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HOME > Short Stories > Known to the Police > CHAPTER VI DISCHARGED PRISONERS
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It was, of course, inevitable, considering the large space prison reform and discharged prisoners have occupied in the public mind, that some influence, not altogether healthy, would be exercised on both prisoners and public. The leniency of sentences, or of treatment whilst undergoing sentences, has upon most prisoners a humanizing and softening effect. On others it produces a very different feeling, for in a measure it confirms them in wrong-doing. Personally, I have great faith in wise and discriminate leniency, preferring the risk of confirming the few to the certainty of hardening the many. Still, it is worth while, in our efforts for prison reform and for ex-prisoners' social salvation, to pause sometimes and inquire not only what success is being achieved, but also what is the general effect of our efforts. The constant stream of appeals on behalf of discharged prisoners that flows throughout the length and breadth of our land, while productive of good, is of a certainty productive of much evil. The efforts made in prison to get prisoners to attach themselves to some recognized Prisoners' Aid Society before[Pg 93] discharge, good as they are, are not without some ill consequences. The sympathy of the community for men and women who have broken their country's laws, and who are undergoing, or have undergone, terms of imprisonment, has been so often and so earnestly proclaimed that even this expression of sympathy has had consequences that were not anticipated, but which might have been expected if a little more thought had been given to the matter. It is, I know, impossible that any movement or trend of thought can be absolutely free from evil, and every influence for good has something connected with it that acts in an opposite direction. One result of all this public sympathy and effort has been to lead a large number of people to think and believe that because they have been criminals, and have suffered just punishment for their evil-doing, it is someone's bounden duty to help them, and provide them not only with the means of living when discharged from prison, but also with suitable employment.

So far has this kind of belief permeated, that several of my acquaintances, educated men who have suffered well-merited terms of imprisonment, contend that the community ought to receive them back with open arms, and not only restore them to a position, but give them again the confidence and respect they had forfeited. Their offences having been purged, they argue, by the term of imprisonment suffered, the law has been satisfied; and the law now holding them guiltless, nothing else ought to be considered. These men, as I have said, were educated men, and well able to win[Pg 94] back the public confidence if they set themselves to the task. But I am more concerned for the effect of this belief upon the ordinary prisoners, who have but little education, and for them it has disastrous effects. If there is one virtue that is absolutely necessary to a discharged prisoner, it is the virtue of self-reliance. Without it he is nothing. No matter what sympathy and what aid be extended to him from societies or individuals, without self-reliance he is a certain failure. Anything that tends to lessen self-reliance in discharged prisoners has, then, a tendency to reduce their chances of reformation. After all has been done that can possibly be done for discharged prisoners, one is compelled—reluctantly compelled—to the conclusion that the only men who can be rescued are those who possess grit and self-reliance. Many—I think that I can with safety say most—discharged prisoners appear to believe that assistance once given gives them a claim to other assistance. I have met with very few to whom I have given material help who thought that the help given them was exceptional and given with the view of helping them to a little start, that they might afterwards rely upon themselves. On the other hand, I have met with hundreds who actually believed that help previously given constituted an absolute claim to continued assistance. Sometimes it has taken much persuasion, and occasionally a display of physical force, before I have been able to get some discharged prisoners to accept my view of the matter.

The complete assurance with which many of[Pg 95] them present themselves at my door and inform me that they are "Just come out of prison, sir," is of itself astounding, but a little conversation with them reveals more surprising things still. About eleven o'clock one winter night there was a loud rap at my front-door, to which I responded. When I opened the door, a big man stood before me, and he promptly put his foot across the doorstep, and the following conversation took place: "What do you want?" "Oh, you are Mr. Holmes. I want you to help me." "Why should I help you? I know nothing of you." "I have just come out of prison." "Well, you are none the better for that." "Well, you help men that have been in prison." "Sometimes, when I see they are ashamed of having been in." "Well, I don't want to get in prison again." "How do I know you have been in prison?" "Why, didn't you speak to us like a man last Sunday?" "Yes, I was at Pentonville last Sunday, and I hope I spoke like a man." "Ah, that you did! And when I heard you, I said: 'I'll see him when I come out. He will be sure to give me half a dollar.'" "How did you get my address?" "From another chap." "When did you come out?" "This morning." "How long have you been in?" "Six months." "Got all your conduct marks?" "Every one." "Then you had eight shillings when you left the prison. How much have you got left?" "Never a sou!" "What have you done with it?" "I bought a collar, a pocket-handkerchief, a necktie, and a bit of tobacco, and a good dinner." "You saved nothing for your lodging?" "No; I thought[Pg 96] you would see me right." "I see! How old are you?" "Thirty-four." "How tall?" "Six feet one." "What is your weight?" "Fourteen stone." "My friend, you are big enough, strong enough, and young enough to help yourself. You seem to be making a bad job of it; but you will get no help from me." "Not half a dollar?" "Not half a penny." "What are you for?" "Well," I said, "I appear to exist for a good many purposes, but at the present time I am for the purpose of telling you to move off. Take your foot from my doorstep and clear!" "Not without half a dollar." "Take your foot away!" "No fear! I am going to have some money for my lodgings." "You will get no money here. Clear off!" "You don't mean to say that, after speaking to us like a man, you won't give me any money?" "That is exactly what I do mean to say." "What are you for?" "I will show you what I am for"; and I called three stalwart sons. "I ask you once more to withdraw your foot, or we shall be compelled to put you as gently as possible in the gutter." He then left us, muttering as he went: "I wonder what he's for?"

