On a lovely evening some thirty years ago

Mr. William Ordway Partridge, in “Art for America,” says to us: “Let us
learn to look upon every child face that comes before us as a possible
Shakespeare or Michael Angelo or Beethoven. The artistic world is
rejoicing over the discovery in Greece of some beautiful fragments of
sculpture hidden far beneath the _débris_ of centuries; shall we not
rejoice more richly when we are able to dig down beneath the surface of
the commonest child that comes to us from our great cities, and discover
and develop that faculty in him which is to make him fit to live in
usefulness with his fellow men? Seeking for these qualities in the child
we shall best conserve, as is done in physical nature, the highest type,
until we have raised all human life to a higher level.”

I hope that some day Mr. Partridge will write a plea for elementary art
classes in our prisons. For in every prison there are gifted men and
boys whose special talents might be so trained and developed as to
change the channel of their lives. What chances our prisons have with
these wards of the state, to discover and develop the individual powers
that might make their owners self-respecting and self-supporting men!

We are doing this in our institutions for the feeble-minded and with
interesting results, but in our prisons the genius of a Michael Angelo
might be stifled–the musical gift of a Chopin doomed to eternal

Mr. Partridge’s belief in the latent possibilities in our common
children went to my heart, because I had known Anton Zabrinski; and yet
I can never think of Anton Zabrinski as a common child.

The story of his life is brief; but his few years enclosed the circle of
childhood, youth, aspiration, hope, horror, tragedy, pain, and death;
and all the beautiful possibilities of his outward life were blighted.

Anton’s home was in the west side of Chicago, in that region where
successive unpronounceable names above doors and across windows assure
one that Poland is not lost but scattered.

In back rooms in the third story of the house lived the Zabrinski
family, the father and mother with Anton and his sister two years
younger. The mother was terribly crippled from an accident in childhood,
and was practically a prisoner in her home. Anton, her only son, was the
idol of her heart.

When scarcely more than a child Anton began work tailoring. He learned
rapidly, and when sixteen years old was so skilful a worker that he
earned twelve dollars a week. This energy and skill, accuracy of
perception and sureness of touch, gave evidence of a fine organization.
His was an elastic, joyous nature, but his growth was stunted, his whole
physique frail; sensitive and shy, he shrank with nervous timidity from
contact with the stronger, rougher, coarser-fibred boys of the
neighborhood. Naturally this served only to make Anton a more tempting
target for their jokes.

Two of these boys in particular played upon his fears until they became
an actual terror in his existence; though the boys doubtless never
imagined the torture they were inflicting, nor dreamed that he really
believed they intended to injure him. It happened one evening that Anton
was going home alone from an entertainment, when these two boys suddenly
jumped out from some hiding-place and seized him, probably intending
only to frighten him. Frighten him they did, out of all bounds and
reason. In his frantic efforts to get away from them Anton opened his
pocket-knife and struck out blindly. But in this act of self-defence he
mortally wounded one of the boys.

Anton Zabrinski did not go back to his mother that night; this gentle,
industrious boy, doing the work and earning the wages of a man, had
become, in the eye of the law, a murderer. I have written “in the eye of
the law”; a more accurate statement would be “in the eye of the court,”
for under fair construction of the law this could only have been a case
of manslaughter; but—-

I once asked one of Chicago’s most eminent judges why in clear cases of
manslaughter so many times men were charged with murder and tried for
murder. The judge replied: “Because it is customary in bringing an
indictment to make the largest possible net in which to catch the

Anton Zabrinski had struck out with his knife in the mere animal
instinct of self-defence. The real moving force of evil in the tragedy
was the love of cruel sport actuating the larger boys–a passion leading
to innumerable crimes. Were the moral origin of many of our crimes laid
bare we should clearly see that the final act of violence was but a
result–the rebound of an evil force set in motion from an opposite
direction. It sometimes happens that it is the slayer who is the victim
of the slain. But to the dead, who have passed beyond the need of our
mercy, we are always merciful.

Had an able lawyer defended Anton he never would have been convicted on
the charge of murder; but the family was poor, and, having had no
experience with the courts, ignorantly expected fairness and justice.
Anton was advised to plead guilty to the charge of murder, and was given
to understand that if he did so the sentence would be light. Throwing
himself upon “the mercy of the court,” the boy pleaded “guilty.” He was
informed that “the mercy of the court” would inflict the sentence of
imprisonment for life. It chanced that in the court-room another judge
was present whose sense of justice, as well as of mercy, was outraged by
this severity. Moved with compassion for the undefended victim he
protested against the impending sentence and induced the presiding judge
to reduce it to thirty years. Thirty years! A lifetime indeed to the
imagination of a boy of seventeen. The crippled mother, with her heart
torn asunder, was left in the little back room where she lived, while
Anton was taken to Joliet penitentiary.

It did not seem so dreadful when first it came in sight–that great
gray-stone building, with its broad, hospitable entrance through the
warden house; but when the grated doors closed behind him with
relentless metallic clang, in that sound Anton realized the death-knell
of freedom and happiness. And later when, for the first night, the boy
found himself alone in a silent, “solitary”[8] cell, then came the
agonizing homesickness of a loving young heart torn from every natural
tie. Actually but two hours distant was home, the little back room
transfigured to a heaven through love and the yearning cry of his heart;
but the actual two hours had become thirty years of prison in the
future. The prison life itself was but a dumb, unshapen dread in his
imagination. And the unmeaning mystery and cruelty and horror of his
fate! Why, his whole life covered but seventeen years, of which memory
could recall not more than twelve; he knew they were years of
innocence, and then years of faithful work and honest aims until that
one night of horror, when frightened out of his senses he struck wildly
for dear life. And then he had become that awful thing, a murderer, and
yet without one thought of murder in his heart. If God knew or cared,
how could he have let it all happen? And now he must repent or he never
could be forgiven. And yet how could he repent, when he had meant to do
no wrong; when his own quivering agony was surging through heart and
mind and soul; when he was overwhelmed with the black irrevocableness of
it all, and the sense of the dark, untrodden future? One night like
that, it holds the sufferings of an ordinary lifetime.

We who have reached our meridian know that life means trial and
disappointment, but to youth the bubble glows with prismatic color; and
to Anton it had all been blotted into blackness through one moment of
deadly fear.

When young convicts are received at Joliet penitentiary it is customary
for the warden to give them some chance for life and for development
physically and mentally. They are usually given light work, either as
runners for the shops or helpers in the kitchens or dining-rooms, where
they have exercise, fresh air, and some variety in employment. Anton
came to the prison when there was a temporary change of wardens, and it
happened when he was taken from the “solitary” cell where he passed the
first night that he was put to work in the marble-shop, a hard place for
a full-grown man. He was given also a companion in his cell when
working-hours were over.

As he became fully adjusted to prison life he learned a curious thing:
on the outside crime had been the exception, a criminal was looked upon
as one apart from the community; but in this strange, unnatural prison
world it was crime which formed the common basis of equality, the tie of

And again, the tragedy of his own fate, which had seemed to him to fill
the universe, lost its horrible immensity in his imagination as he came
to realize that every man wearing that convict suit bore in his heart
the wound or the scar of tragedy or of wrong inflicted or experienced.
He had believed that nothing could be so terrible as to be separated
from home and loved ones; but learned to wonder if it were not more
terrible never to have known loved ones or home.

When his cell-mate estimated the “good time” allowance on a sentence of
thirty years, Anton found that by good behavior he could reduce this
sentence to seventeen years. That really meant something to live for. He
thought he should be almost an old man if he lived to be
thirty-three–something like poor old Peter Zowar who had been in prison
twenty-five years; but no prisoner had ever lived there thirty years;
and this reduction to seventeen years meant to Anton the difference
between life and death. Even the seventeen years’ distance from home
began to be bridged when his sister Nina came to see him, bringing him
the oranges and bananas indelibly associated with the streets of
Chicago, or cakes made by his own mother’s hands and baked in the oven
at home.

Life in prison became more endurable, too, when he learned that
individual skill in every department of work was recognized, and that
sincerity and faithfulness counted for something even in a community of
criminals. Praise was rare, communication in words was limited to the
necessities of work; but in some indefinable way character was
recognized and a friendly attitude made itself felt and warmed the
heart; and the nature so sensitive to harshness was quick to perceive
and to respond to kindness.

It is hard to be in prison when a boy, but the older convicts regard
these boys with compassion, touched by something in them akin to their
own lost youth, or perhaps to children of their own. Little Anton looked
no older and was no larger than the average boy of fourteen; and to the
older men he seemed a child.

Human nature is human nature, and youth is youth in spite of bolts and
bars. The springtime of life was repressed in Anton, but it was working
silently within him, and silently there was unfolding a power not given
to all of us. His work in the marble-shop was readily learned, for the
apprenticeship at tailoring had trained his eye and hand, and steadfast
application had become habitual. As his ability was recognized
ornamental work on marble was assigned him. At first he followed the
patterns as did the ordinary workmen; these designs suggested to him
others; then he obtained permission to work out the beautiful lines that
seemed always waiting to form themselves under his hand, and the
patterns were finally set aside altogether. The art impulse within him
was astir and finding expression, and as time passed he was frankly
recognized as the best workman in the shop.

