an investigation"; and the Department will
eagerly send down some old friend and boon companion of the officials,
to make a "strict investigation," "without fear or favor." Now, at last,
the truth shall be known, let it hurt whom it may! So the severe and
incorruptible inspector comes down; and after snubbing and insulting a
few prisoners, and taking notes of the information of a few snitches,
and dining and wining with the officials, and inspecting the country in
the government automobile, he goes back to Washington with the
reassuring news that the reports of abuses, where they were not absolute
fabrications, were gross exaggerations.

Is this an imaginative sketch--or colored a little--or a good deal? How
shall it be determined?--for I am only an ex-convict, and we all know
what an ex-convict's word is worth. I can only suggest that, for your
own individual satisfaction at any rate, you commit a bona fide crime
and get sentenced to prison for it. If you survive, we can converse
further on the subject. Or--to offer a bolder suggestion yet--perhaps
the head of the Department himself might take a hand; perhaps he would
oblige us by breaking a law. Let him be handcuffed and brought to
Atlanta or elsewhere--we are not particular--and there be numbered and
U.S.P.'d and set to work. After a ten years' experience, or, if his time
be valuable, a year and a day might do, let him write his report, and I
for one will abide by it.

The prison policy of falsehood may be illustrated by the uses to which
the parole law is put. This unfortunate measure was no doubt conceived
by its parents in love and charity, to supply prisoners with a stimulus
to reform by rewarding them for it with early release from imprisonment.
If a man's conduct while serving his sentence had been orderly and
obedient to rules, he was to be freed after serving about one-third of
his appointed time; but he was required, for a reasonable period
thereafter, to make monthly reports to the prison, and to show that he

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