The sight of an ashamed and broken ex-prisoner touches me, and my heart goes out to him. Neither sympathy nor help will I deny him. But when unabashed fellows confront me, and show not the slightest evidence of sorrow or shame, but trade, as far as they can trade, upon the shameful fact that they have been rogues and vagabonds, very different feelings are evoked. My experience leads me to the belief that the[Pg 97] greater majority of ex-prisoners are by no means ashamed of having been in prison, or of the criminal actions that preceded prison; neither are they anywise reticent about their actions or thoughts.

So well is the public desire to help prisoners understood that I have sometimes been the victim of specious scoundrels who probably had never been in prison, but who richly deserved the unenviable distinction.

One morning, when I was leaving home for the day, I saw on the opposite side of the street a young man, who looked intently at me when I bade my wife good-bye. As he was an entire stranger to me, I did not speak to him, but went about my business. During the evening my wife said to me: "Oh, you owe me ten shillings!" "What for?" I inquired. "I gave young Brown his fare to Birmingham." "What young Brown?" I inquired. "That nice young fellow that got into trouble two years ago, and you helped him when he came out of prison. He kept the place you got for him, and now he has got a much better one at Birmingham." I tried to recall young Brown, but my memory was vacant on the matter. At length I asked for his description, when the young man I had seen in the morning was revealed. He noted my departure, and when quite sure that I was not in the way, he came to the door and asked to see me. He told my wife a long tale about his imprisonment and of my kindness to him, of his struggle for two years on a small salary, and of the good position open for him in Birmingham;[Pg 98] and also of his certainty that I would, had I been at home, have advanced his fare, and wound up by expressing the great sorrow that he had missed me. He did wish so much to tell me of his success, for it was all due to my kindness. He got his fare, and I sincerely hope that by this time he has got his deserts too.

But, independently of specious rogues, it is high time the fact was recognized that a feeling does largely exist among prisoners and ex-prisoners that the fact of having been in prison is a sure passport to public sympathy, and constitutes a claim upon public assistance. A large proportion of prisoners are, of course, people of low intelligence, who cannot estimate things at a proper value or see things as ordinary-minded people see them, and to these the belief becomes a certainty and the hope almost a realization. Let me repeat, then, that the duty of the community to help and "rescue" discharged prisoners has been so insistently and persistently proclaimed that prisoners now quite believe it, and are eagerly ready to leave to societies, organizations, or individuals other than themselves those efforts that are undoubtedly necessary for their own reformation and re-establishment.

I hold, and very strongly hold, that there is no hope of any prisoner's reformation who has no sorrow for the wrong he has done, and no sense of shame for the disgrace he has brought upon himself and others. I am not sure which is the more hopeless and repulsive kind of an individual—the man who blatantly demands assistance because he has been a rogue, or the fawning hypocrite who[Pg 99] professes repentance, tells of his conversion, and thanks God that he has been in prison; but I do know that both have the same object in view, and that both are but specimens of a numerous class.

While giving a course of lectures in our large prisons I had opportunities of becoming acquainted with many of the prisoners. At the conclusion of each lecture those prisoners who had expressed during the week a wish to consult me were allowed to do so in strict privacy. I had some very interesting talks with them. For many of them I felt profoundly sorry, and made some arrangement to meet with them when they were once more at liberty. For others I felt no pity, for I realized that they were barely receiving a just reward for their deeds.

One young man, with a heavy face and a leering kind of a look, came to me, and informed me that he had asked permission to see me, because he wanted my help in a fortnight's time, when he would be at liberty. Clad in khaki and marked with broad arrows, there was nothing to differentiate him from the ordinary prisoner, excepting, perhaps, that his face was duller and less intelligent than the majority. I asked him how long he had been in prison. "Six months." "What are you in for?" "Forgery." "How much money did you get by it?" "Five hundred pounds." "You were a bank clerk, then?" "Yes." "Is your father alive?" "No." "Have you a mother?" "Yes, and two sisters." "In what way do you want me to help you?" "I want to go to Canada." I looked at him closely and said, "Tell me what you did with the five hundred pounds." For[Pg 100] the first time I saw brightness in his eyes and face, and he promptly replied, "Oh, I had a high old time." I saw sensual enjoyment written very largely about his lips and eyes; but I repeated his words, "A high old time?" "Yes; a good time, you know." So I enumerated drink, gambling, women, and to each of them he replied, "Yes." He evidently looked back to that wicked period with great pleasure. I felt that he was far beyond my prentice hand, for I thought of his mother and sisters, of the employer he had so ruthlessly robbed, and of his own certain future. So I said to him, "My son, I cannot help you; no one can help you. It is no use wasting money in sending you to Canada. Canada is no place for you, for you cannot get away from yourself." He said, "I shall be away from temptation in Canada." "No," I said; "that is impossible: the devil is always to hand, even in Canada." "Won't you help me to get away from London?" "No," I said. "Stop in London, where you have been a wicked rogue; face life where you are known; show yourself a man by living decently and working honestly at anything you can get. Try and win back your mother's and sisters' respect. Write to your employer and ask his forgiveness; tell him that at some time in life you will endeavour to repay him. Feel ashamed that you have been a disgusting rogue; don't rejoice in having a 'high old time.'" He did not blush, or appear in any way concerned, but said: "If you won't help me, others will." It needs no great knowledge of life to forecast that young man's future. I often feel dismayed when I consider[Pg 101] some of the present-day tendencies. There is such a feverish and manifest desire among thousands of people to stand between a prisoner and the law, and to relieve him at any cost from the legal consequence of his wrong-doing.