He was homesick still, always homesick, but fresh interest had come
into his existence, for unawares the spirit of beauty had come to be the
companion of his working-hours. He did not recognize her. He had never
heard of art impulses. But he found solid human pleasure and took simple
boyish pride in the individuality and excellence of his work.

The first year and the second year of his imprisonment passed: the days
dawning, darkening, and melting away, as like to one another as beads
upon a string, each one counted into the past at night as meaning one
day less of imprisonment. But toward the end of the second year the
hours began to drag interminably, and Anton’s interest in his work
flagged. He became restless, the marble dust irritated his lungs, and a
cough, at first unnoticed, increased until it constantly annoyed him.
Then his rest at night was broken by pain in his side, and at last the
doctor ordered him to be removed from the marble-shop. It was a frail
body at best, and the confinement, the unremitting work, the total lack
of air and exercise had done their worst; and all resisting physical
power was undermined.

No longer able to work, Anton was relegated to the “idle room.” Under
the wise rule of recent wardens the idle room has happily become a thing
of the past, but for years it was a feature of the institution, owing
partly to limited hospital accommodations. By the prisoners generally
this idle room, called by them the “dreary room,” was looked upon as the
half-way station between the shops and the grave. Most cheerless and
melancholy was this place where men too far gone in disease to work, men
worn out in body and broken in spirit, waited together day after day
until their maladies developed sufficiently for them to be considered
fit subjects for hospital care. Usually no reading-matter was allowed,
and free social intercourse was of course forbidden, although the
inmates occasionally indulged in the luxury of comparing diseases. Under
the strain of that deadening monotony courage failed, and to many a man
indifferent to his own fate the sight of the hopelessness of others was
heart-breaking. The influence of the idle room was not quite so
depressing when Anton came within its circle, for a light industry had
just been introduced there, and some of the inmates were employed.

And at this time Anton was beginning to live in a day-dream. His
cell-mate, a young man serving a twenty years’ sentence, was confidently
expecting a pardon; pardons became the constant theme of talk between
the two when the day was over, and Anton’s faith in his own possible
release kindled and glowed with the brightening prospects of his friend.
Hope, that strange characteristic of tuberculosis, flamed the higher as
disease progressed; with the hectic flush there came into his eyes a
more brilliant light, and a stronger power to look beyond the prison to
dear liberty and home. Even the shadow of the idle room could not dim
the light of his imagination. No longer able to carve his fancies on
stone, he wove them into beautiful patterns for life in freedom. The
hope of a pardon is in the air in every prison. Anton wrote to his
family and talked with his sister about it, and though he made no
definite beginning every day his faith grew stronger.

It was at this time that I met Anton. I was visiting at the
penitentiary, and during a conversation with a young English convict, a
semi-protégé of Mary Anderson, the actress, this young man said to me:
“I wish you knew my cell-mate.” I replied that I already knew too many
men in that prison. “But if you would only see little Anton I know _you
would be mashed in a minute_,” the Englishman confidently asserted. As
to that probability I was sceptical, but I was impressed by the
earnestness of the young man as he sketched the outline of Anton’s story
and urged me to see him. I remember that he made a point of this: “The
boy is so happy thinking that he will get a pardon sometime, but he will
die here if somebody doesn’t help him soon.” To gratify the Englishman I
consented to see the happy boy who was in danger of dying.

An attractive or interesting face is rare among the inmates of our
prisons. The striped convict suit, which our so-called Christian
civilization so long inflicted upon fellow men, in itself gave an air of
degradation,[9] and the repression of all animation tends to produce an
expression of almost uniform dulness. Notwithstanding his cell-mate’s
enthusiasm I was thrilled with surprise, and something deeper than
surprise, when I saw Anton Zabrinski. The beauty of that young Polish
prisoner shone like a star above the degrading convict suit. It was the
face of a Raphael, with the broad brow and the large, luminous,
far-apart eyes of darkest blue, suggesting in their depths all the
beautiful repressed possibilities–eyes radiant with hope and with
childlike innocence and trust. My heart was instantly vibrant with
sympathy, and we were friends with the first hand-clasp. The artistic
temperament was as evident in the slender, highly developed hands as in
his face.

At a glance I saw that his fate was sealed; but his spirit of hope was
irresistible and carried me on in its own current for the hour. Anton
was like a happy child, frankly and joyfully opening his heart to a
friend whom he seemed always to have known. That bright hour was
unclouded by any dark forebodings in regard to illness or an obdurate
governor. We talked of pardon and freedom and home and happiness. I did
not speak to him of repentance or preparation for death. I felt that
when the summons came to that guileless spirit it could only be a
summons to a fuller life.

During our interview the son of the new warden came in, and I called his
attention to Anton. It was charming to see the cordial, friendly fashion
in which this young man[10] talked to the prisoner, asking where he
could be found and promising to do what he could for him, while Anton
felt that at last he was touching the hand of Providence. The new
authorities had not been there long enough to know many of the convicts
individually, but at dinner that day the warden’s son interested his
father in Anton by recounting their conversation that morning. The
warden’s always ready sympathy was touched. “Take the boy out of that
idle room,” he said, “take him around the yard with you to see the dogs
and horses.” This may not have been discipline, but it was delightfully
human–and humanizing.

When I left the prison I was assured that I could depend upon the
warden’s influence in furthering my purpose of realizing Anton’s dream,
his faith and hope of pardon. The following Sunday in Chicago I found
the Zabrinski family, father, mother, and the young sister, in their
third-story back rooms. On the wall hung a framed photograph of Anton as
a little child. The mother did not speak very clear English, but she
managed to repeat, over and over again: “Anton was so good; always he
was such a good boy.” The young sister, a tailoress, very trim in her
dark-blue Sunday gown, discussed intelligently ways and means of
obtaining her brother’s release.

Our plans worked smoothly, and a few weeks later, when all Chicago was
given over to the World’s Fair, the desire of Anton’s heart came true
and he was restored to home and freedom. Or, as the newspapers would
have put it: “Our anarchist governor let loose another murderer to prey
upon society.” Poor little murderer! In all that great city there was no
child more helpless or harmless than he.

The image of little Anton Zabrinski, as of the prison itself, grew faint
in my heart for the time, under the spell of the long enchanting summer
days and magical evenings at the White City.

The interest and the beauty of that fusion of all times and all
countries was so absorbing and irresistible that I had stayed on and on
until one day in July when I braced myself for the wrench of departure
next morning. But the evening mail brought me letters from home and
among them one forwarded from Anton, entreating me to come and see him.
I had not counted on being remembered by Anton except as a milestone on
his path toward freedom–I might have counted on it, however, after my
many experiences of the gratitude of prisoners–but his longing to see
me was unmistakable; and as I had broken my word so many times about
going home that my reputation for unreliability in that direction could
not be lowered, I sent a final telegram of delay.–Oh, luxury of having
no character to lose!

The next morning I took an early start for the home of the Zabrinskis.
In a little back yard–a mere patch of bare ground without the
possibility of a blade of grass, with no chance of even looking at the
sky unless one lay on one’s back, with uniform surroundings of back
doors and back stairs–what a contrast to that dream of beauty at
Jackson Park!–here it was that I found Anton, listlessly sitting on a
bench with a little dog as companion. All hope and animation seemed to
have died out within him; even the lights in his deep-blue eyes had
given way to shadows; strength and courage had ebbed away, and he had
yielded at last to weariness and depression. He had left the prison,
indeed, but only to face death; he had come back to his home, only to be
carried away from it forever. Even his mother’s loving care could not
stop that racking cough nor free him from pain. And how limited the
longed-for freedom proved! It had reached out from his home only to the
hospital dispensary. Weakness and poverty formed impassable barriers
beyond which he could not go.

As I realized all this I resolved to give him the most lovely vision in
the world to think of and to dream of. “Anton,” I said, “how would you
like to take a steamer and go on the lake with me to see the World’s
Fair from the water?”–for him to attempt going on the grounds was not
to be thought of.

For a moment he shrank from the effort of getting to the steamer, but
after considering it for a while in silence he announced: “When I make
up my mind that I will do a thing, I do it; I will go with you.” Then we
unfolded our plan for adventure to the mother. Rather wild she thought
it, but our persuasive eloquence won the day and she consented,
insisting only that we should partake of refreshments before starting on
our expedition. With the connivance of a neighbor on the next floor Mrs.
Zabrinski obtained a delicious green-apple pie from a bakery near by and
served it for our delectation.

I find that already the noble lines, with their beautiful lights and
shadows, in the Court of Honor of the White City are blending into an
indistinct memory; but the picture of Anton Zabrinski as he leaned back
in his chair on the steamer, breathing the delicious pure, fresh air,
sweeping his glance across the boundless plain of undulating blue, will
be with me forever. Here at last was freedom! And how eagerly the boy’s
perishing being drank it in!

