In this morally outlawed community

An habitual criminal of the pronounced type was my friend Dick Mallory.
I have no remembrance of our first meeting, but he must have been thirty
years old at the time, was in the penitentiary for the third time, and
serving a fourteen-year sentence. Early in our acquaintance I asked him
to write for me a detailed account of his childhood and boyhood, the
environment and influences which had made him what he was, and also his
impression of the various reformatories and minor penal institutions of
which he had been an inmate. This he was allowed to do by special
permission, and the warden of the penitentiary gave his indorsement as
to the general reliability of his statements. The following brief sketch
of his youth is summarized from his own accounts.

One cannot hold Dick Mallory as a victim of social conditions, neither
was he of criminal parentage. One of his grandfathers was a farmer, the
other a mechanic. His father was a working-man, his mother a
big-hearted woman, thoroughly kindly and to the last devoted to her son.
There must have been some constitutional lack of moral fibre in Dick,
who was the same wayward, unmanageable boy known to heart-broken mothers
in all classes of life. Impulsive, generous, with an overflowing
sociability of disposition, he won his way with convicts and guards in
the different penal institutions included in his varied experience. I
hate to put it into words, but Dick was undeniably a thief; and his
career as a thief began very early. When seven years of age he was sent
to a parish school, and there, he tells me, “A tough set of boys they
were, including myself. There I received my first lessons in stealing.
We would go through all the alley ways on our way to and from school,
and break into sheds and steal anything we could sell for a few cents,
using the money to get into cheap theatres.”

This early lawlessness led to more serious misdemeanors until the boy at
thirteen was sent to the reform school. This reform-school
experience–in the late seventies–afforded the best possible culture
for all the evil in his nature. This reform school was openly designated
a “hotbed of crime” for the State. Inevitably Dick left it a worse boy
than at his entrance. Another delinquency soon followed, for which he
was sent to jail for a month, the mother hoping that this would “teach
him a lesson.” “It did. _But oh, what a lesson._ Oh! but it was a hard
place for a boy! There were from three to seven in each cell, some of
them boys younger than I, some hardened criminals. We were herded
together in idleness, learning only lessons in crime. In less than six
months I was there a second time. Then mother moved into another
neighborhood, but alas, for the change. That same locality has turned
out more thieves than any other portion of Chicago, that sin-begrimed
city. From the time I became acquainted in that neighborhood I was a
confirmed thief, and a constant object of suspicion to the police.

“One evening I was arrested on general principles, taken into the police
station and paraded before the whole squad of the police, the captain
saying, ‘This is the notorious Dick Mallory, take a good look at him,
and bring him in night or day, wherever you may find him.'” This
completed his enmity to law and order.

Soon after followed an experience in the house of correction of which he
says: “This was my first time there and a miserable time it was. Sodom
and Gomorrah in their palmiest days could not hold a candle to it. You
know that by this time I was no spring chicken, but the place actually
made me sick; it was literally swarming with vermin, the men half
starved and half clad.” This workhouse experience was repeated several
times and was regarded afterward as the lowest depth of moral
degradation of his whole career. “I did not try to obtain work in these
intervals of liberty, because I was arrested every time I was met by a
policeman who had seen me before.”

Thoroughly demoralized Dick Mallory sought the saloons, at first for the
sake of sociability, then for the stimulant which gave temporary zest to
life, until the habit of drinking was confirmed and led to more serious

Perhaps neither our modern juvenile courts nor our improved methods in
reform school and house of correction would have materially altered the
course of Dick Mallory’s life, although a thorough course of manual
training might have turned his destructive tendencies into constructive
forces and the right teaching might have instilled into him some
principles of good citizenship. Be that as it may, the fact remained
that before this boy had reached his majority his imprisonment had
become a social necessity; he had become the very type against whom our
most severe legislation has been directed.

But this was not the Dick Mallory whom I came to know so well ten years
later, and who was for two years or more my guide and director in some
of the best work I ever accomplished for prisoners. Strange to say, this
man, utterly irresponsible and lawless as he had heretofore been, was a
model prisoner. He fell into line at once, learned his trade on the shoe
contract rapidly, became an expert workman, earning something like sixty
dollars a year by extra work. He was cheerful, sensible, level-headed;
and settled down to convict life with the determination to make the best
of it, and the most of the opportunity to read and study evenings. The
normal man within him came into expression. His comparison between the
house of correction and the penitentiary was wholly in favor of the
latter. He recognized the necessity of a strict discipline for men like
himself; he appreciated the difficulties of the warden’s position and
his criticisms of the institutions were confined mostly to the abuses
inherent in the contract system. Never coming into contact with the
sick or disabled, himself blessed with the irrepressible buoyancy of the
sons of Erin, physically capable of doing more than all the work
required of him, his point of view of convict life and prison
administration was at that time altogether different from that of John
Bryan. He plunged into correspondence with me with an ardor that never
flagged, covering every inch of the writing-paper allotted him,
treasuring every line of my letters, and re-reading them on the long
Sunday afternoons in his cell. For years he had made the most of the
prison libraries. His reading was mainly along scientific lines; Galton,
Draper, and Herbert Spencer he treasured especially. His favorite novel
was M. Linton’s “Joshua Davidson,” a striking modern paraphrase of the
life of Jesus. His good nature won him many small favors and privileges
from the prison guards, and the time that I knew him as a prisoner was
unquestionably the happiest period of his life.

We always had some young prisoner on hand, whom we were trying to rescue
from criminal life. It was usually a cell-mate of Dick’s with whom he
had become thoroughly acquainted. And on the outside was Dick’s mother
always ready to help her boy set some other mother’s boy on his feet.
Our first mutual experiment along this line was in the beginning
somewhat discouraging. The following extract from one of Dick’s letters
speaks for itself, not only of our _protégé_, Harry, but of Dick’s
attitude in this and similar cases.

“My brother wrote me that Harry had burnt his foot and was unable to
work for a month, during which time a friend of mine paid his board. On
recovering he went back to work for a few days, drew his pay and left
the city, leaving my friend out of pocket. Now I would like to make this
loss good because I feel responsible for Harry. I have never lost
confidence in him; and what makes me feel worst of all is that I am
unable to let him know that I am not angry with him. I would give twenty
dollars this minute if I knew where a letter would reach him.

“I have never directly tried to bring any man down to my own level, and
if I never succeed in elevating myself much above my present level I
would like to be the means of elevating others.” However, Harry did not
prove altogether a lost venture and Dick was delighted to receive better
news of him later.

We had better luck next time when Ned Triscom, a young cell-mate of
Dick’s, was released. Dick had planned for this boy’s future for weeks,
asking my assistance in securing a situation and arranging for an
evening school, the bills guaranteed by Dick. Our plans carried even
better than we hoped. Ned proved really the right sort, and when I
afterward met him in Chicago my impressions more than confirmed Dick’s
favorable report. But Ned was Dick’s _find_, and Dick must give his own

“I want to thank you for what you have done for my friend Ned. He has
written me every week since he left, and it does me good to know that he
is on the high road to success. As soon as you begin to receive news
from your friends who have met him you will hear things that will make
your heart glad. He is enthusiastic in his praise of Miss Jane Addams,
has spent some evenings at the Hull House, and goes often to see my
mother. He is doing remarkably well with his work and earned twenty-four
dollars last week. He has no relative nearer than an aunt, whom he will
visit in his vacation. I never asked him _anything about his past_, and
he never told me anything. I simply judged of him by what I saw of him.
I always thought him out of place here and now I wonder how he ever
happened to get here.”

I liked Dick for never having asked Ned anything about his past. Now
through Dick’s interest in the boy Ned was placed at once in healthy
moral environment in Chicago, and he was really a very interesting and
promising young man with exceedingly good manners. He called on me one
evening in Chicago and seemed as good as anybody, with the right sort of
interests, and he kept in correspondence with me as long as I answered
his letters.

Mrs. Mallory was as much interested in Dick’s philanthropic experiments
as I was, and several men fresh from the penitentiary spent their first
days of freedom in the sunshine of her warm welcome and under the
shelter of her hospitable roof. Thus Dick Mallory, his mother, and I
formed a sort of first aid to the ex-convict society.