Indeed, some folk would move heaven and earth, if it were possible, to keep a heartless young rogue out of prison. I would not lift my finger; to me it seems a most serious matter, for the consequences of criminal actions ought to be certain as daylight. I would, however, do much to make those consequences, not only certain, but swift, reasonable, and dignified, but not vindictive or revengeful. Punishment should be severe enough to convey an important and a lasting lesson. There ought to be no element of chance about it, but at present there is a great deal of uncertainty whether a prisoner, even if found guilty, will receive any punishment or be merely admonished.

I am aware that the views I have just expressed are not held by many people, but I am speaking from a long experience, during which I have dealt personally with individuals, and have taken infinite pains to learn something of those individuals. From this knowledge and experience I am forced to the conclusion that, as a rule, it is not a wise or a good thing to prevent the consequence of crime falling upon the criminal; but, as I have previously said, those consequences ought to be reasonable and sensible. We need a healthier public feeling on this question, and I earnestly long for the time when we shall all feel and acknowledge that the real disgrace lies in the action, and not in the degree of punishment awarded the perpetrator.

[Pg 102]

A thief discharged on "probation" is still a thief equally with the one who had received a term of imprisonment, but the community thinks otherwise. I am quite sure that I shall be hardly judged and condemned for giving expression to this opinion; it will doubtless be said that I have grown hard-hearted late in life, and have lost my sympathy for unfortunate people. I ask my readers to accept my assurance that this is not the case; my sympathy is larger than ever, for poor broken humanity is with me an ever-present sorrow. I never refuse assistance to a hard-up scoundrel without a heart-wrench and subsequent feelings of uneasiness. I love men, but I hate the very thought of "coddling" humanity. I know what it leads to, and I think how poor broken humanity catches on to the process, and becomes more and more willing to be "coddled." But poor humanity is the poorer for the process.

A man that has committed some crime, and has then taken his gruel in both senses, who faces the world, and by pluck, perseverance, and rectitude regains his footing in life, is to me a hero; for I can appreciate his difficulties, and appreciate, too, his moral worth. It is my privilege to know such men, and it is my joy sometimes to meet them. When I pass one of them in the street, I always feel inclined to cry, "There goes a man." Thank God, men of this sort are more numerous than might be expected, and it is only fair to our prison authorities to say that among a number that I know none complain of their treatment. Whilst undergoing sentence they did not like prison, of course, but they had to put up with it, and made[Pg 103] the best of it. But while I am writing this—on July 16, between 9 and 10 p.m.—I have been called three times to speak to young men who claimed—and I have no doubt in their cases truly claimed—to be discharged prisoners. Each time it was a young man under thirty that required help; two were absolute strangers to me; one I had known previously, for, unfortunately, six years ago I met him before he was consigned to prison, and also after he came out. At that time I did my best for him, and gave him a suit of clothes, and procured him, after great difficulties, some employment. During the last year he had called on me several times, when I had resolutely declined to assist him. He seemed astonished, and said, "But you helped me before." To-night I was a bit angry, and said, "Oh, is it you again? You are troubling me too often; I can do nothing for you." He resented the idea that he was a too frequent visitor. "Why, it is six weeks since I was here." My next visitor was a strong, healthy young man, who promptly touched his forehead with his fingers by way of salute. "Just come out of prison, sir." "Well, what of that?" "I am a married man, with two children." "I am sorry for your wife and children." He misunderstood me. "I thought you would be. We must pay our rent to-night, or we shall be put out in the street." "Where are you living?" "In Campbell Road, Finsbury Park. We have furnished apartments; we have been there one week, and they want the rent." I said, "You came out of prison a week ago, and paid a deposit on your room?" "Yes, sir." "You pay, or should pay,[Pg 104] seven shillings a week for that wretched room. You have not paid, so you ask me to help you; but I cannot do it: I know nothing whatever of you. Please go away: I am busy." He looked at me and said: "But I stole boots, you know, and I got three months. What are my wife and children to do?" "Well," I said, "if you did steal boots, you were a thief, and I cannot think the better of you on that account. You may or may not have a wife and two children; I do not know. Furnished apartments in Campbell Road are too dear and too nasty. I cannot give away money to keep the landlord of Campbell Road." With great difficulty I got rid of him, and I am afraid that my temper was not sweetened in the endeavour.