There was everything going on around us to divert and amuse: crowds of
people, of course, and a noisy band of musicians; but it all made no
impression upon Anton. We two were practically alone with the infinite
sky and the far-stretching water. It was easy then for Anton to tell me
of his deeper thoughts, and to speak of the change that he knew was
coming soon. Life had been so hard, only fruitless effort and a losing
battle, and now he longed only for rest. He had felt the desire to give
expression to beautiful form, he had felt the stirring of undeveloped
creative power. We spoke of the future not as death but as the coming of
new life and as the opportunity for the fair unfolding of all the higher
possibilities of his nature–as freedom from all fetters. His faith,
simple but serious, rested upon his consciousness of having, in his
inmost soul, loved and sought the good. His outward life was hopelessly
wrecked; but he was going away from that, and it was his soul, his true
inner life, that would appear before God. It was all a mystery and he
was helpless, but he was not afraid. _He had forgiven life._

As we talked together the steamer neared the pier at Jackson Park. “And
now, Anton, you must go to the other side of the boat and see the
beautiful White City,” I said. It was like alabaster in its clear
loveliness that radiant morning, and all alive with the lilting colors
of innumerable flags. It was Swedish day, and a most gorgeous procession
in national costume thronged the dock as our steamer approached, for we
had on board some important delegation. A dozen bands were playing and
the grand crash of sound and the brilliant massing of color thrilled me
to my fingertips. But Anton only looked at it for a moment with unseeing
eyes: it was too limited; it was the stir and sound and crowd of the
city. He turned again eagerly to the great sweep of sky and water; “You
don’t know what this lake and this fresh air are to me,” he said
quietly, and he looked no more toward the land until we had returned to
Van Buren Street.

After we left the steamer Anton threw off the spell of the water. He
insisted on my taking a glass of soda with him from one of the fountains
on the dock; it was his turn to be entertainer now. I drank the soda and
live to tell the tale. By that time we had caught the bohemian spirit of
the World’s Fair, Anton was revived and excited by the hour on the
water, and as we crossed over to Michigan Avenue the brilliant life of
the street attracted and charmed him, and I proposed walking slowly down
to the Auditorium Hotel. Every step of the way was a delight to Anton,
and when we reached the great hotel I waited in the ladies’
reception-room while Anton strolled through the entrances and office,
looking at the richly blended tones of the marbles and the decoration in
white and gold. I knew that it would be one more fresh and lovely memory
for him to carry back to the little rooms where the brief remnant of his
life was to be spent.

At an adjoining flower-stand we found sweet peas for his mother. I saw
him safely on board the car that would take him to his home; then, with
a parting wave of his hand and a bright, happy smile of farewell, little
Anton Zabrinski passed out of my sight.

Through the kindness of a friend I had the very great happiness of
sending Anton a pass, “For bearer and one,” that gave him, with an
escort, the freedom of the World’s Fair steamers for the summer–the
greatest possible boon to the boy, for even when too weak to go to the
steamer he could still cherish the expectation of that delight.

Anton’s strength failed rapidly. He wrote me one letter saying: “I can
die happy now that I am with my mother. I thank you a thousand times
over and over for your kind feeling towards me and the kind words in
your letters, and the charming rose you sent. I cannot write a long
letter on account of my pains through my whole chest. I can’t turn
during the night from one side to another. Dear Friend, I don’t like to
tell my misery and sorrows to persons, but I can’t help telling you.”

Another letter soon followed, but not from Anton. It was the sister who


“With deep sorrow I inform you of my dear brother’s death. He died
at four o’clock in the morning. He had a great desire to see you
before he died. We should be glad to see you at the funeral if
convenient Wednesday morning.

“Pardon this poor letter
“from your loving friend


[8] These “solitary” cells in which a prisoner passed his first night
were in a detached building in which the punishment cells were located.
The solitude was absolute and terrible.

[9] The striped convict suit was practically abolished at Joliet the
following year.

[10] This young man, Edmund M. Allen, is now warden of this same prison,
and has so developed the humanizing methods of his father as to bring
Joliet penitentiary into the front rank of progressive prison reform.

On a lovely evening some thirty years ago there was a jolly wedding at
the home of a young Irish girl in a Western city. Tom Evans, the groom,
a big-hearted, jovial fellow, was deeply in love with the girl of his
choice. He was earning good wages and he intended to take good care of
his wife.

It was midnight, and the streets were flooded with brilliant moonlight
when Evans started to take his bride from her home to his, accompanied
on the way by Jim Maguire, Larry Flannigan, and Ned Foster, three of the
wedding guests. They were not carriage folks and were walking to the
street-car when Jim Maguire, who had not been averse to the exhilarating
liquids in hospitable circulation at the wedding feast, became unduly
hilarious and disported himself with song and dance along the
sidewalk–a diversion in which the others took no part. This hilarity
was summarily interrupted by a policeman, who attempted to arrest the
young man for disorderly conduct, a proceeding vigorously resisted by

This was the beginning of an affray in which the policeman was killed,
and the whole party were arrested and taken into custody. As the
policeman was well known, one of the most popular men on the force,
naturally public indignation ran high and the feeling against his
slayers was bitter and violent.

Tom Evans and Jim Maguire were held for murder, while Larry Flannigan, a
boy of seventeen, and Ned Foster, as participants in the affair, were
charged with manslaughter. The men were given fair trials–separate
trials, I believe–in different courts, but it was impossible to get at
the facts of the case, as there were no actual witnesses outside of
those directly affected by the outcome; while each lawyer for the
defence did his best to clear his own client from direct responsibility
for the death of the policeman, regardless of the deserts of the others
under accusation.

And so it came to pass that Jim Maguire and Tom Evans were “sent up” for
life, while the bride of an hour returned to her father’s house and in
the course of time became the bride of another. Larry Flannigan was
sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Ned Foster, having served a
shorter sentence, was released previous to my acquaintance with the

Some five years later one of the prison officers interested in Jim
Maguire asked me to interview the man. Maguire was a tall, muscular
fellow, restive under confinement as a hound in leash; nervous, too, and
with abounding vitality ready at a moment’s notice again to break out in
song and dance if only the chance were given. This very overcharge of
high animal spirits, excited by the wedding festivities, was the
starting-point of all the tragedy. No doubt, too, in his make-up there
were corresponding elements of recklessness and defiance.

Our first interview was the beginning of an acquaintance resulting in an
interchange of letters; but it was not until a year afterward that in a
long conversation Maguire gave me an account of his part in the midnight
street encounter. Admitting disorderly conduct and resistance against
the officer, he claimed that it was resistance only and not a counter
attack; stating that the struggle between the two continued until the
officer had the upper hand and then continued beating him into
subjection so vigorously that Maguire called for help and was rescued
from the hands of the officer by “one of the other boys.” He did not say
which one nor further implicate any one.

“Ask the other boys,” he said. “Larry didn’t have anything to do with
the killing, but he saw the whole thing. Get Larry to tell the story,”
he urged.

And so I was introduced to Larry. He was altogether of another type from
Maguire. I hardly knew whether he wore the convict stripes or broadcloth
when I was looking into that face, so sunny, so kindly, so frank. After
all these years I can never think of Larry without a glow in my heart.
He alone, of all my prisoners, appeared to have no consciousness of
degradation, of being a convict; but met me simply and naturally as if
we had been introduced at a picnic.

I told him of my interview with Jim Maguire and his immediate comment
was: “Jim ought not to be here; he resisted arrest but he did not kill
the officer; he’s here for life and it’s wrong, it’s terrible. I hope
you will do something for Jim.”

“But what of yourself?” I asked; “you seem to have been outside of the
affair altogether. I think I’d better do something for you.”

“Oh, no!” he protested, “you can get one man out easier than two. I
want to see Jim out, and I don’t want to stand in his way. You know I am
innocent, and all my friends believe me innocent, and I’m young and well
and can stand my sentence; it will be less than ten years with good time
off. My record is perfect and I shall get along all right. But Jim is
here for life.”

I felt as if I were dreaming. I knew it would be a simple matter to
obtain release for Larry, who had already been there six years, but no,
the boy would not consider that, would not even discuss it. His thought
was all for Jim, and he was unconscious of self-sacrifice. He simply set
aside what seemed to him the lesser good in order to secure the greater.

“Did you ever make a full statement in court?” I asked.

“No. We were only allowed to answer direct questions in the
examinations. None of us were given a chance to tell the straight

“So the straight story never came out at any of the trials?”


Thinking it high time that the facts of a case in which two men were
suffering imprisonment for life should be ascertained and put on record
somewhere, it then remained for me to interview Evans, and to see how
nearly the statements of the three men agreed, each given to me in
private six years after the occurrence of the event.

Tom Evans–I see him now clearly as if it were but yesterday–a
thick-set, burly figure with an intelligent face of good lines and
strong character; a man of force who from his beginning as brakesman
might have worked his way up to superintending a railroad, had the plan
of his destiny been different.

I told him frankly that I had asked to see him in the interest of the
other two, and that what I wanted first of all was to get the facts of
the case, for the tragedy was still a “case” to me.

“And you want me to tell the story?” I felt the vibration of restrained
emotion in the man from the first as he pictured the drama enacted in
that midnight moonlight.

“I had just been married and we were going to my home. The streets were
light as day. Jim was singing and dancing, when the policeman seized
him. I saw there was going to be a fight and I made up my mind to keep
out of it; for when I let my temper go it gets away with me. So I stood
back with my girl. Jim called for help but I stood back till I really
believed Jim might be killed. I couldn’t stand by and see a friend
beaten to death, or take any chance of that. And so I broke into the
fight. I got hold of the policeman’s club and began to beat the
policeman. I am a strong man and I can strike a powerful blow.”