Another of Mallory’s protégés was Sam Ellis, whose criminal sowing of
wild oats appeared to be the expression of a nature with an insatiable
appetite for adventure. The adventure of lawlessness appealed to him as
a game, the very hazards involved luring him on, as “the red game of
war” has lured many a young man and the game of high finance has
ensnared many an older one.

But Sam Ellis indulged in mental adventures also–in the game of making
fiction so convincing as to be accepted as fact, for Sam was born a
teller of stories. Perhaps I ought to have regarded Sam as a plain liar,
but I never could so regard him, for he frankly discussed this faculty
as he might have discussed any other talent; and he told me that he
found endless fascination in making others believe the pure fabrications
of his imagination. I always felt that as a writer of fiction he would
have found his true vocation and made a success. He had a feeling for
literature, too, and I think he has happily expressed what companions
books may be to a prisoner in the following extract from one of his

“I have been fairly devouring Seneca, Montaigne, Saadi, Marcus Aurelius,
Rochefoucauld, Bacon, Sir Thomas More, Shelley, Schopenhauer, Clodd,
Clifford, Huxley, Spencer, Fiske, Emerson, Ignatius Donnelly, Bryan, B.
O. Flower, J. K. Hosmer, and a host of lesser lights.” Of Emerson he
says: “We are friends. It was a great rise for me and a terrible
come-down for him. I’ve done nothing but read, think, talk, and dream
Emerson for two weeks, and familiarity only cements our friendship the
stronger. It must have taken some extraordinary high thinking to create
such pure and delightful things. He uplifts one into a higher atmosphere
and carries the thought along on broad and liberal lines. Instead of
making one look down into the gutter to see the reflection of the sky,
he has us look up into the sky itself.” In hours of depression this man
sought the companionship of Marjorie Fleming. Truly he understood the
value of the old advice: “To divert thyself from a troublesome fancy
’tis but to run to thy bookes.” And to think of that dear Pet Marjorie
winging her way through the century and across the sea to cheer and
brighten the very abode of gloom and despair! No desire had this man to
read detective stories–he lived them–his life out of prison was full
of excitement and escapade. When seasons of reflection came he turned to
something entirely different; and were not the forces working upward
within him as vital and active as the downward tendencies?

However that may be, neither Dick Mallory nor I succeeded in getting any
firm grip on that mercurial being; but he never tried to impose on
either of us, was always responsive to my interest in him, and found a
chance to do me a good turn before he disappeared from my horizon in a
far western mining district where doubtless other adventures awaited
him. Dick Mallory always regarded Sam with warm affection, and his
clear-cut personality has left a vivid picture in my memory.

I find that Dick Mallory was the centre from which radiated more of my
acquaintances in the prison than from any one other source. His mind was
always on the alert regarding the men around him, and he was always on
the lookout for means of helping them. In one of our interviews his
greeting to me was:

“There are two Polish boys here that you must see; and you must do
something for them.”

“Not another prisoner will I get acquainted with, Dick,” was my reply.
“I’ve more men on my list now than I can do justice to. I’ve not time
for another one.”

“It makes no difference whether you have time or not, these boys ought
to be out of here and there’s nobody to get them out but you,” said Dick
in a tone of finality.

I saw instantly that not only was the fate of the Polish boys involved,
but my standing in the opinion of Mallory; for between us two was the
unspoken understanding that we could count on each other, and Dick knew
perfectly well that I could not fail him. Nothing in all my prison
experience so warms my heart as the thought of our Polish boys. Neither
of them was twenty years of age; they were working boys of good general
character, and yet they were serving a fifteen-year sentence imposed
because of some technicality in an ill-framed law.

My interview with the younger of the boys was wholly satisfactory. I
found him frank and intelligent and ready to give me every point in his
case. But with the older one it was different; he listened in silence to
all my questions, refusing any reply. At last I said: “You must answer
my questions or I shall not be able to do anything for you.” Then he
turned his great black velvet eyes upon me and said only: “You mean to
do me some harm?” What a comment on the boy’s experience in Chicago
courts! He simply could not conceive of a stranger seeking him with any
but a harmful motive. And we made no further progress that time, but
when I came again there was welcome in the black velvet eyes, and with
the greeting, “I know now that you are my friend,” he gave me his
statement and answered all my questions.

Now it seemed impossible that such a severe sentence could have been
passed on those boys without some just cause. But I had faith in Dick
Mallory’s judgment of them, and my own impressions were altogether
favorable; furthermore, my good friend the warden was convinced that
grave injustice had been done.

It was two years before I had disentangled all the threads and
marshalled all my evidence and laid the case before the governor. The
governor looked the papers over carefully, and then said:

“If I did all my work as thoroughly as this has been done I should not
be criticised as I am now. What would you like me to do for these boys?”

Making one bold dash for what I wanted I answered: “I should like you to
give me two pardons that I can take to the boys to-morrow.”

The governor rang for his secretary, to whom he said: “Make out two
pardons for these Polish boys.” And ten minutes later, with the two
pardons in my hand, I left the governor’s office. And so it came to
pass that I was indebted to Dick Mallory for one of the very happiest
hours of my life.

When I reached the prison next day the good news had preceded me. One of
the officers met me at the door and clasped both my hands in welcome,

“There isn’t an officer or a convict in this prison who will not rejoice
in the freedom of those boys, and every convict will know of it.”

As for the Polish boys themselves, the blond, a dear boy, was expecting
good news; but the black velvet eyes of the dark one were bewildered by
the unbelievable good fortune. I stood at the door and shook hands with
them as they entered into freedom, and afterward received letters from
both giving the details of their homecoming. And so the purpose of
Mallory was accomplished.

These are but few of the many who owed a debt of gratitude to this man.
Only last year a man now dying in England, in one of his letters to me,
referred gratefully to assistance given him by Mallory on his release
from prison many years ago. Mallory’s letters are all the record of a
helping hand. Through them all runs the silver thread of human
kindness, the traces of benefits conferred and efforts made on behalf of

And what of Dick Mallory’s own life after his release from prison? He
had always lacked faith in himself and in his future, and now the
current of existence seemed set against him. He was thirty-two years old
and more than half his life had been spent in confinement, under
restraint. In his ambition to earn money for himself while working on
prison contracts, he had drawn too heavily on both physical and nervous
resources. In his own words: “I did not realize at all the physical
condition I was in. If I could only have gone to some place where I
could have recuperated under medical attention! But no! I only wanted to
get to work. _All I knew was work._”

The hard times of ’93 came on, a man had to take what work he could get,
and Mallory could not do the work that came in his way. His mother died
and the home was broken up. He again resorted to the sociability of the
saloon, and with the renewal of old associations and under the
influences of stimulants the reckless lawlessness of his boyhood again
broke out into some action that resulted in a term in another prison.

The man was utterly crushed. His old criminal record was brought to
light and he found himself ensnared in the toils of his past. He was
bitterly humiliated–he was in no position to earn a penny, and no
channel for the generous impulses still strong within him was now open.
The old buoyancy of his nature still flickered occasionally from the
dying embers, but gradually darkened into a dull despair as far as his
own life was concerned. But his interest in others survived, and the
only favors he ever asked of me were on behalf of “the boys” whom he
could no longer help. He still wrote me freely and his letters tell
their own story:

“At one time in our friendship I really believed that everything was
possible in my future. I never meant to deceive you– And when I
realized my broken promises my heart broke too. I have never been the
same man since and can never be again. I cannot help looking on the dark
side for life has been so hard for me. Ah! it is a hard place when you
reach the stage where the future seems so hopeless as it does to me.”

And hopeless it truly was; imprisonment and dissipation had done their
work and his death came shortly after his release from this prison.
Since his life had proved a losing game it was far better that it should
end. But was not Robert Louis Stevenson right in his belief that all our
moral failures do not lessen the value of our good qualities and our
good deeds? The good that Mallory did was positive and enduring; and
surely his name should be written among those who loved their fellow

To me the very most cruel stroke in the fate of Dick Mallory was this:
that in the minds of many his history may seem to justify the severity
of legislation against habitual criminals. With all his efforts to save
others, himself he could not save–and well as he knew the injustice
resulting from life sentences for “habituals,” the sum of his life
counted against clemency for this class.