I had just settled down at my work when once more I was informed that a man wished to see me. The inevitable front-door again. I sometimes wonder how many silent vows I have registered on my own doorstep. The broken ones, I know, have been numerous enough to condemn me.

Another old acquaintance this time. As I stand on the doorstep, the rain sweeps in at the open door. The poor fellow is soaked through; it is nearly ten o'clock; he is homeless and penniless. I can spare half a crown; he has it, and I direct him to the nearest lodging-house—not that he needed directions—feeling quite sure that he will there meet with my two previous visitors; possibly, too, will tell them of his success, and chaff them about their failure. But it was the rain that did it, and I hope that fact may be taken into consideration when judgment is delivered.[Pg 105] True, by their continual coming they had wearied me, and by their persistence they had annoyed me; but the sight of a homeless vagabond in the pelting rain acted as a counter-irritant, and pity had to triumph over censorious judgment. So I went back to my desk knowing that I had done wrong; but somehow I had received satisfaction, for my temper was soothed. Perhaps it was good for me that I was not visited again that night by any discharged prisoners. For, poor fellows! they demand our pity; but how to transmute that pity into practical help is a difficult problem.

When a discharged prisoner possesses health, skill, and self-reliance, he has a hard battle to fight, one that will call forth either the best or the worst that is in him. But the great bulk of discharged prisoners have but indifferent health, and possess no technical skill or self-reliance; any service they can render to the community is but poor service, and of a kind that many thousands of honest men are only too anxious to secure for themselves. If the great bulk of them could, when discharged, be put into regular employment, and be enabled to earn a living, they would, if under a mild compulsion, conduct themselves decently; but if work and reasonable payment were provided, compulsion would still be necessary, for the greater part of them have no continuity of purpose, and are as thoughtless of to-morrow as butterflies, and they would very soon, were it possible, revert to an aimless, wandering life. It is the lack of grit, of continuity of purpose, of moral principles, combined with inferior physical health and a low standard of intelligence, that renders the position[Pg 106] of many discharged prisoners so hopeless. We may blame them—perhaps it is right to blame them—for not exercising qualities they do not possess, but it is certain they do not possess the qualities I have named. They do, however, possess qualities that are not quite so estimable, for irresponsibility and low cunning are their chief characteristics. These men are nomads: settled life, regular work, the patient bearing of life's burden, and the facing of life's difficulties, are foreign to their instincts and nature. This kind of character is developed at an early age, for it is very prevalent in our growing youths; it is one of the signs of our times, and it bodes no good to our future national welfare.

After giving the last of a course of weekly lectures to youths under twenty-one in one of our provincial prisons, I spoke a few friendly words to them, and asked those to put up their hands who had been previously in prison. A number of hands were put up. On questioning them, I found that they by no means resented short terms of imprisonment alternated with irresponsible liberty.

During the present summer, when commencing a similar course of lectures in one of our large London prisons, I asked the youthful prisoners who had previously met me to put up their hands. Here again a number of hands went up. I found, to my astonishment, at least six youths who had listened to my lectures in other prisons were detained in this particular prison. I could not help telling them that I thought my lectures had not done them much good. "We liked them, sir,"[Pg 107] was the response. "Well," I said, "I wish those addresses had been a great deal better or a great deal worse; they were not good enough to keep you out of prison, neither were they bad enough to frighten you away."

What place is there in strenuous life for such young fellows? The difficulties outside a prison's wall are so great that they cannot face them. But the saddest part of it is that they do not want to face them, and it must be confessed that they have not the slightest idea how to do so.

Weakness, then, not wickedness, is the great characteristic of what are termed "the criminal classes." Who can rescue them? Who can reform them? No one, unless they can infuse into their very bones, blood, and marrow the essence of vigour and the germ of self-reliance. Prisoners' Aid Societies are powerless with them. Church Army and Salvation Army and all the Labour Homes combined can do nothing with them or for them; for prison life is easier than wood-chopping, and the comforts of prison are superior to those of a Labour Home. The Borstal system is good, so far as it goes, but it does not go half far enough; it is not vigorous enough. Possibly, if these young men were detained three times as long as they are at present, and given three times the amount of work they have to do at the present time, with the rough up-to-date technical training, many of them would profit; but I am certain that no half-measures can be effectual with the large army of young prisoners who have either acquired or inherited the love of an idle and irresponsible life.