Here Evans paused, and there was silence between us until he said with a
change of tone and expression:

“It was Larry who came to the help of the policeman and got the club
away from me. It’s Larry that ought to be out. Jim made the trouble and
I killed the policeman, but Larry is wholly innocent. He is the one I
want to see out.”

At last we were down to bed-rock; there was no doubt now of the facts
which the clumsy machinery of the courts had failed to reach.

I assured Evans that I would gladly do what I could for Larry, and then
and there Evans and I joined hands to help “the other boys.” I realized
something of the sacrifice involved when I asked Evans if he was willing
to make a sworn statement in the presence of the warden of the facts he
had given me. What a touchstone of the man’s nature! But he was
following the lead of truth and justice and there was no turning back.

We all felt that it was a serious transaction in the warden’s office
next day when Evans came in and, after a little quiet conversation with
the warden, made and signed a statement to the effect that he, and he
only, struck the blows that killed the policeman, and with hand on the
Bible made oath to the truth of the statement, which was then signed, as
witnesses, by the warden and a notary.

As Evans left the office the warden said to me: “Something ought to be
done for that man also when the other boys are out.”

I knew that in securing this confession I had committed myself to all
the necessary steps involved before the prison doors could be opened to
Maguire and Larry. And in my heart I was already pledged to befriend the
man who, with unflinching courage, had imperilled his own chances of
liberation in favor of the others; for I was now beginning to regard
Evans as the central figure in the tragedy.

It is no brief nor simple matter to obtain the release of a man
convicted of murder by the court and sentenced to life imprisonment
unless one has political influence strong enough to override all
obstacles. Almost endless are the delays likely to occur and the details
to be worked out before one has in hand all the threads necessary to be
woven into the fabric of a petition for executive clemency.

In order to come directly in touch with the families of Larry and
Maguire, and with the competent lawyer already enlisted in their service
and now in possession of the statement of Evans, I went to the city
where the crime was committed. The very saddest face that I had seen in
connection with this affair was the face of Maguire’s widowed mother.
She was such a little woman, with spirit too crushed and broken by
poverty and the fate of her son to revive even at the hope of his
release. It was only the ghost of a smile with which she greeted me; but
when we parted her gratitude called down the blessings of all the saints
in the calendar to follow me all my days.

Larry’s people I found much the same sort as he, cheerful, generous,
bravely meeting their share of the hard luck that had befallen him,
apparently cherishing the treasure of his innocence more than resenting
the injustice, but most grateful for any assistance toward his
liberation. The lawyer who had interviewed Larry and Maguire at the
penitentiary expressed amazement at what he called “the unbelievable
unselfishness” of Larry. “I did not suppose it possible to find that
spirit anywhere, last of all in a prison,” he said. Larry had consented
to be included on the petition drawn up for Maguire only when convinced
that it would not impair Maguire’s chances.

When I left the place the lines appeared to be well laid for the smooth
running of our plans. I do not now remember what prevented the
presentation of the petition for commutation of both sentences to
twelve[11] years; but more than a year passed before the opportune time
seemed to be at hand.

During this interval Evans was by no means living always in
disinterested plans for the benefit of the others. The burden of his own
fate hung heavily over him and no one in the prison was more athirst for
freedom than he. In books from the prison library he found some
diversion, and when tired of fiction he turned to philosophy, seeking to
apply its reasoning to his own hard lot; again, he sought in the poets
some expression and interpretation of his own feelings. It was in the
ever welcome letters that he found most actual pleasure, but he
encountered difficulties in writing replies satisfactory to himself. In
a letter now before me he says:

“I only wish that I could write as I feel, then indeed would you receive
a gem; but I can’t, more’s the pity. But I can peruse and cherish your
letters, and if I dare I would ask you to write oftener. Just think, the
idea strikes me that I am writing to an _authorous_, me that never could
spell a little bit. But the authorous is my friend, is she not, and will
overlook this my defect. I have done the best I could to write a nice
letter and I hope it will please you, but, in the words of Byron,

“‘What is writ is writ:
Would it were worthier. But I am not now
That which I have been, and my visions flit
Less palpably before me, and the glow
Which in my spirit dwelt is fluttering faint and low.’

“With the last line of your letter I close, ‘write soon, will you not?'”

Evans’s letters to me were infrequent, as he kept in correspondence with
his lawyers, who encouraged him to hope that he would not spend all his
life behind the bars. Others, too, claimed his letters. He writes me:

“I have a poor old mother who expects and always gets my Christmas
letters, but I resolved that you should have my first New Years letter,
so here it is, wishing you a happy new year and many of them. No doubt
you had many Christmas letters from here telling you of the time we had,
and a _jolly good time_ it was. It is awfully dark here in the cells to
day and I can hardly see the lines to write on. I hope you won’t have as
much trouble in reading it.” The handwriting in Evans’s letters is
vigorous, clear, and open; a straightforward, manly hand, without frills
or flourishes.

Just as I was leaving home for one of my semi-annual visits to the
penitentiary, I had information from their lawyer that the petition for
Maguire and Larry would be presented to the governor the following
month. Very much elated with the good news I was bringing I asked first
for an interview with Evans. He came in, evidently in very good spirits,
but as I proceeded to relate with enthusiasm what we had accomplished I
felt an increasing lack of response on the part of Evans and saw the
light fading from his face.

“O Miss Taylor,” he said at last, with such a note of pain in his voice,
“you know my lawyers have been working for me all this time. Of course I
told them of the statement I made in the warden’s office, and then left
the case in their hands. One of them was here yesterday and has a
petition now ready asking that my sentence be reduced to fifteen years.
Now if the other petition goes in first—-”

There was no need to finish the sentence for the conflict of interests
was clear; and Evans was visibly unnerved. We talked together for a long
time. While unwilling to influence his decision I realized that, if his
petition should have first consideration and be granted, the value of
that confession, so important to the others, would be impaired, and the
chances of Maguire’s release lessened; for the governors are wary in
accepting as evidence the confession of a man who has nothing to lose.
On the other hand, I had not the heart to quench the hopes that Evans’s
lawyers had kindled. And in answer to his question, “What shall I do?” I
could only say: “That is for you to decide.”

At last Evans pulled himself together enough to say: “Well, I’m not
going back on the boys now. I didn’t realize just how my lawyers’
efforts were going to affect them. I’m going to leave the matter in your
hands, for I know you will do what is right.” And this he insisted on.

“Whatever course may seem best to take now, Tom, after this I shall
never rest till I see you, too, out of prison,” was my earnest

There had been such a spirit of fair play among these men that I next
laid the case before Maguire and Larry, and we three held a consultation
as to the best line of action. They, too, appreciated the generosity of
Evans and realized, far more than I could, what it might cost him.
Doubtless each one of the three felt the strong pull of self-interest;
but there was no faltering in their unanimous choice of a square deal
all around. One thing was clear, the necessity of bringing about an
understanding and concerted action between the lawyers whose present
intentions so seriously conflicted. The advice and moral support of the
warden had been invaluable to me, and he and I both felt, if the lawyers
could be induced to meet at the prison and consult not only with each
other but with their three clients, if they could only come in direct
touch with these convicts and realize that they were men who wanted to
do the right thing and the fair thing, that a petition could be drawn
placing Evans and Maguire on the same footing, and asking the same
reduction of sentence for both; while Larry in justice was entitled to a
full pardon. I still believe that if this course had been taken both
petitions would have been granted. But lawyers in general seem to have a
constitutional aversion to short cuts and simple measures, and Evans’s
lawyers made no response to any overtures toward co-operation.

At about this time occurred a change in the State administration, with
the consequent inevitable delay in the consideration of petitions for
executive clemency; as it was considered impolitic for the newly elected
governor to begin his career by hasty interference with the decision of
the courts, or too lenient an attitude toward convicts.

Then ensued that period of suspense which seems fairly to corrode the
heart and nerves of the long-time convict. The spirit alternates between
the fever of hope and the chill of despair. Men pray then who never
prayed before. The days drag as they never dragged before; and when
evening comes the mind cannot occupy itself with books while across the
printed page the same questions are ever writing themselves: “Shall I
hear to-morrow?” “Will the governor grant or refuse my petition?” One
closes the book only to enter the restless and wearisome night,
breathing the dead air of the prison cell, listening to the tread of the
guard in the corridor. Small wonder would it be if in those midnight
hours Evans cursed the day in which he declared that he alone killed the
policeman; but neither in his letters to me nor in his conversation was
there ever an indication of regret for that action. The Catholic
chaplain of the prison was truly a good shepherd and comforter to his
flock, and it was real spiritual help and support that he gave to the
men. His advice at the confessional may have been the seed from which
sprung Evans’s resolve to clear his own conscience and exonerate the
others when the opportunity came.

Maguire never fluctuated in his confidence that freedom was on the way,
but he was consumed with impatience; Larry alone, who never sought
release, bided his time in serene cheerfulness.

And the powers that be accepted Larry’s sacrifice; for so long was the
delay in the governor’s office that Maguire was released on the day on
which Larry’s sentence expired. The world looked very bright to Jim
Maguire and Larry Flannigan as they passed out of the prison doors into
liberty together. Maguire took up life again in his old environment, not
very successfully, I have reason to think. But Larry made a fresh start
in a distant city, unhampered by the fact that he was an ex-convict.