Dick Mallory himself was given the maximum sentence of fourteen years
for larceny under the habitual-criminal act; and he did not resent the
sentence in his own case because he found life in the penitentiary on
the whole as satisfactory as it had been on the outside; and when I met
him he had become deeply interested in the other prisoners. But he
resented the fact that the “habitual act” was applied without
discrimination to any one convicted of a second offence. He was doing
some study on his own account of the individual men called “habituals.”
I never understood how Dick Mallory contrived to know as much about
individual convicts as he did know; but he was a keen observer and
quick-witted, and the guards and foremen often gave him bits of
information. He admitted, however, that his real knowledge of the men
under the “habitual act” was meagre, and asked me to make some personal
observations. To this end he gave me a list of some half-dozen men whom
I promised to interview, and in this way began my acquaintance with
Peter Belden, an acquaintance destined to continue many years after Dick
Mallory had passed beyond the reach of earthly courts.

Peter Belden was then a man something over thirty years of age, stunted
in growth, somewhat deaf, with his right arm paralyzed through some
accident in the prison shop. His hair, eyes, and complexion were much of
a color, but his good, strong features expressed intelligence. He wore
the convict stripes, which had the effect of blotting individuality
throughout the prison.

Notwithstanding these physical disadvantages, a criminal record and a
lifetime of unfavorable environment, some inherent force and manliness
in his nature made itself felt. He took it for granted that I would not
question his sincerity, neither did I. He said nothing of his own
hardships, made no appeal to my sympathy, but discussed the
habitual-criminal act quite impersonally and intelligently; assuming at
once the attitude of one ready to assist me in any effort for the
benefit of the criminal class to which he belonged.

But while he was talking about others I was thinking about him, and
when I inquired what I could do for him personally he asked me to obtain
the warden’s permission to have a pencil and a writing-tablet in his
cell, as he liked to work at mathematical problems in his cell. This was
the only favor the man asked of me while he was in prison, and to this
day I do not know if he thought his fourteen-year sentence was unjust.
As he was quite friendless, and neither received nor wrote letters, he
was only too glad to correspond with me. I was surprised on receiving
his first letter to find his left-handed writing regular and clear, with
only an occasional slip in spelling or in correct English.

Always interested in the origin and in the formative influences which
had resulted in the criminal life of these men, I asked Belden to write
for me the story of his youth; and I give it from his own letters, now
before me, in his own words as far as possible:

“I have often thought that the opportunities of life have been pretty
hard with me, still I have tried always to make the best of it. I know
there are many who have fared worse than I, and in my pity towards them
I have managed to find the hard side of life easier than otherwise.

“I was born on an island off the coast of England. My father and mother
were of Irish descent, but we all spoke both English and French, and I
was in school for four years before I was twelve. My studies were French
and English, history, grammar and spelling; but I put everything aside
for arithmetic and other branches of mathematics: as long as I can
remember I had a greedy taste for figures; I earned my school expenses
by doing odd jobs for a farmer, for we were very poor. My father was a
hard drinker and there were fourteen of us in the family. There were
days when we did not have but a meal or two, and some days when we had
nothing at all to eat.”

The boy’s mother was ambitious for his education; she had relatives in
one of our western States, and when Peter was twelve years old he was
sent to this country with the understanding that he was to be kept in

“But instead of going to school as I had expected I was knocked and
kicked about here and everywhere. My cousin would say, ‘It’s schoolin’
ye want is it? I’ll give ye schoolin’,’ and her schoolin’ was always
given with a club or a kick. ‘Learnin’ and educatin’? It’s too much of
thim ye have already; go out and mind the cow.'”

The boy endured this life for several months, “dreading this cousin so
much that sometimes I’d stay out all night, sleeping in the near-by
woods.” Then, in an hour of desperation, he decided to run away, and
after two or three temporary places where he worked for his board he
drifted into the lumber regions of Michigan. There his ambition for an
education was gratified in an unlooked-for and most curious fashion.

During the seventies various rumors of immoral houses in connection with
these lumber regions were afloat, and later measures were taken which
effectually dispersed the inmates. One of these houses was kept by a
college graduate from the East, who had been educated for the ministry
but had deflected from the straight and narrow path into the business of
counterfeiting; in consequence he spent five years in prison and
afterward sought refuge from his past in the wilds of Michigan.

Chance or fate led Peter Belden, a boy of thirteen, into the circle of
this man’s dominion, where, strangely enough, the higher side of the
boy’s nature found some chance of development. Peter was given
employment at this “Rossman’s” as caretaker to the dogs and as
general-errand boy. The man, Rossman, studied the boy, and discovering
his passion for learning cemented a bond between them by the promise of
an equivalent to a course in college.

It seemed, indeed, like falling into the lap of good fortune for Peter
to be clothed and fed and given a room of his own “with college books on
the shelves” open to his use at any time; “and there was, besides, a
trunk full of books–all kinds of scientific books.”

And here, to his heart’s content, the boy revelled in the use of books.
Study was his recreation: and true to his word Rossman gave him daily
instruction, taking him through algebra, trigonometry, and the various
branches of higher mathematics, not omitting geography and history
and–_Bible Study_ every Sunday. Who can fathom the heights and depths,
the mysterious complexities of Rossman’s nature? This is Peter’s tribute
to the man:

“I was with him for three years; I always thought he was very kind, not
only to me but to all the girls in the house and to every one.”

In this morally outlawed community Peter grew to be sixteen years old,
attracting to him by some magnetism in his own nature the best elements
in his unfavorable environment. And here the one romance in his life
occurred; on his part at least it seems to have been as idyllic as was
Paul’s feeling for Virginia. The girl, young and pretty, was a voluntary
member of “Rossman’s.” She, too, had a history. Somewhat strictly reared
by her family, she had been placed in a convent school, where she found
the repression and restraint unbearable. In her reckless desire for
freedom, taking advantage of a chance to escape from the convent school,
she found refuge in the nearest city, and while there was induced to
join the Rossman group with no knowledge of the abyss into which she was
plunging. She was still a novice in this venture when she became
interested in Peter Belden, the young student. Together they worked at
problems in figures, their talk often wandering from the problems in
books to the problems of life, especially their own lives, until the day
came when Peter told her that he could not live without her.

Then the two young things laid their plans to leave that community, be
honestly married, and to work out the problem of life together.
However, this was not to be–for death claimed the wayward girl and
closed the brief chapter of romance in Belden’s life. And the man, near
sixty years old now, still keeps this bit of springtime in his heart,
and “May”–so aptly named–through the distillation of time and the
alchemy of memory appears to him now an angel of light, the one love of
his life.

Other changes were now on the wing. “Rossman’s” was no longer to be
tolerated, and the proprietor was obliged to disband his group and leave
that part of the country. It was then that the truly baleful influence
of Rossman asserted itself, blighting fatally the young life now bound
to him by ties of gratitude and habit, and even turning the development
of his mathematical gift into a curse. Forced to abandon the
disreputable business in which he had been engaged, Rossman opened a
gambling-house in Chicago, initiating Belden into all the ways that are
dark and all the artful dodges practised in these gambling-hells. Here
Belden’s natural gift for calculation and combination of numbers,
reinforced by mathematical training, came into play. The fascination of
the game for its own sake has even crept into one of Belden’s letters to
me, where several pages are devoted to proving how certain results can
be obtained by scientific manipulation of the cards. But again Rossman’s
business fell under the ban of the law, and soon after, for some overt
act of dishonesty, Belden was sent to the penitentiary.

