I had been at Aylesbury about eight months when I petitioned the
Secretary of State for a reconsideration of my case, with a view to my
release. To this I received the usual official reply, “Not sufficient

A prisoner may petition the Secretary of State every three months. In
my opinion, the privilege of petitioning on a case should be reduced
from four times a year to once a year, with the provision that if
anything of importance to a prisoner transpires within that period
it may be duly submitted to the Secretary of State on recommendation
of the governor or director; that all complaints regarding food,
treatment, or medical attention should be referred to the visiting
director in the first instance, instead of the Secretary of State,
who under the present system passes it back to the directors for the
necessary investigation. This would do away with the continual daily
distress and irritation and disappointment created in the prison
on receipt of unfavorable replies from the Home Office. A prisoner
petitions. A private inquiry is held, to which the prisoner is not a
party, and of which she has no information, nor does she receive any
during its progress or after its conclusion, save that the result,
which is nearly always negative, is communicated to her. In this
inquiry any one who is opposed to the prisoner may seek to influence
the official mind. I will state a case in point. A friend asked the
Secretary of State for the United States, the Hon. John Hay, to
interest himself in my case. Mr. Hay replied that he had been informed
by the Home Office that I had been “a disobedient and troublesome

When I was told this at a visit I had my name entered to see the
governor. I insisted that the governor should inform me when, and after
what breach of the rules, such a report had been sent to the Home
Office. After carefully looking through my penal record he could find
no entry to that effect, and concluded by saying that I must have been
misinformed. He said that my conduct was good, and that he had never
made any report to the contrary. Obviously, therefore, this report from
the Home Office to Mr. Hay was due to an adverse influence, of which I
have still no knowledge. Statements are made against a prisoner, of the
nature of which she is entirely ignorant. Being ignorant, she has no
way of refuting them. Worse still, they are retained in the Home Office
to her dying day, and the unfortunate woman knows nothing of them or
their effect. The only thing certain is that she is further condemned.


The Home Office, while exercising a private function of reconsideration
grounded on the royal prerogative of mercy, emphatically disclaims
being a court of appeal or a judicial tribunal in any sense of
the word. Yet the consideration of a convict’s case rests alone
with the Secretary of State. It is a matter of unwritten law that
the Home Secretary shall act individually and solely upon his own
responsibility, and none of his colleagues are to assume or take part

There are numerous instances where judges, witnesses, and juries have
gone wrong. Indeed, it will be found that even in cases which have
seemed the clearest and least complicated in the trial grievous
mistakes have been made. But in England the blame rests on the public
and the bar in that no means are provided to set the wrong right.
What a difference it would have made in my life if I had been granted
a second trial! I could have called other witnesses, submitted
fresh evidence, and refuted false testimony. Is it not the climax
of injustice that men and women, if sued for money, even for a few
shillings, can appeal from court to court–even to the House of Lords,
the English court of last resort; but when character, all that life
holds dear, and life itself, are in jeopardy, a prisoner’s fate may
depend upon the incompetent construction of one man, and there is no

A hard-worked Secretary of State, whose time, night and day, is
crowded with every kind of duty, correspondence, and labor, in the
House of Commons or in the Home Office, has to consider a vast number
of petitions, complaints, and miscarriages of justice, or too severe
sentences, any one of which might require hours and sometimes days to
investigate. He is assisted by several officers, but, strange to say,
it is no part of their qualifications (or that of the Home Secretary
himself), that they should be familiar with the criminal law or the
prosecution or defense of prisoners. These permanent officials are,
besides, occupied with hundreds of other matters which come before
the Home Office, on which they have to guide their chief. Think of
the untold sufferings of individuals and families, the shame and
degradation which they would be spared, if England had a court of
criminal appeal.


The Home Office detects and corrects a larger number of erroneous
verdicts than the public is aware. This arises from the secret and
partial methods of remedying miscarriages of justice frequently
adopted. The first object is to maintain the public belief in the
infallibility of judges and juries. If an innocent person could slip
out quietly, without shaking this belief, he might be permitted to
do so. The Home Secretary is, in fact, a politician, who has little
time to spare for the consideration of criminal cases, and furthermore
must see to it that his conduct does not injure his party. Thus he is
often deterred from interfering with verdicts and sentences by sheer
timidity. When he affirms a sentence he can throw the greater part
of the blame on others if he is afterward proved to be wrong; but
when he reverses either verdict or sentence, he must take the whole
responsibility upon himself. This is, I believe, the true explanation
of the secret and partial reversals which are not unusual at the
Home Office. The Home Secretary, as well as his subordinates, must
frequently let “dare not wait upon I would.”