It was then that the deadly blight of prison life began to throw its
pall over Evans, and the long nervous strain to undermine his health. He
wrote me:

“I am still working at the old job, and I can say with truth that my
antipathy to it increases each day. I am sick and tired of writing to
lawyers for the last two years, and it amounted to nothing. I will
gladly turn the case over to you if you can do anything with it.”

The event proved that these lawyers were interested in their case, but
politically they were in opposition to the governor and had no
influence; nor did I succeed better in making the matter crystallize.

I had always found Evans animated and interested in whatever we were
talking about until one interview when he had been in prison about
thirteen years, all that time on prison contract work. The change in his
appearance was evident when he came into the room. He seated himself
listlessly, and my heart sank, for too well I knew that dull apathy to
which the long-time men succumb. Now, knowing with what glad
anticipation he had formerly looked forward to our interviews, I was
determined that the hour should not pass without leaving some pleasant
memory; but it was twenty minutes or more before the cloud in his eyes
lifted and the smile with which he had always greeted me appeared. His
whole manner changed as he said: “Why, Miss Taylor, I am just waking up,
beginning to realize that you are here. My mind is getting so dull that
nothing seems to make any impression any more.” He was all animation for
the rest of the time, eagerly drinking in the joy of sympathetic
companionship.–What greater joy does life give?

But I had taken the alarm, for clearly the man was breaking down, and I
urged the warden to give him a change of work. The warden said he had
tried to arrange that; but Evans was on contract work, one of the best
men in the shop, and the contractors were unwilling to give up so
profitable a workman–the evils of the contract system have much to
answer for. So Evans continued to work on the contract, and the prison
blight progressed and the man’s vitality was steadily drained. When the
next winter came and _la grippe_ invaded the prison, the resisting power
of Evans was sapped; and when attacked by the disease he was relegated
to the prison hospital to recuperate. He did not recuperate; on the
contrary, various symptoms of general physical deterioration appeared
and it was evident that his working days on the prison contract were

A renewed attempt was now made to procure the release of Evans, as his
broken health furnished a reason for urgency toward immediate action on
the part of the governor, and this last attempt was successful. The good
news was sent to Evans that in a month he would be a free man, and I was
at the prison soon after the petition was granted. I knew that Evans was
in the hospital, but had not been informed of his critical condition
until the hospital physician told me that serious heart trouble had
developed, intensified by excitement over the certainty of release.

No shadow of death was visible or was felt in this my last visit with
Evans, who was dressed and sitting up when I went in to see him. Never,
never have I seen any one so happy as was Evans that morning. With heart
overflowing with joy and with gratitude, his face was radiant with
delight. All the old animation was kindled again, and the voice, no
longer lifeless, was colored and warm with feeling.

“I want to thank everybody,” he said, “the governor, my lawyers, the
warden, and you. Everybody has been so good to me these last weeks. And
I shall be home for next Sunday. My sister is coming to take me to her
home, and she and my mother will take care of me until I’m able to work.
Sister writes me that mother can’t sit still, but walks up and down the
room in her impatience to see me.”

We two friends, who had clasped hands in the darkness of his fate, were
together now when the dawn of his freedom was breaking, neither of us
realizing that it was to be the greater freedom of the Life Invisible.

To us both, however, this hour was the beautiful culmination of our
years of friendship. I read the man’s heart as if it were an open book
and it held only good will toward all the world.

Something moved me to speak to him as I had never spoken to one of my
prisoners, to try and make him feel my appreciation of his courage, his
unselfishness, his faithfulness. I told him that I realized how he had
_lived out_ the qualities of the most heroic soldier. To give one’s life
for one’s country when the very air is charged with the spirit of
patriotism is a fine thing and worthy of the thrill of admiration which
it always excites. But liberty is dearer than life, and the prison
atmosphere gives little inspiration to knightly deeds. This man had
risen above himself into that higher region of moral victory. And so I
said what was in my heart, while something deeper than happiness came
into Evans’s face.

And then we said good-by, smiling into each other’s eyes. This happened,
I think, on the last day but one of Evans’s life.

Afterward it was told in the prison that Evans died of joy at the
prospect of release. For him to be carried into the new life on this
high tide of happiness seemed to me a gift from heaven. For in the
thought of the prisoner freedom includes everything to be desired in
life. The joy of that anticipation had blinded Evans to the fact that
his health was ruined beyond repair. He was spared the realization that
the life of freedom, so fair to his imagination, could never truly be
his; for the prison-house of disease has bolts and bars which no human
hand can withdraw.

But that mother! If she could have read only once again the light of his
love for her in the eyes of her son! But the sorrows of life fall alike
upon the just and the unjust.


[11] The good time allowed on a twelve years’ sentence reduces it to
seven years and three months.

The psychological side of convict life is intensely interesting, but in
studying brain processes, supposed to be mechanical, one’s theories and
one’s logical conclusions are likely to be baffled by a factor that will
not be harnessed to any set of theories; namely, that _something which
we call conscience_. We forget that the criminal is only a human being
who has committed a crime, and that back of the crime is the same human
nature common to us all.

During the first years when I was in touch with prison life I had only
occasional glimpses of remorse for crimes committed. The minds of most
of the convicts seemed to dwell on the “extenuating circumstances” more
than on the criminal act, and the hardships of prison life were almost
ever present in their thoughts. I had nearly come to consider the
remorse pictured in literature and the drama as an unreal thing, when I
made the acquaintance of Ellis Shannon and found it: a monster that
gripped the human heart and held it as in a vise. Nemesis never
completed a work of retribution more fully than it was completed in the
life of Ellis Shannon.

Shannon was born in an Eastern city, was a boy of more than average
ability, and there seemed no reason why he should have gone wrong; but
he early lost his father, his mother failed to control him, and when
about sixteen years of age he fell into bad company and was soon
launched in his criminal career. He broke off all connection with his
family, went West, and for ten years was successful in his line of
business–regular burglary. He was widely known among men of his calling
as “The Greek,” and his “professional standing” was of the highest. The
first I ever heard of him was from one of my other prison friends, who
wrote me: “If you want to know about life in —- prison, write to Ellis
Shannon, who is there now. You can depend absolutely on what he
says–and when one professional says that of another you know it means
something.” I did not, however, avail myself of this introduction.

Shannon’s reputation for cool nerve was undisputed, and it was said that
he did not know what fear was. In order to keep a clear head and steady
hand he refrained from dissipation; he prided himself upon never
endangering the lives of those whose houses he entered, and despised the
bunglers who did not know their business well enough to avoid personal
encounter in their midnight raids. Unlike most men of his calling he
always used a candle on entering a building, and his associates often
told him that sometime that candle would get him into trouble.

One night the house of a prominent and popular citizen was entered.
While the burglar was pursuing his nefarious work the citizen suddenly
seized him by the shoulders, pulling him backward. The burglar managed
to fire backward over his own head, the citizen’s hold was relaxed, and
the burglar fled. The shot proved fatal; the only trace left by the
assailant was a candle dropped on the floor.

A reward was offered for the capture and conviction of the murderer.
Circumstantial evidence connected with the candle led to the arrest of
George Brett, a young man of the same town, not of the criminal class.
The verdict in the case turned upon the identification of the piece of
candle found in the house with one procured by the accused the previous
day; and in the opinion of the court this identification was proven.
Brett admitted having obtained a piece of candle from that grocer on
that afternoon, but claimed that he had used it in a jack-o’-lantern
made for a child in the family.[12] Proof was insufficient to convict
the man of the actual crime, but this bit of evidence, with some other
less direct, was deemed sufficiently incriminating to warrant sending
Brett to prison for a term of years–seventeen, I think; and though the
convicted man always asserted his innocence his guilt was taken for
granted while six years slipped by.

Ellis Shannon, in the meantime, had been arrested for burglary in
another State and had served a sentence in another penitentiary. He
seemed to have lost his nerve, and luck had turned against him. On his
release still another burglary resulted in a ten years’ sentence, this
time to the same prison where Brett was paying the penalty of the crime
in which the candle had played so important a part.

The two convicts happened to have cells in the same part of the prison,
and for the first time Ellis Shannon came face to face with George
Brett. A few days later Shannon requested an interview with the warden.
In the warden’s office he announced that he was the man guilty of the
crime for which Brett was suffering, and that Brett had no part in it.
He drew a sketch of the house burglarized–not altogether correct–gave
a succinct account of the whole affair, and declared his readiness to go
into court, plead guilty to murder, and accept the sentence, even to the
death penalty. Action on this confession was promptly taken. Shannon was
sent into court and on his confession alone was sentenced to
imprisonment for life.

Brett was overjoyed by this vindication and the expectation of immediate
release. But, no; the prosecuting parties were unconvinced by Shannon’s
confession, which, in their opinion, did not dispose of the evidence
against Brett.

It was a curious state of affairs, and one perhaps never paralleled,
that, while a man’s unsupported statement was considered sufficient to
justify the imposing of a sentence to life imprisonment, this statement
counted for nothing as affecting the fate of the other man involved. And
there was never a trace of collusion between the two men, either at the
time of the crime or afterward.