A year later an ex-convict with power of resistance weakened by the
rigidity of prison discipline, with no trade, the ten dollars given by
the State invested in cheap outer clothing to replace the suit,
recognizable at a glance by the police, which the State then bestowed
upon the ex-convict, Belden returned to Chicago. Friendless, penniless,
accustomed to live by his wits, Belden was soon “in trouble” again, was
speedily convicted under the habitual-criminal act and given the maximum
sentence of fourteen years. Three years of this sentence Belden served
after the beginning of our acquaintance. He had met with the accident
resulting in the paralysis of his arm, and his outlook was hopeless and
dreary. However, after the loss of the use of his right hand he
immediately set to work learning to write with his left hand, and this
he speedily accomplished. The tablet granted by the warden at my request
was soon covered with abstruse mathematical problems; differential
calculus was of course meaningless to the guards, but a continuous
supply of tablets was allowed as a safe outlet for a mind considered
“cracked” on the subject of figures. Owing to his infirmities Belden’s
prison tasks were light; his devotion to Warden McClaughrey, who treated
him with kindness, kept him obedient to prison rules, while his obliging
disposition won the friendly regard of fellow prisoners. And so the time
drifted by until his final release. This time he left the prison clad in
a well-fitting second-hand suit sent by a friend. Dick Mallory, who was
then a free man, welcomed him in Chicago, saw him on board the train for
another city in which I had arranged for his entrance into a “home,” and
with hearty good will speeded his departure from criminal ranks. This
was in the year 1893; from that day forward Peter Belden has lived an
honest life.

The inmates of the home, or the members of that family, as the sainted
woman who established and superintended the place considered these men,
were expected to contribute toward the expense of the home what it
actually cost to keep them. During the hard winters of 1894 and 1895
able-bodied men by thousands were vainly seeking work and awaiting
their turn in the breadline at the end of a fruitless day, while Peter
Belden, with his right arm useless, by seizing every chance to earn
small amounts, and by strictest self-denial, contrived to meet the bare
needs of his life. Once or twice for a few days he could not do this,
but the superintendent of the home tided him over these breaks; and I
knew from her that Belden was unflagging in his effort to make his
expenses. That this was far from easy is shown by the following extract
from a letter written in the winter of 1895:

“I am in pretty good health, thank you, but I have had a hard, hard
time. Do the very best I can I can’t get ahead; yesterday I had to
borrow a dollar from the home. Still I am pegging away, day in and day
out, selling note paper. I have felt like giving up in despair many
times these last few months. A _something_, however, tells me to keep
on. You have kindly asked me if I needed clothing. Yes, thank you, I
need shoes and stockings and I haven’t money to buy them. Now, dear
friend, don’t spend any money in getting these things for me; I shall be
glad and thankful for anything that has been used before.”

As financial prosperity gradually returned, making the ends meet became
easier to Belden. Among his round of note-paper customers he established
friendly relations and was able to enlarge his stock of salable
articles, and he won the confidence of two large concerns that gave him
goods on the instalment plan. At this time the superintendent of the
home wrote me:

“I am deeply interested in Peter Belden, for he has been a good, honest,
industrious man ever since he came to us. I want to tell you that your
kindly efforts are fully appreciated by him. He is earnestly working up
in a business way, and all who have anything to do with him as a man
have confidence in him.”

Belden’s interests, too, began to widen and his frequent letters to me
at this time are like moving pictures, giving glimpses of interiors of
various homes and of contact with all sorts of people–a sympathetic
Jewish woman, a brilliant Catholic bishop, a fake magnetic healer and
spiritualistic fraud. He even approached the celebrated Dean Hole at the
conclusion of a lecture in order to secure the dean’s autograph, which
he sent me; and he had interesting experiences with various other
characters. He was frequently drawn into religious discussions, but
firmly held his ground that creeds or lack of creeds were nothing to him
so long as one was good and helpful to others. This simple belief was
consistent with his course of action. Pity dwelt ever in his heart, and
I do not believe that he ever slighted a chance to give the helping
hand. He did not forget the prisoners left behind in the penitentiary
where he had been confined, sending them magazines and letters, and
messages through me. In one of his letters I find this brief incident,
so characteristic of the man as I have known him:

“While I was canvassing to-day I saw a poor blind dog– It was a very
pitiful sight. He would go here a little and there a little, moving
backward and forward. The poor thing did not know where he was, for he
was blind as could be, and not only blind but lame also. Something
struck me when I saw him; I said to myself, ‘I am crippled but I might
be like this poor dog some day; who can tell? I certainly shall do what
I can for him.’

“I could not take him home with me but I did the next best thing, for I
took him from the pack of boys who began chasing him and gave him to a
woman who was looking out of a window evidently interested and
sympathetic; she promised to care for him.”

In the hundreds of letters written me by Belden I do not find a line of
condemnation or even of harsh criticism of any one, although he shares
the prejudice common to men of his class against wealthy church-members.
Not that he was envious of their possessions, but, knowing too well the
cruelty and the moral danger of extreme poverty and ready to spend his
last dollar to relieve suffering, he simply could not conceive how it
was possible for a follower of Christ to accumulate wealth while
sweat-shops and child labor existed.

At this period of Belden’s life his knowledge of mathematics afforded
him great pleasure, and it brought him into prominence in the newspaper
columns given to mathematical puzzles, where “Mr. Belden” was quoted as
final authority. Numerous were the newspaper clippings enclosed in his
letters to me, and I have before me an autograph note to Belden from the
query editor of a prominent paper, in which he says:

“Your solution of the problem is a most ingenious and mathematically
learned analysis of the question presented, and highly creditable to
your talent.”

This recognition of superiority in the realm of his natural gift and
passion was precious indeed to Belden, but he was extremely sensitive in
regard to his past and avoided contact and acquaintance with those who
might be curious about it. And to be known as an inmate of the home was
to be known as an ex-convict.

This maimed, ex-convict life he must bear to the end: only outside of
that could he meet men as their equal; and so he guarded his incognito,
but not altogether successfully.

Once he made the experiment of going to a neighboring city and trying to
make some commercial use of his mathematics, but he could not gain his
starting-point. He had no credentials as teacher, and while he might
have been valuable as an expert accountant his disadvantages were too
great to be overcome.

More and more frequently as the years passed came allusions to loss of
time through illness. His faithful friend, the superintendent of the
home, had passed to her reward, and the home as Belden had known it was
a thing of the past.

Life was becoming a losing game, a problem too hard to be solved, when
tubercular tendencies of long standing developed and Belden became a
charge on some branch of the anti-tuberculosis movement, where he spent
a summer out of doors. Here he frankly faced the fact of the disease
that was developing, and characteristically read all the medical works
on the subject that the camp afforded, determined to make a good fight
against the enemy. He seemed to find a sort of comfort in bringing
himself into companionship with certain men of genius who had fought the
same foe; he mentions Robert Louis Stevenson, Chopin, and Keats, and,
more hopefully, others who were finally victorious over the disease.

With the approach of cold weather it was thought best to send Belden to
a warmer climate; arrangements were made accordingly, and he was given a
ticket to a far distant place where it was supposed he would have a
better chance of recovery. There for a time he rallied and grew
stronger, but only to face fresh hardships. He was physically incapable
of earning a living, and it was not long before he became a public
charge and was placed in an infirmary for old men; for more than fifty
years of poverty and struggle with fate had left the traces of a
lifetime on the worn-out body. But the “something” which he felt told
him to keep on through many hardships does not desert him now, and the
old spirit of determination to make the best of things holds out still.
His letters show much the same habit of observation as formerly; bits of
landscape gleam like pictures through some of his pages, and historical
associations in which I might be interested are gathered and reported.
His one most vital interest at present seems to be the production of
this book, as he firmly believes that no one else can “speak for the
prisoners” as the writer.

It seems that even Death itself, “who breaks all chains and sets all
captives free,” cannot be kind to Peter Belden, and delays coming,
through wearisome days and more wearisome nights. But at last, when the
dark curtain of life is lifted, we can but trust that a happier fortune
awaits him in a happier country.

At the time of my first visit to the penitentiary of my own State the
warden surprised me by saying: “Among the very best men in the prison
are the ‘life’ men, the men here for murder.”

