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Chapter 10


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 régimen 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.

Julian Hawthorne

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