Shannon’s story of the crime I shall give in his own terse language,
quoted from his confession published in the newspapers:

“Up to the time of killing Mr. —- I had never even wounded anybody. I
had very little regard for the rights of property, but to shoot a man
dead at night in his own house was a climax of villainy I had not
counted on. A professional thief is not so blood-thirsty a wretch as he
is thought to be…. I am setting up no defense for the crime of murder
or burglary–it is all horrible enough. It was a miserable combination
of circumstances that caused the shooting that night. I was not feeling
well and so went into the house with my overcoat on–something I had
never done before. It was buttoned to the throat. I had looked at Mr.
—- a moment before and he was asleep. I had then turned and taken down
his clothes. I had a candle in one hand and the clothes in the other. I
would have left in a second of time when suddenly, before I could turn,
Mr. —- spoke. As quick as the word he had his arms thrown around me;
the candle went out and we were in the dark.

“Now I could hardly remember afterwards how it all occurred. There was
no time to think. I was helpless as a baby in the position in which I
was held. There is no time for reflection in a struggle like this. He
was holding me and I was struggling to get away. I told him several
times to let go or I’d shoot. I was nearly crazy with excitement and it
was simply the animal instinct of self-preservation that caused me to
fire the shots.

“I was so weak when I got outside that in running I fell down two or
three times. That night in Chicago I was in hopes the man was only
wounded, and in that case I had determined to quit the business. When I
read the account in the papers next morning all I can say is that,
although I was in the city and perfectly safe, with as little chance of
being discovered as if I were in another planet, I would have taken my
chances–whether it would have been five or twenty years for the
burglary–if it were only in my power to do the thing over again. I did
not much care what I did after this. I thought I could be no worse than
I was.

“In a few months I was arrested and got five years for a burglary in
—-. I read what I could of the trial from what papers I could get; and
for the first time I saw what a deadly web circumstances and the
conceit of human shrewdness can weave around an innocent man.

“The trial went on. I did not open my mouth. I knew that if I said a
word and went into court fresh from the penitentiary I would certainly
be hanged, and I had not reached a point when I was ready to sacrifice
my life for a stranger.

“In the feverish life I led in the short time out of prison I forgot all
about this, until I found myself here for ten years and then I thought:
there is a man in this prison doing hard work, eating coarse food,
deprived of everything that makes life worth having, and suffering for a
crime of which he knows as little as the dust that is yet to be created
to fill these miserable cells. I thought what a hell the place must be
to him.

“No one has worked this confession out of me. I wish to implicate no
one, but myself. If you will not believe what I say now, and —- stays
in prison, it is likely the truth will never be known. But if in the
future the man who was with me that night will come to the front,
whether I am alive or dead, you will find that what I have told you is
as true as the law of gravitation. I was never in the town of —-
before that time or since. I did not know whom I had killed until I
read of it. I do not know —- (Brett) or any of his friends. But I do
know that he is perfectly innocent of the crime he is in prison for. I
know it better than any one in the world because I committed the crime

The position of Brett was not affected in the least by this confession,
though his family were doing all in their power to secure his release.
The case was considered most difficult of solution. The theory of
delusion on Shannon’s part was advanced and was accepted by those who
believed Brett guilty, but received no credence among the convicts who
knew Shannon and the burglar associated with him at the time the crime
was committed.

I had never sought the acquaintance of a “noted criminal” before, but
this case interested me and I asked to see Shannon. For the first time I
felt myself at a disadvantage in an interview with a convict. A sort of
aloofness seemed to form the very atmosphere of his personality, and
though he sat near me it was with face averted and downcast eyes; the
face seemed cut in marble, it was so pale and cold, with clear-cut,
regular features, suggesting a singular appropriateness in his being
known as “The Greek.”

I opened conversation with some reference to the newspaper reports;
Shannon listened courteously but with face averted and eyes downcast,
and then in low, level tones, but with a certain incisiveness, he
entered upon the motive which led to his confession, revealing to me
also his own point of view of the situation. Six years had passed since
the crime was committed, and all that time, he said, he had believed
that, if he could bring himself to confess, Brett would be cleared–that
during these six years the murder had become a thing of the past,
partially extenuated in his mind, on the ground of self-defence; but
when he found himself in the same prison with Brett, here was a result
of his crime, living, suffering; and in the depths of Shannon’s own
conscience pleading for vindication and liberty. As a burden on his own
soul the murder might have been borne in silence between himself and his
Creator, but as a living curse on another it demanded confession. And
the desire to right that wrong swept through his being with
overmastering force.

“I had always believed,” he said, “that ‘truth crushed to earth would
rise again,’ and I was willing to give my life for truth; but I learned
that the word of a convict is nothing–truth in a convict counts for

The man had scarcely moved when he told me all this, and he sat like a
statue of despair when he relapsed into silence–still with downcast
eyes; I was absolutely convinced of the truth of what he had told me, of
the central truth of the whole affair, his guilt and his consciousness
of the innocence of the other man. That his impressions of some of the
details of the case might not square with known facts was of secondary
importance; to me the _internal evidence_ was convincing. Isn’t there
something in the Bible to the effect that “spirit beareth witness unto
spirit”? At all events, _sometimes a woman knows_.

I told Shannon that I believed in his truth, and I offered to send him
magazines and letters if he wished. Then he gave me one swift glance of
scrutiny, with eyes accustomed to reading people, thanked me, and added
as we parted: “If there were more people like you in this world there
wouldn’t be so many like me.”

My belief in the truth of Shannon’s statement was purely intuitive, but
in order to make it clear to my understanding as well I studied every
objection to its acceptance by those who believed Shannon to be the
victim of a delusion. His sincerity no one doubted. It was claimed that
Shannon had manifested no interest in the case previous to his arrival
in the prison where Brett was. On the way to this prison Shannon, in
attempting to escape from the sheriff, had received a blow on the back
of his head, which it was assumed might have affected his mind. Among my
convict acquaintances was a man who had worked in the shop beside
Shannon in another prison, at the time of Brett’s trial for the crime,
and this man could have had no possible motive for incriminating
Shannon. He told me that during all the time of the trial, five years
previous to the blow on his head, Shannon was greatly disturbed,
impatient to get hold of newspapers which he had to borrow, and
apparently absorbed in studying the evidence against Brett, but saying
always, “They can’t convict him.” This convict went on to tell me that
after the case was decided against Brett Shannon seemed to lose his
nerve and all interest in life. This account tallies exactly with
Shannon’s printed confession, in which he says: “I read what I could of
the trial in what papers I could get. I had not yet reached the point
where I was willing to sacrifice my life for a stranger.”

In his confession Shannon had spoken of his accomplice in that terrible
night’s work as one who could come forward and substantiate his
statements. Four different convicts of my acquaintance knew who this man
was, but not one of them was able to put me in communication with him.
The man had utterly disappeared. But this bit of evidence as to his
knowledge of the crime I did collect–his whereabouts was known to at
least one other of my convict acquaintances till the day after Shannon’s
confession was made public. That day my acquaintance received from
Shannon’s accomplice _a paper with the confession marked_ and from that
day had lost all trace of him. The convict made this comment in defence
of the silence of the accomplice:

“He wouldn’t be such a fool as to come forward and incriminate himself
after Shannon’s experience.”

Convicts in several States were aware of Shannon’s fruitless effort to
right a wrong, and knew of the punishment brought upon himself by his
attempt. The outcome of the occurrence must have been regarded as a
warning to other convicts who might be prompted to honest confession in
behalf of another.

At that time I had never seen George Brett, and not until later was I in
communication with his lawyers. But I was convinced that only from
convicts could evidence verifying Shannon’s confession be gleaned.

As far as I know, nothing more connected with that crime has ever come
to light. And even to-day there is doubtless a division of opinion among
those best informed. Finding there was nothing I could do in the matter,
my interest became centred in the study of the man Shannon. He was an
interesting study from the purely psychological side, still more so in
the gradual revelation of his real inner life.

It is difficult to reconcile Shannon’s life of action with his life of
thought, for he was a man of intellect, a student and a thinker. His use
of English was always correct. The range of his reading was wide,
including the best fiction, philosophy, science, and, more unusual, the
English essayists–Addison, Steele, and other contributors to _The
Spectator_. The true philosopher is shown in the following extract from
one of his letters to me:

“I beg you not to think that I consider myself a martyr to the cause of
truth. That my statement was rejected takes nothing from the naked fact,
but simply proves the failure of conditions by which it was to be
established as such. It did not come within the rules of acceptance in
these things, consequently it was not accepted. This is a world of
method. Things should be in their place. People do not go to a
fish-monger for diamonds, nor to a prison for truth. I recognize the
incongruity of my position and submit to the inevitable.”

In explanation of his reception of my first call he writes:

“I don’t think that at first I quite understood the nature of your
call–it was so unexpected. If my meaning in what I said was obscure it
was because in thinking and brooding too much one becomes unable to talk
and gradually falls into a state where words seem unnatural. _And these
prison thoughts are terrible._ In their uselessness they are like
spiders building cobwebs in the brain, clouding it and clogging it
beyond repair. I try to use imagination as a drug to fill my mind with a
fanciful contentment that I can know in no other way. When I was a child
I used to dream and speculate in anticipation of the world that was
coming. Now I do the same, but for a different reason–to make me forget
the detestable period of fact that has intervened.