If a crime is committed and no one is brought to justice, the police
are blamed; but if a person is convicted the police are praised,
without regard as to whether the right person has been convicted.
Hence there is usually a strong effort to beat up evidence against the
person suspected, as in my case and that of Adolf Beck (see page 155),
and to keep back anything in favor of the prisoner that comes to the
knowledge of the police. When an appeal is made from the verdict to
the Home Secretary, the first step is to consult the very judge who is
responsible, in nine cases out of ten, for the erroneous verdict. It
is easy to see that, where such reference is made, the judge is liable
to be biased in support of his own rulings. How much more the ends of
justice would be furthered by having the case retried!

God only knows how many men and women have been innocent of the charges
brought against them, and for which they have been unjustly punished. I
will mention a few only of many cases on record.

A man, Hebron by name, was convicted at Manchester, of murder. He
was sentenced to death, but fortunately this was commuted to penal
servitude for life. After serving two years the real murderer, a man
named Peace, was discovered, and Hebron was “graciously pardoned.”

Another cruel case was that of John Kensall, who was convicted of
murder, but, through action taken by the late Lord Chief Justice
Russell, was shown to be innocent. The Home Office could not at first
“see its way to interfere,” and had it not been for Lord Russell’s
clear head and splendid generalship, by which the authorities at the
Home Office were outwitted, he would not have been released so soon.

The case of the man Hay, wrongly convicted, was of a serious nature,
showing that he was the victim of a conspiracy; yet had it not been for
Sir William Harcourt’s instituting an investigation independent of the
Home Office, it is very doubtful whether Hay would have been able to
establish his innocence. But he did so, and a pardon was granted him.

It looks almost as if justice in England were growing of late more than
ordinarily blind. Thrice, within three years, has the Home Secretary’s
“pardon” been granted to men found to have been wrongfully convicted.

The average man takes it for granted that these hideous mistakes must,
of necessity, be few and far between; but the criminologist knows
better. He, at all events, is well aware that every year a number
of innocent people are sentenced to suffer either an ignominious
death upon the scaffold, or the long-drawn-out living death of penal

Many of these judicial miscarriages never come to light at all. Others
are purposely glossed over by the powers that be. But occasionally one
occurs of so appalling a nature that it rivets the attention and shocks
the conscience of the entire civilized world, as in the case of Adolf


Adolf Beck was twice convicted for crimes committed by a man who
somewhat resembled him. He served his first sentence and had been
convicted for a second crime on “misrepresented identity” when his
innocence was providentially established. The case is too lengthy for
detailed account in these pages, and I shall content myself in giving
the summing-up of Mr. George R. Sims in the pamphlet reprinted from his
presentation of the case in the columns of _The Daily Mail_ of London:

“I have told in plain words the story of a foul wrong done to an
innocent man.

“I have proved beyond all question that Adolf Beck was in 1896, by the
Common Sergeant, Sir Forrest Fulton, at the Old Bailey, sentenced to
seven years’ penal servitude for being an ex-convict named John Smith.

“I have proved that he was _not_ found guilty of being John Smith by
the jury.

“The former conviction for which Mr. Adolf Beck was sentenced and
punished was not only never submitted to the jury, but they were
warned by the judge that they were not to take the issue of Beck being
Smith into consideration in arriving at their verdict. They were to
dismiss it completely from their minds.

“I have proved that if this issue had been left for the jury to
consider they must have acquitted Mr. Beck, who showed by an
indisputable alibi that he could not be Smith, the man convicted in

“I have proved that this terrible mockery of justice, the conviction
of an innocent man for a series of crimes that it was quite impossible
he could have committed, was brought about by the action of the
leading counsel for the Treasury, which action was supported by the
Common Sergeant, Sir Forrest Fulton.

“I have proved that the evidence of the policeman, Eliss Spurrell,
which was used at the police-court to assist in getting Beck committed
for trial, was kept out at the Old Bailey, where it would have insured
Beck’s acquittal.

“I have proved that at the police-court in 1896 Mr. Gurrin, the
Treasury expert, reported that all the documents connected with the
1896 frauds were in the handwriting of John Smith of 1877.

“I have proved that at the 1896 trial at the Old Bailey Mr. Gurrin
swore that, to the best of his belief, all the documents were in the
disguised handwriting of Mr. Beck.