How true this was I could not then realize, but as in time I came to
know well so many of these men the words of the warden were fully

The law classes the killing of one person by another under three heads:
murder in the first degree; murder in the second degree; and
manslaughter. The murder deliberately planned and executed constitutes
murder in the first degree; and for this, in many of our States, the
penalty is still capital punishment; otherwise, legal murder
deliberately planned and officially executed, the penalty duplicating
the offence in general outline. This is the popular conception of
fitting the punishment to the crime; and its continuance ignores the
obvious truth that, so long as the law justifies and sets the example of
taking life under given circumstances, so long will the individual
justify himself in taking life under circumstances which seem to him to
warrant doing so; the individual simply takes the law into his own
hands. War and the death penalty are the two most potent sources of
mental suggestion in the direction of murder.

In every execution within the walls of a penitentiary the suggestion of
murder is sown broadcast among the other convicts, and is of especial
danger to those mentally unsound. As long as capital punishment is
upheld as necessary to the protection of society each State should have
its State executioner; and executions should take place at the State
capital in the presence of the governor and as many legislators as may
be in the city. In relegating to the penitentiary the ugly office of
Jack Ketch we escape the realization of what it all is–how revolting,
how barbarous–and we throw one more horror into the psychic atmosphere
of prison life.

Several factors have combined to hold the death penalty so long on the
throne of justice. Evolution has not yet eliminated from the human being
the elementary savage instinct of bloodthirstiness, so frightfully
disclosed in the revolting rush of the populace eager to witness the
public executions perpetrated in France in the present century; public
executions in defiance of the established fact that men hitherto
harmless have gone from the sight of an execution impelled to kill some
equally harmless individual.

Many good men and women, ignoring the practical effect of anything so
obscure as “suggestion,” honestly believe that fear of the death penalty
has a restraining influence upon the criminal class. In those States and
countries which have had the courage to abolish the death penalty the
soundness of the “deterrent effect” theory is being tested; statistics
vary in different localities but the aggregate of general statistics
shows a decrease in murders following the abolition of the death

A silent partner in the support of capital punishment is the general
assumption that the murderer is a normal and a morally responsible human
being. Science is now leading us to a clearer understanding of the
relation between the moral and the physical in human nature, and we are
beginning to perceive that complex and far-reaching are the causes, the
undercurrents, the abnormal impulses which come to the surface in the
act of murder. Some years ago in England, upon the examination of the
brains of a successive number of men executed for murder, it was
ascertained that eighty-five per cent of those brains were organically
diseased. Granting that these men were criminally murderers, we must
grant also that they were mentally unsound, themselves victims of
disease before others became their victims. Where the moral
responsibility lies, the Creator alone can know; perhaps in a crowded
room of a foul tenement an overworked mother or a brutal father struck a
little boy on the head, and the little brain _went wrong_, some of those
infinitesimal brain-cells related to moral conduct were crushed, and
years afterward the effect of the cruel blow on the head of the
defenceless child culminated in the murderous blow from the hand of this
child grown to manhood. And back of the blow given the child stand the
saloon and the sweat-shop and the bitter poverty and want which can
change a human being into a brute. Saloons and sweat-shops flourish in
our midst, and cruel is the pressure of poverty, and terrible in their
results are the blows inflicted upon helpless children. When the State
vigorously sets to work to remove or ameliorate the social conditions
which cause crime there will be fewer lawless murderers to be legally

Time and again men innocent of the crime have been executed for murder.
Everything is against a man accused of murder. The simple accusation
antagonizes the public against the accused man. The press, which loves
to be sensational, joins in the prosecution, sometimes also the pulpit.
The tortures of the sweat-box are resorted to, that the accused may be
driven to convict himself before being tried; and one who has no money
may find himself convicted simply because he cannot prove his
innocence–although the law professes to hold a man innocent until his
guilt is proven.

For years I was an advocate of the death penalty as a merciful
alternative to life imprisonment. Knowing that the certainty of
approaching death may effect spiritual awakening and bring to the
surface all that is best in a man; believing that death is the great
liberator and the gateway to higher things; knowing that a man
imprisoned for life may become mentally and spiritually deadened by the
hopelessness of his fate, or may become so intent on palliating,
excusing, or justifying his crime as to lose all sense of guilt, perhaps
eventually to believe himself a victim rather than a criminal; knowing
the unspeakable suffering of the man who abandons himself to remorse,
and knowing how often the “life man” becomes a prey to insanity, in
sheer pity for the prisoner I came to regard the death penalty as a
merciful means of escape from an incomparably worse fate.

So far my point of view was taken only in relation to the prisoner for
life. Later, when I had studied the subject more broadly, in considering
the effect of the death penalty upon the community at large and as a
measure for the protection of society, I could not escape the conviction
that in the civilized world of to-day capital punishment is
indefensible. Christianity, humanity, sociology, medical science,
psychology, and statistics stand solid against the injustice and the
unwisdom of capital punishment. Public sentiment, the last bulwark of
the death penalty, is slowly but surely becoming enlightened, and the
final victory of humanitarianism is already assured.

Throughout the United States the legal penalty for murder in the second
degree is imprisonment for life; then follows the crime called
manslaughter, when the act is committed in self-defence or under other
extenuating circumstances; the penalty for which is imprisonment for a
varying but limited term of years. Practically there is no definite line
dividing murder in the second degree from manslaughter. A clever expert
lawyer, whether on the side of prosecution or the defence, has little
difficulty in carrying his case over the border in the one direction or
the other. Money, and the social position of the accused, are important
factors in adjusting the delicate balance between murder in the second
degree and manslaughter.

Various are the pathways that lead to the illegal taking of life;
terrible often the pressure brought to bear upon the man before the deed
is done. Deadly fear, the fear common to humanity, has been the force
that drove the hand of many a man to strike, stab, or shoot with fatal
effect; while anger, righteous or unrighteous, the momentary impulse of
intense emotional excitement to which we are all more or less liable,
has gathered its host of victims and caused the tragic ruin of
unnumbered men now wearing life away in our penitentiaries.

And terribly true it is that some of the “life” men are among the best
in our prisons, the “life” men who are all indiscriminately called
murderers. That some of them were murderers at heart and a menace to the
community we cannot doubt; doubtless, also, some are innocent of any
crime; and there are others for whom it would be better for all
concerned if they were given liberty to-day.

It seems to be assumed that a man unjustly imprisoned suffers more than
the one who knows that he has only himself to blame. Much depends upon
the nature of the man. Given two men of equally sound moral nature,
while the one with a clear conscience may suffer intensely, from the
sense of outrage and injustice, from the tearing of the heart-strings
and the injury to business relations, his mental agony can hardly equal
that of the man whose heart is eaten out with remorse. The best company
any prisoner can have is his own self-respect, the best asset of a
bankrupt life. I have been amazed to see for how much that counts in the
peace and hope, and the great power of patience which makes for health
and gives strength for endurance.

I was deeply impressed with this fact in the case of one man. His name
was Gay Bowers, a name curiously inconsistent with his fate, and, “life
man” though he was, no one in that big prison ever associated him with
murder; no one who really looked into his face could have thought him a
criminal. It was the only face I ever saw, outside of a book, that
seemed chastened through sorrow; his gentle smile was like the faint
sunshine of an April day breaking through the mists; and there was about
the man an atmosphere of youth and springtime though he was near forty
when we first met; but it was the arrested youth of a man to whom life
seemed to have ended when he was but twenty-two.

Gay was country born and bred, loved and early married a country girl,
and was known throughout the neighborhood as a hard-working, steady
young fellow. He lived in a village near the Mississippi River, and one
summer he went down to St. Louis on some business and returned by boat.
On the steamboat a stranger, a young man of near his age, made advances
toward acquaintance, and hearing his name exclaimed:

“Gay Bowers! why my name is Ray Bowers, and I’m looking for work. I
guess I’ll go to your town and we’ll call each other cousins; perhaps we
are related.”

The stranger seemed very friendly and kept with Bowers when they reached
the home town; there Ray found work and seemed all right for a while.

And here I must let Gay Bowers tell the rest of the story as he told it
to me, in his own words as nearly as I can remember them. I listened
intently to his low, quiet voice, but I seemed reading the story in his
eyes at the same time, for the absolutely convincing element was the way
in which Bowers was living it all over again as he unfolded the scene
with a certain thrill in his tones. I felt as if I was actually
witnessing the occurrence, so vividly was the picture in his mind
transferred to mine.