[Pg 108]

I was speaking a short time ago to a young man whom I knew had been several times in prison, and asked him: "What are you in for this time?" "For making a false attestation," was his reply. He had tried to enlist under false pretences. But he is now in the army, for I have received letters from him. Three other young fellows whom I had met in prison when at liberty consulted me about joining the army. I warned them of the risk, and told them they would have to tell lies. Nevertheless, they are now in the army. Why there should be any difficulty about such fellows joining the army I don't understand. They are animals, and they can fight! If their teeth are not good, what does it matter? They are not now required to bite cartridges. They can be taught to discharge rifles, and a bullet from one of their rifles may prove as deadly as a bullet from the rifle of a better man. "The character of the army must be maintained." By all means keep up the character of the army. Some people are advocating conscription. Well, here is a chance. Form a regiment, or two regiments, of young men who have been three times in prison. Give them ten years of thorough discipline and sound manual and technical training. Under discipline they will be obedient, and at the worst they will be as good men as those that manned Nelson's ships, and would prove quite as good as those that fought at Waterloo, or captured India for the East India Company.

I am no advocate of war, but I am afraid that the prospect of universal peace is remote. Devoutly I wish that it was close at hand. We must[Pg 109] look at things as they are. Let me state the case: Here are thousands of young men who have no settled places of abode, no technical skill, no great physical strength, no capabilities, and no desire for continuous honest labour. No one can provide them with employment. There is no place for them in industrial life. They are content to spend their lives in cheap lodging-houses or in prison. They beg or they steal when at liberty. Occasionally they do a little work, when that work does not require much strength or brains. They graduate in idleness and crime; they become habituated to prison, and finally they become hopeless criminals. Large sums of money are expended in a vain endeavour to reform them; larger sums still are expended in maintaining public institutions that we call prisons, in which they are kept for a short period, and in which they are submitted to lives of semi-idleness. Large numbers of warders are maintained to look after them when in prison; large numbers of police are required to look after them when they are at liberty. Innocent people suffer through their depredations; innocent people, honest and hardworking people, have to keep them when they are submitted to the comparatively comfortable life of prison. They become fathers of children, and future generations will be compelled to bear heavy burdens because of them.

Many of them, when young, join local regiments of militia. Once a year they are called up for training, but their few weeks of training soon pass, after which they hark back to lodging-houses or prisons.

[Pg 110]

They get some liking for a soldier's life; but if they have been in prison, there is no honest place for them in the army. They are not good enough to be shot at! They are not good enough to shoot at others! It would appear that a large amount of moral excellence is required before a man can be allowed to be the recipient of a bullet, or before he can receive a State licence to kill.

I am persuaded that nothing but a long period of strict discipline will avail the mass of young men who constantly find their way into prison. At present prison discipline is too short to be effectual, too deadening to be useful, too monotonous to be elevating. Compulsory discipline, with a fair degree of liberty, a reasonable remuneration for their services, and a lengthened training, are the only things that are at all likely to be effectual with young men who will not, cannot, submit themselves to the higher discipline that is self-imposed.

Failing the army, there is but one alternative—national workshops, with manual and technical training. But that means socialism pure and simple; for if workshops were provided for young criminals, there could be no possible objection against a similar provision for the children of the industrious poor.

The State needs to be careful not to hold out any inducements to youthful criminality, for of a surety it will be a bad day for England when idle and dishonest youth stands a better chance in life than youth that is industrious and honest. Even now certain signs point to danger in that direction.

[Pg 111]

Prisoners' Aid Societies have an impossible task when they attempt to reform these young men. They are heavily handicapped from the start, inasmuch as they cannot enforce discipline even in a Labour Home; neither can they compel continuity of work; neither can they secure regular employment for any that might be inclined to perseverance and industry. No Prisoners' Aid Society can do this, and it would be well for everybody concerned if this fact were honestly admitted and the truth fairly faced. In justice to many of the societies, it is only fair to say that they freely admit that they have nothing to offer to those that have been several times convicted.

During 1906, 10,700 men and women, each of whom had already been in prison more than twenty times, were again received into the local prisons of England and Wales.

Think of it. In one year only, and that the very last year for which criminal statistics are available, 10,700 men and women who had been committed to prison more than twenty times each were again sent to prison in England and Wales alone!

These official figures not only bring a grave indictment against our prison system, but they also serve to show the inability of Discharged Prisoners' Aid Societies to deal with the bulk of discharged prisoners in ways that can be called satisfactory. The fault does not lie with the societies, for they are all animated with an earnest desire to help discharged prisoners. Every society that exists, and every individual member of every society, would be more than delighted—they[Pg 112] would be thankful to God—if they could in some effectual way help every discharged prisoner. But they cannot. The difficulties are too great, too stupendous. Of a truth, they have no work to offer discharged prisoners; for they cannot create work at will, neither can they produce from some mysterious and inexhaustible store situations to suit the varying capabilities of ex-prisoners.