“I have proved that no one in his senses could at the trial have
accepted the theory that Adolf Beck was John Smith after listening to
the evidence of Major Lindholm, Gentleman of the Chamber to the King
of Denmark, Col. Josiah Harris, and the Consul-General for Peru at

“The Common Sergeant accepted as true their evidence of a complete
alibi for Mr. Beck, so far as 1877 and the years Smith was in prison
were concerned, or he would, it is to be presumed, have taken measures
to have those gentlemen prosecuted for committing wilful and corrupt
perjury in order to defeat the ends of justice.

“I have proved that Beck, after his imprisonment, compelled the Home
Office authorities to acknowledge that he was not Smith, and to admit
the physical impossibility of his being Smith–Smith was a Jew, and
he, Beck, was not–and that therefore, by the evidence of the Treasury
witnesses, he had been wrongfully committed.

“I have proved that Beck was stripped and officially examined for body
marks before his trial, in order that such marks might be compared
with those on the record in the possession of the authorities as the
body marks of John Smith.

“I have proved that Adolf Beck had none of the body marks of John
Smith, the man in whose handwriting Mr. Gurrin had declared the
incriminating documents of 1896 to be.

“I have proved that all the petitions setting forth these facts
and others, which fully established Beck’s innocence, met with no

“I have proved that when the frauds of 1877 and 1896 were repeated
in 1904, and the incriminating documents were found to be in the
handwriting of 1877, stroke for stroke, peculiarity for peculiarity,
almost word for word, the fact that the authorities had admitted
that Mr. Beck _could not be_ the author of the 1877 frauds or the
writer of the 1877 documents was utterly ignored, and the responsible
authorities, with every proof of Mr. Beck’s innocence in their
possession, allowed him to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted

“I have proved that the identification of Mr. Beck by the female
witnesses as the man who robbed them was a monstrous farce.

“I have proved that, so far from Mr. Beck being the ‘double’ of
John Smith, he was utterly unlike him, except that each had a gray
mustache. Beck had neither the noticeable scar at the point of the
jaw nor the noticeable wart over one eye that are striking marks of
identity in John Smith–marks which would not escape the most casual

“I have proved that Beck’s conviction in 1896 was secured by a device
which was utterly unworthy of a British court of justice–a device
so unfair and unjust that an innocent and inoffensive foreigner, a
Norwegian who had sought the hospitality of our shores, was by its
employment sent into penal servitude for seven years for the crimes of
another man.

“I have proved that Mr. Beck was in 1904 convicted of repeating letter
for letter, word for word, trick for trick, check for check, false
address for false address, false name for false name, the frauds of
1877 and 1896, of which the authorities had absolute proof that he was
innocent, and of which, though they had never remitted one day of his
sentence, they had _admitted_ that he was innocent.

“I have been careful to keep to the main issue, and have refrained
from examining the side issues, some of which reveal most lamentable
features in connection with our criminal procedure.

“I will prove one thing more, and leave the facts I have established
to the judgment of the public.

“At the end of the report of the second trial of Adolf Beck, which
took place at the Old Bailey on June 27, 1904 (Sessions Paper CXL.,
Part 837), are these words, printed as I give them below:

“‘GUILTY. _He then PLEADED GUILTY to a conviction of obtaining goods
by false pretenses at this Court on February 26, 1896. Judgment

“Pleaded guilty to a former conviction! Adolf Beck pleaded guilty to
nothing. How could he plead guilty, being an innocent man! He cried
aloud when the charge of the first conviction was read aloud to him,
‘As God is my witness, I was innocent then as I am innocent now.’

“The epilogue to the tragedy of our English Dreyfus is written in
those damning words in the Sessions Paper, the official minutes of
evidence in Central Criminal Court trials.

“Beck’s last hope had perished. Once more a merciless fate had blinded
the eyes and closed the ears of Justice to his innocence. He was to
be immured in a convict cell for ten, perhaps for fourteen, years; he
was to pass the closing years of his life a branded felon amid all the
horrors of a convict prison. In all human probability he would die
without ever seeing the light of freedom again, for he could not have
borne this second torture.

“His voice, crying aloud for freedom, would be heard no more.
Petitions for a reinvestigation of his case would be hopeless. He had
been robbed of his last earthly chance of proving his innocence.

“Those words, ‘The prisoner pleaded guilty to a former conviction,’
would have damned him to the last day of his life.

“My painful task is ended.

“A foreigner, a stranger within our gates, a man of kindly heart and
gentle ways, has been foully wronged. There is but one reparation we
can make him. The people of this country owe him a testimonial of
sympathy that shall endure and remain. On the site of his martyrdom
there should rise a national monument. Let that monument take the
form of a Court of Criminal Appeal. That is the one reparation that
the English people can make to Adolf Beck for the foul wrong he has
suffered in their midst.”