“My wife and I had just moved into a new home that very day, we and our
little year-old girl, and Ray had helped us in the moving and stayed to
supper with us. After supper Ray said he must go, and asked me to go a
piece with him as he had something to say to me.

“So I went along with him. Back of the house the road ran quite a way
through deep woods. We were in the middle of the woods when Ray stopped
and told me what he wanted of me. He told me that he had been a
horse-thief over in Missouri, that his picture was in ‘the rogues’
gallery’ in St. Louis over his own name, Jones; that it wasn’t safe for
him to be in Missouri, where he was ‘wanted’ and that he had got on the
boat without any plans; but as soon as he saw me, a working, country
man, he thought he might as well hitch on to me and go to my place. But
he said he was tired of working; and farmer Smith had a fine pair of
horses which he could dispose of if I would take them out of the barn
into the next county. Ray wanted me to do this because of my good
reputation. Everybody knew me and I was safe from suspicion; and he said
we could make a lot of money for us both if I went into the business
with him.

“All of a sudden I knew then that for some time I’d been _feeling_ that
Ray wasn’t quite square. There had been some little things–of course I
said I wouldn’t go in with him; and I don’t know what else I said for I
was pretty mad to find out what kind of a man he was and how he had
fooled me. Perhaps I threatened to tell the police; anyway Ray said he
would kill me before I had a chance to give him away if I didn’t go into
the deal with him, for then I wouldn’t dare ‘peach.’ Still I refused.

“And then”–here a look of absolute terror came into Bowers’s
eyes–“then he suddenly struck me a terrible blow and I knew I was in a
fight for my life. He fought like the desperate man that he was. I
managed to reach down and pick up a stick and struck out: I never
thought of killing the man; it was just a blind fight to defend myself.

“But he let go and fell. When he did not move I bent over him and felt
for his heart. I could not find it beating; but I could not believe he
was dead. I waited for some sign of life but there was none. I was
horror-struck and dazed; but I knew I could not leave him in the road
where he had fallen, so I dragged him a little way into the woods. There
I left him.

“I hurried back home to tell my wife what had happened; but when I
opened the door my wife was sitting beside the cradle where the baby
was. Cynthy was tired and sleepy with her day’s work, and everything
seemed so natural and peaceful I just couldn’t tell her, and I couldn’t
think, or anything. So I told her she’d better go to bed while I went
across the road to speak to her father.

“It wasn’t more than nine o’clock then, and I found her father sitting
alone smoking his pipe. He began to talk about his farm work. He didn’t
notice anything queer about me and I was so dazed-like that it all began
to seem unreal to me. I tried once or twice to break into his talk and
tell him, but I couldn’t put the horror into words–_I couldn’t_.

“Perhaps it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had told him; anyway
I didn’t. When the body was found next morning of course they came right
to our house with the story, for Ray had told folks that he was a
relation of mine. I told just what had happened but it didn’t count for
anything–I was tried for murder and not given a chance to make any
statement. Because I was well thought of by my neighbors they didn’t
give me the rope, but sent me here for life.”

Bowers had been sixteen years in prison when I first met him. He had
accepted his fate as an overwhelming misfortune, like blindness or
paralysis, but never for a moment had he lost his self-respect, and he
clung to his religion as the isle of refuge in his wrecked existence.

“Mailed in the armor of a pure intent” which the degradations of convict
life could not penetrate, as the years passed he had achieved true
serenity of spirit, and that no doubt contributed to his apparently
unbroken health. His work was not on contract but in a shop where
prison supplies were made, canes for the officers, etc. One day Bowers
sent me a beautifully made cane, which I may be glad to use if I ever
live to have rheumatism.

Bowers, like all life men, early laid his plans for a pardon and had a
lawyer draw up a petition; but the difficulty in the case was that there
wasn’t a particle of evidence against the dead man excepting Bowers’s
own word. But Bowers’s mind was set on establishing the truth of his
statement regarding the character of the other man, and he saw only one
way of doing this. Ray had said that his real name was Jones, and his
photograph was in the rogues’ gallery in St. Louis under the name of
Jones. Now, if there was such a photograph in St. Louis Bowers
determined to get it, and at last, after ten years, he obtained
possession of the photograph, with the help of a lawyer, and again he
looked upon the face of Ray, named Jones, with the record “horse-thief.”
The proven character of Jones did not alter the fact that he had been
killed by Bowers; nor in that part of the country did it serve as a
reason for release of Bowers; and the years went on the same as before.

Bowers’s wife had not learned to write, but the baby, Carrie, grew into
a little girl and went to school, and she wrote regularly to her father,
who was very proud of her letters. When still a little girl she was
taken into a neighbor’s family. After a time the neighbor’s wife died
and Carrie not being equal to the work of the house her mother came to
help out–so said Carrie’s letters. And Bowers, who still cherished the
home ties, was thankful that his wife and child were taken care of.
Every night he prayed for them and always he hoped for the day when he
could take them in his arms.

His letters to me were few as he wrote regularly to his daughter; but
after he had been in prison eighteen years he wrote me the joyful news
that he would be released in a few weeks, for his lawyer had proven a
faithful friend. The letter was a very happy one written in December,
and the warden had allowed Bowers to tinker up some little gifts to be
sent to the wife and daughter. “They stand in a row before me as I am
writing, _and I think they are as beautiful as butterflies_,” his letter

On his release Bowers, now a man past forty, had to begin life over
again. He had lost his place in his community, he had no money, but he
had hope and ambition, and as a good chance was offered him in the
penitentiary city he decided to take it and go right to work. He wrote
his daughter that he would arrange for her and her mother to come to
him, and there they would start a new home together.

Little did he dream of the shock awaiting him when the answer to that
letter came, telling him that for several years his wife had been
married to the man who had given Carrie a home. Both the man and the
woman had supposed that when Bowers was sent to prison for life the wife
was divorced and free to marry. She was hopeless as to her husband’s
release, and tired and discouraged with her struggle with poverty. Her
brief married life had come to seem only a memory of her youth, and she
was glad of the chance to be taken care of like other women, but a
feeling of tenderness and pity for the prisoner had caused her to
protect him from the knowledge of her inconstancy.

The second husband felt that to Bowers must be left the decision as to
the adjustment of the tangled relationships, and Bowers wrote me that he
had decided that the second husband had the stronger claim, as he had
married the woman in good faith and made her happy; one thing he
insisted upon, however–that if the present arrangement were to
continue, his former wife must take her divorce from him and be legally
married to the other man. And this was done.

To find himself another Enoch Arden was a hard blow to Bowers, but the
years of work and poverty must have wrought such changes in the girl
wife of long ago that she was lost to him forever; while the man who
came out of that prison after eighteen years of patient endurance and
the spiritual development that long acquaintance with grief sometimes
brings was a different being from the light-hearted young farmer’s boy
that the girl had married. They must inevitably have become as strangers
to each other.

With the daughter the situation was different. From childhood she had
faithfully written to an imaginary father whom she could not remember,
but with whom a real tie must have been formed through their letters;
and Carrie had now come to be near the age of the wife he had left. The
daughter was to come to him, and she must have found in the real father
something even finer than her imagination could have pictured.

Gay Bowers had been a prisoner for those eighteen years, with never a
criminal thought or intention. As human courts go he was not the victim
of injustice nor could “society” be held in any way responsible. There
was no apparent relation between his environment or his character and
his tragic experience. It was like a Greek drama where Fate rules
inexorable, but this fate was borne with the spirit of a Christian
saint. What the future years held for him I do not know, since through
carelessness on my part our correspondence was not kept up.

In another instance, with quite different threads, the hand of fate
seemed to have woven the destiny of the man, but I was slow in
perceiving that it was not merely the tragedy of the prison that was
unfolding before me but the wider drama of life itself.