Social conditions are dead against the work of these societies, though the sympathy—that is, the abstract sympathy—of the public is with them. For every situation that is vacant, or likely to be vacant, where skill and experience are not required, a hundred honest men are waiting—waiting to fight each other for a remote chance of getting it. Employers will not hold situations in abeyance till some Prisoners' Aid Society can supply them with a doubtful servant. They would act foolishly—I might say wickedly—if they did. Again I say—for I would have this fact emphasized—no organization, be it large or small, can offer situations to discharged prisoners. Certain things they can do. But what avails intermittent wood-chopping? Of what use is casual bill-distributing? Can an irregular supply of envelope-addressing, continued for a few weeks, be considered work? Paper and rag sorting, and the carrying of advertising boards at intervals, must not be dignified by the word "work." All these things are useful to a limited extent and to a certain class. They suit those men, and those men only, who have no desire for the discipline of real work, by which I mean regular and [Pg 113]continuous labour. Any discharged prisoner who possesses a fair amount of health and strength and an atom of grit stands a much better chance when he relies upon himself than when he seeks the aid of an organization; for life in a Labour Home does not procure him, or help him to procure, honest and continuous work. Even a lengthened stay in a Labour Home leaves him in the same position as when he left prison. Relying on himself, an ex-prisoner can take his chance among the hundred who are scrambling or fighting for the coveted job; and if his health and appearance are satisfactory, he is as likely to get it as any other man. But even though a large number of discharged prisoners enter Labour Homes, the managers have no power to compel them either to work or remain in the home. As a consequence, the majority depart in a very short time, preferring liberty and semi-starvation to the non-compulsory restraint of the home. So they pass into freedom, glorious freedom! Free, but with no desire, and with very little chance, of doing right; free, with little desire and no ability to live by honest labour. Freedom to them means liberty or licence to do wrong, and only serves to give them opportunities of getting once more into prison.

It follows, then, as a matter of course, that Aid Societies concern themselves, and rightly concern themselves, with first-time prisoners. They are younger; they are not so hopeless; they stand a much better chance in the labour world; they have not been so often through the deadening mill of prison. All these things are true, but with[Pg 114] all these things in their favour, only a very limited amount of success is obtained in the reformation of first-time prisoners. The reasons are obvious. First, no society has the power to enforce any discipline or impose any restraint upon them; secondly, no society can procure, even for young ex-prisoners, continuous and progressive employment. I know the difficulties, and something of the anxieties that societies experience in this direction, for I have shared them. Honesty is essential even for porters, vanmen and milkmen. The choice of occupation for ex-prisoners under twenty-one is very limited. The pick and shovel are of no use to them. Trades they have none. Clerkships are out of the question. Positions—even humble positions—of trust are not for them. Too old for boys' work, yet not fitted for men's, although first-time prisoners, they are in a difficult position. So are those who try to help them. "Send them to sea!" Well, we are a nation of sailors, but those who go down to the sea in ships do so of their own choice. For them the sea has an attraction; they love it—or they think they love it when they enter on the life. But all English youths do not love the sea; neither are all fitted for a sailor's life.

But supposing the sea be decided upon, in what capacity are they to go? They cannot go as sailors, nor yet as apprentices; neither can they go as stewards or cooks. The difficulty of sending them to sea is scarcely less than that of finding them occupation ashore. Numbers of them are put on coasting vessels, it is true; but this course is certain to fail—and it does fail. Their first[Pg 115] voyage, in sight of land all the time, may last a week—maybe a fortnight. At the end of the voyage they are paid off at the port where the ship discharges its cargo. During the time aboard they have had a rough time. The voyage has lasted long enough to make them heartily and bodily sick of the sea; but it has not lasted long enough to inure them to the life and give them a liking for it, while the comfort aboard a "collier" makes them sigh for the comforts of prison. If not paid off at the first port, a good many youths, to use their own expression, "can't stick it," so they "bunk" at the first opportunity. Still, they have been "sent to sea," and figure accordingly in the published report and statistics. This course is, I contend, unfair even to discharged prisoners. It is not only a foredoomed failure, but it lands youths in positions where they are certain to get into mischief. Some of them tramp back to London, after having sold their "kit," which had been bought for them out of their prison earnings. No; it is idle to suppose that youths who have been subject to no discipline other than that of prison will be reformed and induced to work steadily and persistently by a few days' unpleasant experience on a coasting vessel.

Quite recently a strong youth came to see me. I had met him in prison, where the Governor quite wisely had him trained for a ship's cook. He had behaved well in prison and obtained all his marks, and his sentence was long enough to allow him to earn a substantial gratuity. This was spent by an agent of a society in buying a very meagre[Pg 116] outfit and a railway-ticket to Hull. The youth supposed that he was going to have a berth on an ocean-going steamer, but no such berth was forthcoming. Ultimately he was shipped aboard a small coaster with a cargo of coals for Southend. At the end of seventeen days he was paid off at Southend. By arrangement, he was to receive 30s. per month for his services, and should therefore have received at least 17s. He was considerably surprised to find that only 9s. was forthcoming, the skipper telling him, and producing a document to that effect, that there was a lien upon his first wages of 8s. for a "shipping fee" which he, the skipper, had paid to the man who introduced him. He stayed in Southend for a short time looking for another berth, for his discharge-note was in order, and his conduct appears to have been satisfactory. But berths are not to be had at Southend, so with his last money he paid his fare to London, where he landed penniless. This custom of paying "hangers-on" at the docks of large seaports a sum of money for "shipping" youths prevails largely, and a most unsatisfactory practice it is. I have personally known several men engaged in what is termed rescue work resort largely to this method of getting rid of responsibilities they themselves have undertaken, and which they ought to bear, or honestly say at the outset that they cannot undertake them. The fact is that prison youths are not wanted even at sea, or, if they are, it is under such circumstances that the hope of their doing any good for themselves must be abandoned. "Send them to sea" has too long been a catchword. Whether it[Pg 117] ever did cure youths of idleness and dishonesty I am doubtful, but I am certain, at any rate, that it does not at the present time act as the grand specific.