“So when I am not reading or sleeping, and when my work may be
performed mechanically and with least mental exertion, I live away from
myself and surroundings as much as possible. I was in a condition
something like this at the time of your call. A dreamer dislikes at best
to be awakened and in a situation like mine it is especially trying.
While talking in this way I must beg pardon, for I did really appreciate
your visit and felt more human after it. I would not have you infer from
this that the slightest imagination entered into my story of that
unfortunate affair. I would it were so; but if it is a fact that I
exist, all that I related is just as true.”

His choice of Schopenhauer as a friend illustrates the homoeopathic
principle of like curing like.

“Schopenhauer is an old friend and favorite of mine. Very often when I
am getting wretchedly blue and when everything as seen through my eyes
is wearing a most rascally tinge, I derive an immense amount of comfort
and consolation by thinking how much worse they have appeared to
Schopenhauer.” In other words, the great pessimist served to produce a
healthy reaction.

But this reaction was but for the hour. All through Shannon’s letters
there runs a vein of the bitterest pessimism. He distrusted all forms of
religion and arraigns the prison chaplains in these words:

“I have never met a class of men who appear to know less of the
spiritual nature or the wants of their flocks. It is strange to me that
men, who might so easily gather material for the finest practical
lessons, surrounded as they are by real life experiences and
illustrations by which they might well teach that _crime does not pay_
either in coin or happiness, that they will ignore all this and rack
their brains to produce elaborate theological discourses founded upon
some sentence of a fisherman who existed two thousand years ago, to
paralyze and mystify a lot of poor plain horse thieves and burglars.
What prisoners are in need of is a man able to preach natural, every-day
common sense, with occasionally a little humor or an agreeable story or
incident to illustrate a moral. It seems to me if I were to turn
preacher I would try and study the simple character of the great master
as it is handed down to us.”

It strikes me that prison chaplains would do well to heed this convict
point of view of their preaching.

I do not recall that Shannon ever made a criticism upon the
administration of the prison of which he was then an inmate, but he
gives free expression to his opinion of our general system of
imprisonment. He had been studying the reports of a prison congress
recently in session where various “reformatory measures” had been
discussed, or, to use his expression, “expatiated upon,” and writes:

“I wish to make a few remarks from personal observation upon this
subject of prison reform. I will admit, to begin with, that upon the
ground of protection to society, the next best thing to hanging a
criminal is to put him in prison, providing you keep him there; but if
you seek his reformation it is the worst thing you can do with him.
Convicts generally are not philosophers, neither are they men of pure
thought or deep religious feelings. They are not all sufficient to
themselves, and for this reason confinement never did, never can and
never will have a good effect upon them.

“I have known hundreds of men, young and old, who have served time in
prison. I have known many of them to grow crafty in prison and upon
release to employ their peculiar talents in some other line of
business, safer but not less degrading to themselves; but I never knew
one to have been made a better man by _prison discipline_;–those who
reformed did so through other influences.

“It may be a good prison or a bad one, with discipline lax or rigorous,
but the effect, though different, is never good: it never can be. Crime
is older than prisons. According to best accounts it began in the Garden
of Eden, but God–who knew human nature–instead of shutting up Adam and
Eve separately, drove them out into the world where they could exercise
their minds hustling for themselves. Since then there has been but one
system that reformed a man without killing him, namely, transportation.

“This system, instead of leaving a bad man in prison, _to saturate
himself with his own poison_, sent him to a distant country, where under
new conditions, and with something to work and hope for, he could
harmlessly dissipate that poison among the wilds of nature. It may be no
other system is possible; that the world is getting too densely
populated to admit of transportation; or that society owes nothing to
one who has broken her laws. I write this, not as ‘an Echo from a
Living Tomb,’ but as plain common sense.”[13]

Personal pride, one of the very elements of the man’s nature, kept him
from ever uttering a complaint of individual hardships; but the mere
fact of confinement, the lack of air, space, freedom of movement and
action, oppressed him as if the iron bars were actually pressing against
his spirit. His one aim was to find some Lethe in which he could drown
memory and consciousness of self. In all the years of his manhood there
seemed to have been no sunny spot in which memory could find a

From first to last his misdirection of life had been such a frightful
blunder; even in its own line such a dismal failure. His boasted “fine
art” of burglary had landed him in the ranks of murderers. He had
despised cowardice and yet at the critical hour in the destiny of
another he had proven himself a coward. And when by complete
self-sacrifice he had sought to right the wrong the sacrifice had been
in vain.

Understanding something of the world in which he lived, I suggested the
study of a new language as a mental occupation requiring concentration
on a line entirely disconnected from his past. He gladly adopted my
suggestion and began the study of German; but it was all in vain–he
could not escape from himself.

He had managed to keep so brave a front in his letters that I was
unaware that the man was completely breaking down until the spring
morning when we had our last interview.

There was in his face the unmistakable look of the man who is doomed–so
many of my prisoners died. His remorse was like a living thing that had
eaten into his life–a very wolf within his breast. He was no longer
impassive, but fairly writhing in mental agony. He did not seem to know
that he was dying; he certainly did not care. His one thought was for
Brett and the far-reaching, irreparable wrong that Brett had suffered
through him. When I said that I thought the fate of the innocent man in
prison was not so dreadful as that of the guilty man Shannon exclaimed:
“You are mistaken. I don’t see how it is possible for a man unjustly
imprisoned to believe in any justice, human or divine, or in any God
above,” and he continued with an impassioned appeal on behalf of
innocent prisoners which left a deep impression with me. In his own
being he seemed to be actually experiencing at once the fate of the
innocent victim of injustice and of the guilty man suffering just
punishment. He spoke of his intense spiritual loneliness, which human
sympathy was powerless to reach, and of how thankful he should be if he
could find light or hope in any religion; but he could not believe in
any God of truth or justice while Brett was left in prison. A soul more
completely desolate it is impossible to imagine.

My next letter from Shannon was written from the hospital, and expresses
the expectation of being “all right again in a few days”; farther on in
the letter come these words:

“I do believe in a future life. Without this hope and its consoling
influence life would scarcely be worth living. I believe that all the
men who have ever died, Atheists or whatever they professed to be, did
so with the hope more or less sustaining them, of awakening to a future
life. This hope is implanted by nature universally in the human breast
and it is not unlikely to suppose that it has some meaning.”

A few weeks later I received a line from the warden telling me of the
death of Ellis Shannon, and from the prison hospital was sent me a
little volume of translations from Socrates which had been Shannon’s
companion in his last days. A slip of paper between the leaves marked
Socrates’s reflections on death and immortality. The report of one of
the hospital nurses to me was:

“Shannon had consumption, but he died of grief.” It is not often that
one dies of a broken heart outside the pages of fiction and romance, but
medical authority assures us that it sometimes happens.

Up to this time I had never seen George Brett, but after the death of
Shannon we had one long interview. What first struck me was the
remarkable similarity between the voices of Brett and Shannon, as
supposed identification of the voice of Brett with that of the burglar
had been accepted as evidence at the trial. My general impression of the
man was wholly favorable. He was depressed and discouraged, but
responsive, frank, and unstudied in all that he said. When he mentioned
the man shot in the burglary I watched him closely; his whole manner
brightened as he said:

“Why, he was one of the best men in the world, a man that little
children loved. He was good to every one.”

“And you could never speak of that man as you are speaking now if you
had taken his life,” was my inward comment.

Brett’s attitude toward Shannon was free from any shade of resentment,
but what most impressed me was that Shannon’s belief that the unjust
conviction of Brett and his own fruitless effort to right the wrong must
make it impossible for Brett ever to believe in a just God–in other
words, that the most cruel injury to Brett was the spiritual injury.
This belief proved to be without foundation. George Brett had not been a
religious man, but in Shannon he saw that truth and honor were more than
life, stronger than the instinct of self-preservation; and he could
hardly escape from the belief that divine justice itself was the
impelling power back of the impulse prompting Shannon to confession. In
the strange action and interaction of one life upon another, in the
final summing up of the relation of these two men, it seemed to have
been given to Shannon to touch the deeper springs of spiritual life in
Brett, to reveal to him something of the eternal verities of existence.

And truth crushed to earth did rise again; for not long after the death
of Shannon, in the eighth year of his imprisonment, George Brett was
pardoned, with the public statement that he had been convicted on
doubtful evidence and that the confession of Shannon had been accepted
in proof of his innocence.

No adequate compensation can ever be made to one who has suffered unjust
imprisonment, but there are already indications of the dawn of a
to-morrow when the state, in common honesty, will feel bound to make at
least financial restitution to those who have been the victims of such


[12] The crime was committed after the midnight of Hallowe’en.

[13] This letter was written twenty-five years ago. The logic of
Shannon’s argument is unquestionably sound. The futility of imprisonment
as a reformatory agent is now widely recognized. But better than
transportation is the system of conditional liberation of men after
conviction now receiving favorable consideration–even tentative
adoption–in many States.

There is another chapter to my experience with prisoners; it is the
story of what they have done for me, for they have kept the balance of
give and take very even between us. I have an odd collection of
souvenirs and keepsakes, but, incongruous as the different articles are,
one thread connects them all; from the coarse, stubby pair of little
mittens suggesting the hand of a six-year-old country boy to the flask
of rare Venetian glass in the dull Oriental tones dear to the æsthetic
soul; from the hammock that swings under the maple-trees to the
diminutive heart in delicately veined onyx, designed to be worn as a

The mittens came from Jackson Currant, a friendly soul who unravelled
the one pair of mittens allowed him for the winter, contrived to possess
himself of a piece of wire from which he fashioned a hook, and evenings
in his cell crocheted for me a pair of mittens. Funny little things they
were, but a real gift, for this prisoner took from himself and gave to
me the one thing he had to give.