Generally speaking, among my prison acquaintance there was some
correspondence between the personality of the man and his history. The
prisoner who said frankly to me, “I always cheat a man when I can,
because I know he would cheat me if he had the chance: ’tis diamond cut
diamond,” this man curiously but logically resembled a fox. And any one
could see at a glance that Gay Bowers was a man in whom was no guile.

But no clew to the complex nature of Harry Hastings was to be found in
his appearance. We had exchanged a number of letters before we met. He
wrote intelligently with but an occasional slip in spelling, and seemed
to be a man of fair education. He was in prison for life on the charge
of having shot in the street a woman of the streets; the man claimed
innocence, but I never tried to unravel the case, as the principal
witness for the defence had left the city where the shooting occurred,
and there seemed to be no starting-point for an appeal for pardon. What
the boy wanted of me–he was but little past twenty–was a channel
through which he could reach the higher things of life. Passionate
aspiration ran through all his letters, aspiration toward the true, the
beautiful, and the good. He quoted Emerson and studied George
Eliot–Romola, the woman, he criticised for being blinded to Tito’s
moral qualities by his superficial charms. He had a way of piercing to
the heart of things and finding beauty where many others would have
missed it. Music he loved above all else; and in music his memory was
haunted by “The Coulin”–a wild, despairing cry of downtrodden Ireland,
an air in which, some one has said, “Ireland gathered up her centuries
of oppression and flung it to the world in those heart-breaking
strains.” It happened that I had never heard “The Coulin” except under
my own fingers, and it struck me as a curious bit of the boy’s make-up
that this tragic music had become part of his mental endowment. He had
heard it but once, played by a German musician. Barring glimpses of the
world of music, the boy’s life had been such as to exclude him from all
the finer associations of life.

He had written me, in his second letter, that he was “coloured”; and he
had given this information as if he were confessing a crime more serious
even than murder. He really felt that he might be uncovering an
impassable chasm between us. Race prejudices are against my principles,
but I was taken aback when the writer of those interesting letters was
materialized in the person of the blackest little negro I ever saw.
“Black as the ace of spades,” was my first thought. He had no father at
that time but was devoted to his mother, who was an illiterate colored
woman. As a growing boy he had gone to a horse-race and, fired with the
ambition to become a horse-jockey, had hung around the racing-stables
until his aptitude for the business attracted the horsemen. Harry was
agile and fearless and of light weight, and when at last his ambition
was attained he told me it was the proudest day of his life; and he felt
that he had achieved glory enough to satisfy any one when the horse he
rode as jockey won the race.

The associations of the race-track formed the school of those plastic
years; and the thorn in the flesh was the nickname of “the little runt”
by which he was known among the men. The consciousness of his stunted
body and his black skin seemed seared upon his very heart, a living
horror from which there was no escape. This, far more than his fate as a
life prisoner, was the tragedy of his existence. Freedom he could hope
for; but only death could release him from his black body. He did not
despise the colored race; rather was he loyal to it; it was his
individual destiny, the fact that his life was incased in that stunted
black form that kept alive the sense of outrage. He hated to be known as
“the little runt.” He hated his coal-black skin.

Doubtless when free to mingle with colored people on the outside his
other faculties came into play, for he had the darky love of fun and
sense of humor; but the prison life cut him off from all that, and, the
surface of his nature being stifled, what dormant strains of white
ancestry might not have been aroused to activity? His skin was black,
indeed; but his features told the story of the blending with another
race. I could but feel that it was the mind of the white man that
suffered so in the body of the black–that in this prisoner the
aristocrat was chained to the slave. The love of literature, the thirst
for the higher things of life, had no connection with “Little Runt,” the
ignorant horse-jockey. Was the man dying of homesickness for the lost
plane of life?

The theosophist would tell us that Harry Hastings might have been a
reincarnation of some cruel slave-trader, merciless of the suffering he
inflicted upon his innocent victims; and possibilities of the stirring
of latent inherited memories are also suggested. Be that as it may, we
cannot solve the problem of that life in which two streams of being were
so clearly defined, where the blue blood was never merged in the black.

Harry’s handwriting was firm, clear-cut, and uniform. I lent to a friend
the most striking and characteristic of his letters, and I can give no
direct quotations from them, as they were not returned; but writing was
his most cherished resource, and he tells me that when answering my
letters he almost forgot that he was a prisoner.

The terrible ordeal of life was mercifully short to Harry Hastings. When
I saw him last, in the prison hospital, a wasted bit of humanity fast
drifting toward the shores of the unknown, with dying breath he still
asserted his innocence; but he felt himself utterly vanquished by the
decree of an adverse fate. To the mystery of death was left the clearing
of the mystery of life.

It was Hiram Johnson who taught me what a smothering, ghastly thing
prison life in America may be. One of the guards had said to me, “Hiram
Johnson is a life man who has been here for years. No one ever comes to
see him, and I think a visit would do him lots of good.” The man who
appeared in answer to the summons was a short, thick-set fellow of
thirty-five or more, with eyes reddened and disabled by marble-dust from
the shop in which he had worked for years. He smiled when I greeted him,
but had absolutely nothing to say. I found that visit hard work; the man
utterly unresponsive; answering in the fewest words my commonplace
inquiries as to his health, the shop he worked in, and how long he had
been there. Six months after I saw him again with exactly the same
experience. He had nothing to say and suggested nothing for me to say. I
knew only that he expected to see me when I came to the prison, and
after making his acquaintance I could never disappoint one of those
desolate creatures whose one point of contact with the world was the
half-hour spent with me twice a year.

When I had seen the man some half-dozen times, at the close of an
interview I said, in half-apology for my futile attempts to keep up
conversation: “I’m sorry that I haven’t been more interesting to-day; I
wanted to give you something pleasant to think of.”

“It has meant a great deal to me,” he answered. “You can’t know what it
means to a man just to know that some one remembers he is alive. That
gives me something pleasant to think about when I get back to my cell.”

We had begun correspondence at the opening of our acquaintance, but
rarely was there a line in his earlier letters to which I could make
reply or comment. Mainly made up of quotations from the Old Testament,
scriptural imprecations upon enemies seemed to be his chief mental
resource. The man considered himself “religious,” and had read very
little outside his Bible, which was little more intelligible to him than
the original Greek would have been; excepting where it dealt with

In my replies to these letters I simply aimed to give the prisoner
glimpses of something outside, sometimes incidents of our own family
life, and always the assurance that I counted him among my prison
friends, that “there was some one who remembered that he was alive.” It
was five or six years before I succeeded in extracting the short story
of his life, knowing only that he had killed some one. The moral fibre
of a man, and the sequence of events which resulted in the commission of
a crime have always interested me more than the one criminal act. One
day, in an unusually communicative mood, Johnson told me that as a child
he had lost both parents, that he grew up in western Missouri without
even learning to read, serving as chore-boy and farm-hand until he was
sixteen, when he joined the Southern forces in 1863, drifting into the
guerilla warfare. It was not through conviction but merely by chance
that he was fighting for rather than against the South; it was merely
the best job that offered itself and the killing of men was only a
matter of business. Afterward he thought a good deal about this guerilla
warfare as it related itself to his own fate, and he said to me:

“I was paid for killing men, for shooting on sight men who had never
done me any harm. The more men I killed the better soldier they called
me. When the war was over I killed one more man. I had reason this time,
good reason. The man was my enemy and had threatened to kill me, and
that’s why I shot him. But then they called me a murderer, and shut me
up for the rest of my life. I was just eighteen years old.”

Such was the brief story of Johnson’s life; such the teaching of war. In
prison the man was taught to read; in chapel he was taught that prison
was not the worst fate for the murderer; that an avenging God had
prepared endless confinement in hell-fire for sinners like him unless
they repented and propitiated the wrath of the Ruler of the Universe.
And so, against the logic of his own mind, while religion apparently
justified war, he tried to discriminate between war and murder and to
repent of taking the one life which he really felt justified in taking;
he found a certain outlet for his warlike spirit or his elemental human
desire to fight, in arraying himself on God’s side and against the
enemies of the Almighty. And no doubt he found a certain kind of
consolation in denouncing in scriptural language the enemies of the

But all this while in the depths of Johnson’s nature something else was
working; a living heart was beating and the sluggish mind was seeking an
outlet. A gradual change took place in his letters; the handwriting grew
more legible, now and again gleams of the buried life broke through the
surface, revealing unexpected tenderness toward nature, the birds, and
the flowers. Genuine poetic feeling was expressed in his efforts to
respond to my friendship, as where he writes:

“How happy would I be could I plant some thotte in the harte of my
friend that would give her pleasure for many a long day.” And when
referring to some evidence of my remembrance of my prisoners, he said:
“We always love those littel for-gett-me-nottes that bloom in the harte
of our friends all the year round. Remember that we can love that which
is lovely.”