The navy will not accept prison youths; the mercantile marine will have none of them, and short coasting voyages are worse than useless; for honesty and industry are estimable qualities even at sea. It would be well indeed if all Prisoners' Aid Societies and all those engaged in similar work would plainly and unmistakably state the difficulties they experience when called on to find situations or employment for discharged prisoners, be they young, middle-aged, or old; well for the discharged prisoners themselves to know the truth at once, rather than that they should go on calling day after day at any office, and waiting hour after hour among many others to see if anything has "come in," for nothing with the least resemblance to regular work can "come in" well, too, for the public if they could understand the difficulties under which societies labour, and the difficulties which ex-prisoners have to face. Better still would it be for our authorities to clearly understand these matters, for then surely more effectual methods would be found for dealing with those who, either from incapacity, desire, or social circumstances, appear quite willing to spend their days in prison. With the older prisoners I am not now concerned, for the Home Secretary and his advisers fully recognize that for them new methods must be tried, and their Bill now before Parliament makes it sufficiently evident; but why not begin with them earlier in life? Surely, if the[Pg 118] fact of an elderly man having been committed four times on indictment is sufficient to stamp him as "habitual," for whom a more drastic treatment must be provided, then the fact of a youth or young man under twenty-five having been in prison an equal number of times, coupled with the fact that he is homeless and workless, ought to be quite sufficient to ensure him a long period of useful discipline in some place other than prison. By some such means the supply of young criminals, that at present seems inexhaustible, would be stopped, and the difficulty with regard to older criminals would almost vanish. And pity demands it, for the bulk of these young men have had but little chance in life. Birth and environment have been against them; of home life in its full sense they have known nothing; to discipline they have been strangers, and they are a product of our present civilization. Can we expect them to exhibit the rarer qualities of human nature? Temptation is, I know, no respecter of persons, for not seldom do young men of good parentage and splendid environment fail; but to the young of whom I write temptation is as nothing, for they do not understand the beauty of moral worth, the dignity of man, and the virtue of honest labour. For the future they care nothing; they live in the present, content to be idle. To eat, to sleep, to enjoy themselves in an animal way, is their idea of life. Their wits are only sharpened to deceive. To get the better—or, as they put it, "to best"—others is their one aim, and a shilling obtained by the "besting" process is worth ten obtained by honest work.

[Pg 119]

Honesty! They have heard of it, but to them it has no meaning. They have no moral sense, or at the best but very little. Preach to them! You might as well preach to the east wind. But they have one soft spot, for, as young cubs have an affection for their dams, so have these youths some affection for their "muvvers"; but that affection does not prevent them striking or kicking their mothers. Oh no, for every passion and whim must be indulged. Oh, the pity of it all! Shall we deny these youths the greatest blessing given to humanity—discipline? Punish them, you say. My friend, you cannot confer moral worth with stripes. Longer terms of imprisonment! They will eat your food, lie in your beds, and make themselves as comfortable as possible. Like animals, they will "nestle down." But they behave themselves in prison. Ay, they do that, for they want all the advantages they can obtain. But they behave themselves principally because they are under authority, and obedience means to them some creature comfort. Discipline! They understand it only when it is compulsory. Let us give these lads a chance; let us make up to them the loss society has inflicted on them by refusing them opportunities of wholesome discipline; let us stop for ever the senseless round of short terms of imprisonment; let us find some method for giving them lengthened—wholesome manual and technical training—for their own sakes, if you will; if not, then for our own.

I have mentioned the army for them, not because I am enamoured of the army, but because it appears to offer at once restraint and discipline,[Pg 120] with a measure of freedom, and opportunities for technical training. But wiser heads than mine may formulate a better plan; if so, I am for it. My heart goes out to the lads, though they sometimes weary me, for I know—and no one knows better—that they have had as yet no fair chance in life.