In a sense the innocent man who is hanged may be regarded as better
off than he who is called upon to endure lifelong imprisonment. There
are plenty of examples of these judicial murders. Over a score of
undoubted cases occurred in the first two decades of the last century,
and since then there have been twice as many more. A notorious and
awful case was that of Eliza Fenning, who, at eighteen years of age,
was sent to the gallows upon the perjured evidence of an accomplice of
the real murderer. The latter afterward confessed.

Another similar case occurred in 1850, when a man named Ross was
executed for poisoning his young wife by mixing arsenic with her food.
A few years later certain facts came to light, proving conclusively
that the real criminal was a female acquaintance and confidante of the
dead woman.

Thomas Perryman, again, was found guilty in 1879 of the murder of
his aged mother on the very flimsiest of evidence. His sentence was
commuted to penal servitude for life, and in the ordinary course
of events he should now be free. More than 100,000 people have, at
different times, petitioned for the release of this convict, and the
highest judicial authorities have expressed their belief in his entire
innocence of the crime imputed to him. Yet he has been compelled to
drink his terrible cup to the bitter dregs.

In 1844 a gentleman named Barker was sentenced to penal servitude
for life for a forgery of which he was afterward proved to have been
wholly innocent. He served four years, and was then released and
readmitted to practise as an attorney. In 1859, eleven years after
having been “pardoned,” he was, upon the recommendation of a Select
Committee of the House of Commons, voted a sum of £5,000, “as a
national acknowledgment of the wrong he had suffered from an erroneous

The famous Edlingham case will doubtless be fresh in the minds of
most people. In February, 1879, the village vicarage was entered
by burglars, and a determined attempt was made to murder the aged
incumbent. For this outrage two men, Brannagham and Murphy, were
sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. After a lapse of nine years the
crime was confessed to by two well-known criminals named Richardson and
Edgell, the result being that the innocent convicts were released, with
an honorarium of £800 apiece.

The eminent King’s Counsel, Sir George Lewis, has openly said that he
will not allow himself to speak of the way in which the “Edalji” trial
was conducted, and he further adds: “I have it on undoubted authority
that every ‘M.P.’ connected with the legal profession believes as I do
that that man is innocent. And yet a declaration from such a source is
allowed by the public to pass unnoticed. As I have before stated, ‘it
is not the business of the public, nor of individual citizens, to prove
the innocence of any unhappy person whom the process of law selects
for punishment; but it is the business of every citizen to see that
the courts incontestably prove the guilt of any person accused of a
crime before sentence is passed.’ Neither condition was fulfilled in
the case of the prisoner. I have studied the evidence, and say, from
knowledge gained by fifteen years’ association with criminals, that
this unfortunate young man is _innocent_.” Surely after the disclosures
of the Adolf Beck case this one, on the word of Sir George Lewis, ought
to receive unbiased consideration from the Home Office.

Religion in Prison Life


On our arrival at Aylesbury Prison there was no chapel. Divine service
was held in one of the halls, in which the prisoners assembled each
morning for twenty minutes of service. This arrangement had many
disadvantages, and one of the ladies on the Board of Visitors came
nobly to our relief with an offer to provide the prison with a chapel.
The Home Office “graciously” accepted this generous proposition, and
twelve months later it was completed and dedicated by the Lord Bishop
of Reading. (It was burned to the ground since my departure from

On the day preceding the ceremony I was asked to assist in decorating
the chapel with flowers kindly sent by Lady Rothschild. It was a
delicate expression of sympathy for the prisoners, which she repeated
on all high festival days. She was deeply affected when I told her how
profoundly the women appreciated her recognition of a common humanity.

On the appointed day all work was suspended to enable the prisoners to
be present. In the galleries were seated the families of the governor,
chaplain, and doctor; at the right of the altar the generous donor of
the chapel, Adeline, Duchess of Bedford, was seated with her friends.
The organist played a prelude, and then the bishop, accompanied by the
chaplain and the clergymen of the diocese, entered the chapel. After
a hymn had been sung, a short service followed, and then the bishop
stepped forward and, facing the altar, read the “dedication service.”
It was most impressive. Then followed a prayer and a hymn, and the
service was over. The prisoners filed back to their respective cells
and the visitors made the tour of the prison.

I was a patient in the infirmary at the time, but had received
permission to attend the chapel. Before the Bishop of Reading left the
prison he visited the sick, and as he passed my cell he stopped and
spoke to me words of hope and encouragement, adding his blessing.


