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Chapter 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Hawthorne

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