The following account, given to me by a young man who had served a sentence of six months' hard labour in one of our large prisons, may prove interesting, for it will serve to show the exact life of a prisoner treated under the Borstal system. I give it as written by the ex-prisoner himself. He was twenty-one years of age, was 5 feet 11 inches in height. As a boy he had been a telegraph messenger, and afterwards a postman; but having stolen postal orders, he received the above sentence. It will be observed that he was placed in the bookbinding department, and that the greatest amount of hard labour he performed was three and three-quarter hours per day, and this at a trade of which he had not the slightest previous knowledge—a trade, too, that requires not only skill, but celerity of movement, and, moreover, a trade at which there was not the slightest chance of his obtaining employment when at liberty. He did not average three hours' real work per day, and this works out at forty-three days' work of ten hours per day for the whole six months. It is obvious that no one can get a useful knowledge of bookbinding in forty-three days of real hard work. In his case, the "trade" taught proved of no use whatever on his discharge. He was very quickly in another prison, again for dishonesty;[Pg 121] but his previous sentence not being discovered, his sentence was a very light one. If I am to believe a letter that I received from him, he is now in the army, and, of course, had to make a false attestation when he enlisted.

It will be noticed that he speaks well of the treatment received in prison, and testifies to the kindness of all the officials. On this point I can corroborate him, for I know something of those who had charge of him, and feel sure that it would have been a great disappointment to them had he on a second occasion been committed to their charge. His failure cannot be charged to the prison officials. They honestly did their best, for they were genuinely interested in him. Neither do I say that any prison system would have saved him, but I do say—and in this I think most reasonable people will agree with me—that very light work done at a very deliberate pace is not sufficient, even in prison, for a young man of his health, build, and capacity. I think, too, most people will agree that if young men are to be taught trades in prison, they should be taught under conditions that approximate to outside conditions so far as style, pace, and hours of work are concerned.

Prison industries present a very difficult problem. I believe the officials would be glad to give prisoners twice the amount of work they are at present given; but they have not the work to give them, so a life of semi-idleness results.

Finally, it is to be hoped that the new probation system will be so thoroughly worked that large numbers of young men will be kept out of prison,[Pg 122] for at present prisons do not punish, neither do they reform in the majority of cases.

I now give the ex-prisoner's statement:

How I spent my Life in Prison.

By a Juvenile Adult.

"Four o'clock was just striking, and there I stood in the prisoners' dock at the Old Bailey. The judge, having considered the case, pronounced the sentence: 'Six months' hard labour.' I was then taken back and put into a cell, and was given a hunch of bread and a piece of cheese. About six o'clock I was taken in a prison-van to prison, where I arrived about 7.15. I was then taken to the reception-hall, and after being searched and all particulars taken, I was told to strip, and all my property was entered in a large book, and I had to sign to acknowledge that all my belongings were duly entered. I then had a bath, and was given my prison attire. I was then given a tin containing a pint of porridge and 8 ounces of bread. After having eaten part of this—for I tackled it—I was given two sheets, a pillow-sheet, and towel, and then taken into a large hall containing 352 cells, and put into one of them. Thus my arrival at that large establishment.

"My daily duty for the first fourteen days was: Arise at 6 a.m. and clean my cell; breakfast at 7.15 a.m., and then I had to scrub and sweep my cell on alternate days. At 8.30 I had to put out my dust or bucket, and at 8.45 I went to chapel. At 9.40 to 10.40 drill, then back in my cell for the rest of the day, having to work in my cell. Dinner[Pg 123] was given me at twelve o'clock, and supper at five o'clock. At seven o'clock I had to put out my work.

"After the first fourteen days I was put into the J.A. bookbinders' shop, and my days were then changed. I arose at 6 a.m., shop at 6.30 to 7.15, breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel at 8.45 to 9.20, drill 9.40 to 10.40, school 10.45 to 11.45, dinner 12 o'clock to 1.30, shop 1.45 to 4.45, supper at 5 o'clock. Thus my change till the first of March. After this I went to drill before breakfast, and my duties were as follows: Arise 6 a.m., drill 6.30 to 7.15, breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel 8.45 to 9.20, shop 9.30 to 10.30, school 10.45 to 11.45, dinner 12 o'clock to 1.30, shop 1.45 to 4.45, and back to my cell for that day.

"On Wednesday I went to the schoolroom, where a lecture was given by gentlemen to all the J.A. prisoners who had done more than one month. This was from 5.30 to 6.30, and on Friday there was a choir-practice at the same time for the same prisoners.

"The food I could not get on with at all at first, but gradually I had to eat, till after three months, when I did not find it enough; but when I had done five months, I seemed perfectly satisfied with it. I found that the Sundays were the worst of all prison life. I was awakened at 7 a.m., breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel 8.50 to 10.30, exercise 10.50 to 11.20 (if weather permitted), dinner 12 o'clock to 1.30, chapel 1.45 to 2.45, and supper at about 4.15 to 4.30; and, as I could not bear to sit about, I went to bed every Sunday by five o'clock the latest. I was searched three times a day, but[Pg 124] not on Sundays, and a general search once a fortnight, when I was kept in my cell all the afternoon. The last of every month I was weighed.

"I had obtained all good marks that could be given me, and had earned twenty shillings whilst doing my six months. The Governor, the chaplain, and all the officials were good to me. I was confirmed in prison. The long nights and insufficiency of work were the hardest things to bear."

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