Another occasion on which the Bishop of Reading visited the prison was
the holding of a confirmation service. Many women of earnest minds in
prison sought in this manner to prove the sincerity of their repentance
and their resolution to live godly lives; and, with one exception, all
those confirmed that day have remained true to their profession.

Penal servitude is a fiery test of one’s religious convictions. One’s
faith is either strengthened and deepened or else it goes under
altogether. I have witnessed many a sad spiritual shipwreck within
those walls.

On a dark, gloomy day in October the rain pattered against the window
of my cell and the wind howled dismally around that huge “house of
sorrow.” Now and then the sound of weeping broke upon the stillness,
and I prayed in my heart for the poor souls in travail whose pains
had broken through the enforced rule of silence. There is no sound in
all the world so utterly unnerving as the hopeless sob of the woman
in physical isolation who may not be spiritually comforted. Separated
from loved ones, beyond the reach of tender hands and voices, she has
no one, as in former years, to share her sufferings or minister to her
pain. Alone, one of a mass, with no one to care but the good God above;
for “to suffer” thus is the punishment that man has decreed.

The humanizing influences, in my opinion, can be brought to bear
upon prisoners with beneficial results only when supported by the
advantages of religious teachings. During the early part of my sentence
there were Scripture readers, laymen and laywomen, in all convict
prisons, to assist the chaplain in his arduous duties; but, on the
ground of expense, these have been dispensed with, thus practically
removing the only means of administering the moral medicine which is
essential to the cure of the habitual prisoner’s mental disease.

A large amount of crime is due to physical and mental degeneration.
Nevertheless, crime is also the result of lovelessness, when it is not
a disease, and the true curative system should give birth to love in
human souls. There is not a man or woman living so low but we can do
something to better him or her, if we give love and sympathy in the
service and have an all-embracing affection for both God and man.

If the future system is to treat the criminal in a curative or
reformative way, rather than by punitive methods, the means to
this end must certainly be increased. Even the worst woman can be
approached through the emotional side of her nature. A kind word, a
sympathetic look, a smile, a little commendation now and then, given
by the officers in charge, would soon gain the respect and confidence
of the prisoner, and thereby render her the more amenable to rules
and regulations. A prisoner with whom I worked, and whose inner life
by near association was revealed to me, had got into a very morbid,
depressed state of mind. She was under close observation by the
doctor’s orders. Her penal record was not a good one; her hasty temper
was continually getting her into trouble, and when she was punished she
would brood over it.


One day she asked for permission to see me; the permission was refused.
She made the request a second time, and, the fact coming to the
knowledge of the chaplain, he advised that it be granted, believing,
from his personal knowledge of my influence in the prison, that it
would have a beneficial effect. I was allowed to see her, and after a
few minutes’ conversation she appeared brighter. I told her that the
people of God have a promise of a Comforter from heaven to come to them
and abide with them, even in tribulation and in prison. She promised
me she would try to be more submissive and accept her punishment in
a better spirit. For several days after she seemed to improve. But
one afternoon she once more made the request to be allowed to see me.
As none of the authorities were in the building at the time, and the
chief matron could not take upon herself the responsibility of granting
the request, it was refused. I felt rather anxious about it, but was
helpless. At five o’clock that evening, just before supper was served,
the woman was found dead in her cell; she had hanged herself to the
window. She was only twenty-four years of age, and was serving a five
years’ sentence for shooting her betrayer under great provocation.
The tragedy was naturally kept quiet; none of the prisoners knew of
it until the following morning. How the truth got abroad I do not
know, but when the doors were unlocked after breakfast, instead of
the women passing out of their cells in the usual orderly way, they
rushed out, shouting excitedly at the top of their voices: “M—- has
hanged herself; … she was driven to it!” In vain the officers tried
to pacify them or to explain the true state of things; they would not
listen, and continued to scream: “Don’t talk to us–you are paid to say
that! If you did not say that it was all right you would be turned out
of the gates!” And the uproar increased. As I have already stated, the
“Star Class” was sandwiched between two wards of habitual criminals,
and we had the benefit of every disturbance. During the excitement one
of the ringleaders caught sight of me and shouted: “Mrs. Maybrick, is
it true that M—- was driven to it?” The tumult was increasing and
was growing beyond the control of the warder, when the chief matron,
becoming alarmed, sent up word that I might explain to the women.
Accompanied by an officer, I did so, and in a few minutes the uproar
calmed down and the women returned quietly to their cells. I have
reason to believe that I always had the full confidence of my fellow
prisoners; they were quick to know and appreciate that I had their
welfare at heart, and that I never countenanced any disobedience or
breach of the rules. A first offender, under sentence for many years,
will suffer from the punishment according as she maintains or damages
her self-respect.