Dwelling on the loneliness of prison life and the value of even an
occasional letter, he writes: “The kind word cheares my lonely hours
with the feelings that some one thinks of me. _Human nature seems to
have been made that way._ There are many who would soon brake down and
die without this simpathy.”

Always was there the same incongruity between the spelling and a certain
dignity of diction, which I attributed to his familiarity with the
Psalms. His affinity with the more denunciatory Psalms is still
occasionally evident, as when he closes one letter with these sentences:
“One more of my enemies is dead. The hande of God is over them all. May
he gather them all to that country where the climate is warm and the
worm dieth not!”

To me this was but the echo of fragments of Old Testament teaching. At
last came one letter in which the prisoner voiced his fate in sentences
firm and clear as a piece of sculpture. This is the letter exactly as it
was written:


“I hope this may find you well. It has bin some time since I heard
from you and I feel that I should not trespass on you too offten.
You know that whether I write or not I shall in my thottes wander
to you and shall think I heare you saying some sweet chearing word
to incourage me, and it is such a pleasant thing, too. But you know
theas stripes are like bands of steel to keep one’s mouth shut, and
the eye may not tell what the heart would say were the bondes
broken that keep the lippes shut. If one could hope and believe
that what the harte desired was true, then to think would be a
pleasure beyond anything else the world could give. But to be
contented here the soul in us must die. We must become stone

“Yourse truly,

Not for himself alone did this man speak. “To be contented here the soul
in us must die.” “We must become stone images.” From the deepest depths
of his own experience it was given to this unlettered convict to say for
all time the final word as to the fate of the “life man,” up to the
present day.

After this single outburst, if anything so restrained can be called an
outburst, Hiram Johnson subsided into much of his former immobility.
Like all “life men” he had begun his term in prison with the feeling
that it _must_ come to an end sometime. What little money he had was
given to a lawyer who drew up an application for shortening of the
sentence, the petition had been sent to the governor, and the papers,
duly filed, had long lain undisturbed in the governor’s office. When I
first met Johnson he still cherished expectations that “something would
be done” in his case, but as years rolled by and nothing was done the
tides of hope ran low. Other men sentenced during the sixties received
pardons or commutations or had died, until at last “old Hiram Johnson”
arrived at the distinction of being the only man in that prison who had
served a fifty-year sentence.

Now, a fifty-year sentence does not mean fifty years of actual time. In
different States the “good time” allowed a convict differs, this good
time meaning that by good behavior the length of imprisonment is
reduced. In the prison of which I am writing long sentences could be
shortened by nearly one-half: thus by twenty-nine years of good conduct
Johnson had served a legal sentence of fifty years. No other convict in
that prison had lived and kept his reason for twenty-nine years. Johnson
had become a figure familiar to every one in and about the place. Other
convicts came and went, but he remained; plodding along, never
complaining, never giving trouble, doing his full duty within its
circumscribed limits. Altogether he had a good record and the
authorities were friendly to him.

Hitherto I had never asked executive clemency except in cases where it
was clear that the sentence had been unjust; and I had been careful to
keep my own record high in this respect, knowing that if I had the
reputation of being ready to intercede for any one who touched my
sympathies, I should lower my standing with the governors. But it seemed
to me that Johnson, by more than half his lifetime of good conduct in
prison had established a claim upon mercy, and earned the right to be
given another chance in freedom.

I found the governor in a favorable state of mind, as in one of his late
visits to the penitentiary Johnson had been pointed out to him as the
only man who had ever served a fifty-year sentence. After looking over
the petition for pardon then on file and ascertaining that Johnson had
relatives to whom he could go, the governor decided to grant his
release. But as an unlooked-for pardon was likely to prove too much of a
shock to the prisoner the sentence was commuted to a period which would
release him in six weeks, and to me was intrusted the breaking of the
news to Johnson and the papers giving him freedom. We knew that it was
necessary for Johnson to be given time to enable his mind to grasp the
fact of coming release and to make very definite plans to be met at the
prison-gates by some one on whom he could depend, for the man of
forty-seven would find a different world from the one he left when a boy
of eighteen. It gives one a thrill to hold in one’s hands the papers
that are to open the doors of liberty to a man imprisoned for life, and
it was with a glad heart that I took the next train for the

My interview with Johnson was undisturbed by any other presence, and he
greeted me with no premonition of the meaning of the roll of white paper
that I held. Very quietly our visit began; but when Johnson was quite at
his ease, I asked: “Has anything been done about your case since I saw
you last?” “Oh, no, nothing ever will be done for me! I’ve given up all

“I had a talk with the governor about you yesterday, and he was willing
to help you. He gave me this paper which you and I will look over
together.” I watched in vain for any look of interest in his face as I
said this.

Slowly, aloud, I read the official words, Johnson’s eyes following as I
read; but his realization of the meaning of the words came with
difficulty. When I had read the date of his release we both paused; as
the light broke into his mind, he said:

“Then in January I shall be free”; another pause, while he tried to
grasp just what this would mean to him; and then, “I shall be free. Now
I can work and earn money to send you to help other poor fellows.” That
was his uppermost thought during the rest of the interview.

In the evening the Catholic chaplain, Father Cyriac, of beloved memory,
came to me with the request that I have another interview with Johnson,
saying: “The man is so distressed because in his overwhelming surprise
he forgot to thank you to-day.”

“He thanked me better than he knew,” I replied.

But of course I saw Johnson again the next day; and in this, our last
interview, he made a final desperate effort to tell me what his prison
life had been. “Behind me were stone walls, on each side of me were
stone walls, nothing before me but stone walls. And then you came and
brought hope into my life, and now you have brought freedom, and _I
cannot find words to thank you_.” And dropping his head on his folded
arms the man burst into tears, his whole body shaken with sobs. I hope
that I made him realize that there was no need of words, that when deep
calleth unto deep the heart understands in silence.

Only yesterday, turning to my writing-desk in search of something else,
I chanced across a copy of the letter I wrote to the governor after my
interview with Johnson, and as it is still warm with the feelings of
that never-to-be-forgotten experience, I insert it here:

“I cannot complete my Thanksgiving Day until I have given you the
message of thanks entrusted to me by Hiram Johnson. At first he could
not realize that the long years of prison life were actually to be
ended. It was too bewildering, like a flood of light breaking upon one
who has long been blind. And when he began to grasp the meaning of your
gift the first thing he said to me was, ‘Now I can work and earn money
to send you for some other poor fellow.’

“Not one thought of self, only of the value of liberty as a means, at
last, to do something for others. How _hard_ he tried to find words to
express his gratitude. It made my heart ache for the long, long years of
repression that had made direct expression almost impossible; and in
that thankfulness, so far too deep for words, I read, too, the measure
of how terrible the imprisoned life had been. Thank heaven and a good
governor, it will soon be over! Hiram Johnson has a generous heart and
true, and he will be a good man. And it is beautiful to know that
spiritual life can grow and unfold even under the hardest conditions.”

What life meant to Johnson afterward I do not know; but I do know that
he found home and protection with relatives on a farm, and the letters
that he wrote me indicated that he took his place among them not as an
ex-convict so much as a man ready to work for his living and entitled to
respect. Being friendly he no doubt found friends; and though he was a
man near fifty, perhaps the long-buried spirit of youth came to life
again in the light of freedom. At all events, once more the blue skies
were above him and he drew again the blessed breath of liberty. Although
he never realized his dream of helping me to help others, I never
doubted the sincerity of his desire to do so.