Above others there are four tragic prison episodes which, once
witnessed, can never be forgotten:

1. Breaking bad news to a prisoner–telling her that a dear one in
the outside world is dying, and that she may not go to him; that she
must wait in terrible suspense until the last message is sent, no
communication in the mean time being permitted.

2. Receiving an intimation of the death of a beloved father, mother,
brother or sister, husband or child, whose visits and letters have been
the sole comfort and support of that prisoner’s hard lot.

3. The loss of reason by a prisoner who was not strong enough to endure
the punishment decreed by Act of Parliament.

4. The suicide, who prefers to trust to the mercy of God rather than
suffer at the hands of man.

Why should a woman be considered less loving, less capable of
suffering, because she is branded with the name of “convict?” She may
be informed that her nearest and dearest are dying, but the rules will
permit no departure to relieve the heart-breaking suspense. In the
world at large telegrams may be sent and daily bulletins received, but
not in the convict’s world.

Death is a solemn event under any circumstances, and reverence for the
dead is inculcated by our religion, but to die in prison is a thing
that every inmate dreads with inexpressible horror. When a prisoner is
at the point of death, she is put into a cell alone, or into a ward,
if there is one vacant. There she lies alone. The nurse and infirmary
officers come and go; her fellow prisoners gladly minister to her;
the doctor and chaplain are assiduous in their attentions; but she is
nevertheless alone, cut off from her kin, tended by the servants of the
law instead of the servants of love, and it is only at the very last
that her loved ones may come and say their farewell. Oh! the pathos,
the anguish of such partings–who shall describe them? And when all
is over, and the law has no longer any power over the body it has
tortured, it may be claimed and taken away.

The case of the prisoner who becomes insane is no less harrowing. She
is kept in the infirmary with the other patients for three months. If
she does not recover her reason within that period, she is certified
by three doctors as insane and then removed to the criminal lunatic
asylum. In the mean time the peace and rest of the other sick persons
in the infirmary are disturbed by her ravings, and their feelings
wrought upon by the daily sight of a demented fellow creature.

And the suicide! To see the ghastly and distorted features of a fellow
prisoner, with whom one has worked and suffered, killed by her own
hands–such scenes as these haunted me for weeks; and it needed all my
reliance on God to throw off the depression that inevitably followed.


Have you ever tried to realize what kind of life that must be in which
the sight of a child’s face and the sound of a child’s voice are ever
absent; in which there are none of the sweet influences of the home;
the daily intercourse with those we love; the many trifling little
happenings, so unimportant in themselves, but which go so far to make
up the sum of human happiness? It commences with the clangor of bells
and the jingling of keys, and closes with the banging of hundreds
of doors, while the after silence is broken only by shrieks and
blasphemies, the trampling of many feet, and the orders of warders.

In the winter the prisoners get up in the dark, and breakfast in the
dark, to save the expense of gas. The sense of touch becomes very
acute, as so much has to be done without light. Until I had served
three years of my sentence I had not been allowed to see my own face.
Then a looking-glass, three inches long, was placed in my cell. I
have often wondered how this deprivation could be harmonized with a
purpose to enforce tidiness or cleanliness in a prisoner. The obvious
object in depriving prisoners of the only means through which they
can reasonably be expected to conform to the official standard of
facial cleanliness is to eradicate woman’s assumed innate sense of
vanity; but whether or no it succeeds in this, certain it is that
cleanliness becomes a result of compulsion rather than of a natural
womanly impulse. Also she must maintain the cleanliness of her prison
cell on an ounce of soap per week. After I left Aylesbury I heard that
the steward had received orders from the Home Office to reduce this
enormous quantity. If true it will leave the unfortunate prisoners with
three-quarters of an ounce of soap weekly wherewith to maintain that
cleanliness which is said to be next to godliness. The prisoners are
allowed a hot bath once a week, but in the interval they may not have a
drop of hot water, except by the doctor’s orders.


All human instincts can not be crushed, even by an act of Parliament,
and sometimes the prisoners indulge in a flight of levity, which
is, however, promptly stopped by the officer in charge. But even
wilfulness and levity are to some a relief from the perpetual silence.
A young girl, fifteen years of age, came in on a conviction of penal
servitude for life. In a fit of passion she had strangled a child of
which she had charge. In consideration of her youth and the medical
evidence adduced at her trial, sentence of death was commuted. She
was in the “Star Class,” and it aroused my indignation to witness her
sufferings. A mature woman may submit to the inevitable patiently, as
an act of faith or as a proof of her philosophy; but a child of that
age has neither faith nor philosophy sufficient to support her against
this repressive system of torture. At times, however, the girl had
attacks of levity which manifested themselves in most amusing ways.
One day she was put out to work in the officers’ quarters and told to
black-lead a grate. With a serious face she set to work. Presently the
officer asked whether she had finished her task, to which she meekly
replied “Yes,” at the same time lifting her face, which, to the utter
amazement of the female warder, had been transformed from a white to a
brightly polished black one.

On another occasion she was told that she would be wanted in the
infirmary. She was suffering great pain at the time, and had begged the
doctor to extract a tooth. When the infirmary nurse unlocked her door
she was found in bed. This is strictly against the rules, unless the
prisoner has special permission from the doctor to lie down during the
day. Of course, the officer ordered her to get up at once, to which she
replied, “I can’t.” “Why not?” asked the officer. “Because I can’t,”
the girl repeated. Whereupon the officer lifted off the bed covering to
see what was amiss. To her astonishment she saw that the child had got
inside the mattress (which I described in the beginning as a long sack
stuffed with the fiber of the coconut), and had drawn the end of it on
a string around her neck, so that nothing but her head was visible.

It has been said that no apples are so sweet as those that are
stolen, and the great pleasure the women in prison derive from their
surreptitious levity is because it can so rarely be indulged in, and
the opportunities for its expression must always be stolen.

There is an axiom in prison, “The worse the woman, the better the
prisoner.” As one goes about the prison, and observes those women who
are permitted little privileged tasks, such as tidying the garden,
cleaning the chapel, or any of the light and semi-responsible tasks
which convicts like, one will notice the privileged are not, as a rule,
the young or respectably brought up, but old, professional criminals.
They know the rules of the prison, they spend the greater part of
their lives there, and they know exactly how to behave so as to earn
the maximum of marks; their object is to get out in the shortest
possible time, and to have as light work as possible while they are
in. The officers like them because they know their work without having
to be taught. “There is no servant like an old thief,” I have heard it
said. “They do good work.” This is quite typical of a certain kind of
prisoner who is the mainstay of the prisons.

The conviction of young girls to penal servitude is shocking, for it
destroys the chief power of prevention that prisons are supposed to
possess, and accustoms the young criminal to a reality which has far
less terror for her than the idea of it had. Prison life is entirely
demoralizing to any girl under twenty years of age, and it is to
prevent such demoralizing influence upon young girls that some more
humane system of punishment should be enacted.


In saying a word on what is, perhaps, best described as “prison
self-discipline,” I trust the reader will acquit me of any motive
other than a desire that it may result in some sister in misfortune
deriving benefit from a similar course. That the state of mind in
which one enters upon the life of a convict has some influence on
conduct–whether she does so with a consciousness of innocence or
otherwise–should, perhaps, go without saying. Nevertheless, innocent
or guilty, a proper self-respect can not fail to be helpful, be the
circumstances what they may; and from the moment I crossed Woking’s
grim threshold until the last day when I passed from the shadow and the
gloom of Aylesbury into God’s free sunlight, I adhered strictly to a
determination that I would come out of the ordeal–if ever–precisely
as I had entered upon it; that no loving eyes of mother or friends
should detect in my habits, manners, or modes of thought or expression
the slightest deterioration.

Accordingly I set about from the very start to busy myself–and this
was no small helpfulness in filling the dreary hours of the seemingly
endless days of solitary confinement–keeping my cell in order and
ever making the most of such scant material for adornment as the rules
permitted. Little enough in this way, it may be imagined, falls to a
convict’s lot. Indeed, the sad admission is forced that nearly every
semblance of refinement is maintained at one’s peril, for “motives”
receive small consideration in the interpretation of prison rules,
however portentously they may have loomed in the process that placed an
innocent woman under the shadow of the scaffold, and only by grace of a
commutation turned her into a “life” convict.

Come what would, I was determined not to lose my hold on the amenities
of my former social position, and, though I had only a wooden stool and
table, they were always spotless, my floor was ever brightly polished,
while my tin pannikins went far to foster the delusion that I was in
possession of a service of silver.

Confinement in a cell is naturally productive of slothful habits and
indifference to personal appearance. I felt it would be a humiliation
to have it assumed that I could or would deteriorate because of my
environment. I therefore made it a point never to yield to that feeling
of indifference which is the almost universal outcome of prison life.
I soon found that this self-imposed regimen acted as a wholesome
moral tonic, and so, instead of falling under the naturally baneful
influences of my surroundings, I strove, with ever-renewed spiritual
strength, to rise above them. At first the difference that marked me
from so many of my fellow prisoners aroused in them something like
a feeling of resentment; but when they came to know me this soon
wore off, and I have reason to believe that my example of unvarying
neatness and civility did not fail in influencing others to look a bit
more after their personal appearance and to modify their speech. At
any rate, it had this effect: Aylesbury Prison is the training-school
for female warders for all county prisons. Having served a month’s
probation here, they are recommended, if efficient in enforcing the
prison “discipline,” for transference to analogous establishments in
the counties. It happened not infrequently, therefore, that new-comers
were taken to my cell as the model on which all others should be

I partook of my meals, coarse and unappetizing as the food might be,
after the manner I had been wont in the dining-room of my own home;
and, though unseen, I never permitted myself to use my fingers (as
most prisoners invariably did) where a knife, fork, or spoon would be
demanded by good manners. Neither did I permit myself, either at table
(though alone) or elsewhere, to fall into slouchy attitudes, even
when, because of sickness, it was nearly impossible for me to hold up
my head.

I speak of this because of the almost universal tendency among
prisoners to mere animality. “What matters it?” is the general retort.
Accordingly, the average convict keeps herself no cleaner than the
discipline strenuously exacts, while all their attitudes express
hopeless indifference, callous carelessness, to a degree that often
lowers them to the behavior of the brutes of the field. The repressive
system can neither reform nor raise the nature or habits of prisoners.


Women doctors and inspectors should be appointed in all female prisons.
Otherwise what can be expected of a woman of small mental resources,
shut in on herself, often unable to read or write with any readiness;
of bad habits; with a craving for low excitement; whose chief pleasure
has been in the grosser kind of animal delight? The mind turns morbidly
inward; the nerves are shattered. Although the dark cell is no longer
used, mental light is still excluded. Recidivation is more frequent
with women than with men. The jail taint seems to sink deeper into
woman’s nature, and at Aylesbury numbers of the more abandoned ones are
seldom for long out of the male warders’ hands.


For a considerable period I was given work in the officers’ mess. Their
quarters are in a detached building within the prison precincts, and
are reached by crossing a small grass-plot which separates it from
the prison. Each officer has a small bedroom, in which she sleeps and
passes her time when off duty. All meals are served in the mess-room,
and consist of breakfast at seven o’clock, lunch on turn between nine
and eleven, dinner at twelve-thirty, tea at five, and supper whenever
they are off duty. The cooking is excellent and varied. A matron is in
charge of the commissariat department, and has four prisoners of the
“Star Class” working under her. I did scullery work, which consisted
of washing up all the crockery, glass, knives, forks, and spoons used
at these five meals, besides all the pots and pans required in their
preparation. As a staff of twenty-five sat down to these frequent meals
daily, the work was very hard and quite beyond my strength. The “Star
Class” of workers should not be kept at it more than six months at a
time. Some of the life women have been in the kitchen and mess-room as
long as three and four years, and, as neither the culinary arrangements
nor the ventilation are modern, the consequent physical and mental
depression arising from these defects, and the monotony of the work, is
only too apparent.

I was not feeling well at the time, and soon after I had a long
illness–a nervous breakdown, due partly to insomnia and partly to the
unrelieved strain and stress of years of hard labor. My recovery was
very slow. I was in the infirmary about eighteen months, and was glad
when finally discharged, as the intervals between my letters and visits
were shorter when I was in discipline quarters and could earn more
marks. During the long years of my imprisonment I learned many lessons
I needed, perhaps, to have learned during my earlier life; but, thank
God, I was no criminal! I was being punished for that of which I was
innocent. I believe it is God’s task to judge and ours to endure, but I
could not understand what his plans and his purposes were. I believed
they were good, although I could not see how eternity itself could make
up for my sufferings. Perhaps they were intended to work out some good
to others, by ways I should never know, until I saw with the clear
eyes of another world. Still, the external conditions of life acted
on my body and mind, and I scarcely knew at times how to bear them.
I could not have endured them without God’s sustaining grace. I used
often to repeat these lines:

“With patience, then, the course of duty run;
God never does nor suffers to be done
But that which you would do if you could see
The end of all events as well as he.”


A woman lay dying in a near-by cell. Of the sixty years of her life she
had spent forty within prison walls. What that life had been I will not
say, but when she was in the agony of death she called to me: “I don’t
know anything about your God, but if he has made you tender and loving
to a bad lot like me, I know he will not be hard on a poor soul who
never had a chance. Give me a kiss, dear lass, before I go. No one has
kissed me since my mother died.