Another gift which touched me came from an old Rocky Mountain
trapper–then a prisoner for life. His one most cherished possession was
a copy of “A Day in Athens with Socrates,” sent him by the translator.
After keeping the precious book for three years and learning its
contents by heart, he sent it to me as a birthday gift and I found it
among other birthday presents one February morning. Then there is the
cherry box that holds my stationery, with E. A.’s initials carved in the
cover; E. A., who is reclaiming his future from all shadow of his past.
It was E. A. who introduced me to my Welsh boy, Alfred Allen, and it was
Alfred who opened my heart to all the street waifs in the universe.

In many ways my life has been enriched by my prisoners. Most delightful
social affiliations, most stimulating intellectual influences, and some
of the warmest friendships of my life, by odd chains of circumstances
have developed from my prison interests.

Almost any friend can give us material gifts–the gift of things–the
friend who widens our social relations or broadens our interests does
us far better service; but it is the rare friend who opens our
spiritual perception to whom we are most indebted. For through the ages
has been pursued the quest of some proof that man is a spiritual being,
some evidence that what we call the soul has its origin beyond the realm
of the material; the learning of all time has failed to satisfy this
quest; and the wealth of the world cannot purchase one fragment of such

And yet it is to one of my prisoners that I owe the gift of an hour in
which the spirit of man seemed the one vital fact of his existence, the
one thing beyond the reach of death; and time has given priceless value
to that hour.

I met James Wilson in the first years of my prison acquaintance, and it
was long before it occurred to me that under later legislation he would
have been classed as an habitual criminal. I have often wondered at the
power of his personality; it must have been purely the result of innate
qualities. He was brave, he was generous, he was loyalty itself; and his
sympathies were responsive as those of a woman. He would have been an
intrepid soldier, a venturesome explorer, a chivalrous knight; but in
the confusion of human life the boy was shoved to the wrong track and
having the momentum of youth and strong vitality he rushed recklessly
onward into the course of a Robin Hood; living in an age when those who
come into collision with the social forces of law and order are called
criminals, his career in that direction fortunately was of short

Had Wilson not been arrested in his downward course he might never have
come into possession of the self whom I knew so well, that true self at
last so clearly victorious over adverse circumstances. In this sketch I
have not used Wilson’s letters; they were so purely personal, so wholly
of his inner life, that to give them to the public seemed desecration.

I can give but one glimpse of his childhood. When he was a very little
boy he sat on his father’s knee and looked up into kind and loving gray
eyes. The father died, and the son remembered him always as kind and

The loss of his father changed the course of Wilson’s life. The mother
formed other ties; the boy was one too many, and left home altogether as
soon as he was old enough to shift for himself. He went honestly to
work, where so many boys along the Mississippi Valley are morally
ruined–on a river-boat.

After a time things began to go wrong with him. I don’t know whether
the injury was real or fancied, but the boy believed himself maliciously
injured; and in the blind passion following he left the river, taking
with him money that belonged to the man who had angered him. Wilson had
meant to square the score, to balance wrong with wrong; but his revenge
recoiled upon himself and at sixteen he was a thief and a fugitive.
Before the impetus of that moral movement was exhausted he was in the
penitentiary–“one of the most vigorous and fine-looking men in the
prison, tall and splendidly built,” so said another prisoner who knew
him at that time.

At the expiration of his three years’ sentence Wilson began work in a
Saint Louis printing-office, opening, so he believed, a new chapter in
life. He was then twenty years of age.

During that year all through the West–if the Mississippi region can
still be called West–there were serious labor troubles. Men were
discharged from every branch of employment where they could be spared;
and the day came when all the “new hands” in the printing-office where
Wilson worked were turned off.

Wilson had saved something from his earnings, and while his money
lasted he lived honestly, seeking employment, but the money was gone
before he found employment. Outside the cities the country was overrun
with tramps; temptations to lawlessness were multiplied; starvation,
stealing, or begging seemed the only pathway open to many. None starved;
there was little choice between the other alternatives. Jails and
prisons were crowded with inmates, some of whom felt themselves
fortunate in being provided with food and shelter even at the cost of
liberty. “I have gone hungry so many days and slept on the ground so
many nights that the thought of a prison seems something like home,” was
a remark made to me. “The world owes me a living” was a thought that
came in the form of temptation to many a man who could get no honest

After Wilson had been out of employment for two or three months there
occurred a great commotion near a small town within fifty miles of Saint
Louis. Stores had been broken into and property carried off, and a
desperate attempt was made to capture the burglars, who were supposed to
be in that vicinity. A man who had gone to a stream of water was
arrested and identified as belonging to the gang. He was ordered to
betray his accomplices; he refused absolutely. The reckless courage in
his nature once aroused, the “honor” observed among thieves was his
inevitable course. A rope was brought, and Wilson was taken to a tree
where the story of his life would doubtless have ended had not a shout
from others, who were still searching, proclaimed the discovery of the
retreat of his companions. Wilson and Davis, the two leaders, were
sentenced each to four years in the penitentiary.

Defeated, dishonored, penniless, and friendless, Wilson found himself
again in prison; this time under the more than double disgrace of being
a “second-term” man, with consciousness of having deliberately made a
choice of crime. He was an avowed infidel, and his impetuous, unsubdued
nature was at war with life and the world. For two years he lived on in
this way; then his health began to fail under the strain of work and

With the loss of strength his heart grew harder and more desperate. One
day his old recklessness broke out in open revolt against prison
authority. He was punished by being sent to the “solitary,” where the
temperature in summer is much lower than that of the shops where the
men work; he took cold, a hemorrhage of the lungs resulted, and he was
sent to the prison hospital.

There, on a Sunday morning two months later, I first met Wilson. I think
it was the glance of the dark-gray eyes under long, sweeping black
lashes that first attracted me. But it was the expression of the face,
the quiet, dignified courtesy of manner, and the candid statement of his
history that made the deeper impression. Simply and briefly he gave me
the outlines of his past; and he spoke with deep, concentrated
bitterness of the crushing, terrible life in prison. His unspoken
loneliness–he had lost all trace of his mother–and his illness, almost
ignored but evident, appealed to my sympathy and prompted me to offer to
write to him. He thought it would be a pleasure to receive letters, but
assured me that he could write nothing worth reading in return.

Long afterward I asked what induced him to reply to my questions so
frankly and sincerely. His answer was: “Because I knew if I lied to you,
it would make it harder for you to believe the next man you talked with,
who might tell you the truth.” During all that Sunday afternoon and
evening Wilson remained in my thoughts, and the next
afternoon–Hallowe’en, as it happened–found me again at the hospital. I
stopped for a few moments at the bedside of a young prisoner who was
flushed with hectic fever and wildly rebellious over the thought of
dying in prison–he lived to die an honest man in freedom, in the dress
of a civilized being and not in the barbarous, zebra-like suit then worn
in the prison. I remained for a longer time beside the bed of a man who
was serving a sentence of imprisonment for life for a crime of which he
was innocent. After twelve years his innocence was proved; he was
released a crippled invalid, with no means of support except by hands
robbed of their power to work. The State makes no reparation for an
unspeakable wrong like this, far more cruel than death.

When I turned to look for Wilson he was sitting apart from the other
men, with a vacant chair beside him. Joining him beside that west
window, flooded with the golden light of an autumn sunset, I took the
vacant seat intended for me; and the hour that followed so influenced
Wilson’s future that he adopted that day–Hallowe’en–as his birthday.
He knew the year but not the month in which he was born.

I have not the slightest recollection of what I said while we sat beside
the window. But even now I can see Wilson’s face as he listened with
silent attention, not meeting my eyes. I think I spoke of his personal
responsibility for the life he had lived. I am certain that I said
nothing about swearing and that I asked no promises.

But thoughts not in my mind were suggested to him. For when I ceased
speaking he raised his eyes, and looking at me intently he said: “I
can’t promise to be a Christian; my life has been too bad for that; but
I want to promise you that I will give up swearing and try to have pure
thoughts. I can promise you that, because these things lie in my own
power; but there’s too much wickedness between me and God for me ever to
be a Christian.”

His only possession was the kingdom of his thoughts; without reservation
it was offered to his friend, and with the sure understanding that she
would value it.

It was a surprise when I received Wilson’s first letter to see the
unformed writing and the uncertain spelling; but the spirit of the man
could be traced, even through the inadequate medium. In earnestness and
simplicity he was seeking to fulfil his promise, finding, as he
inevitably must, that he had committed himself to more than his promise.
It was not long before he wrote that he had begun a new life altogether
“for your sake and for my own.” His “thoughts” gave him great trouble,
for the old channels were still open, and his cell-mate’s mind was
steeped in wickedness. But he made the best of the situation, and
instead of seeking to ward off evil he took the higher course of sharing
his own better thoughts with his cell-mate, over whom he acquired a
strong influence. Steadfastly he sought to overcome evil with good. Very
slowly grew his confidence in himself; and his great anxiety seemed to
be lest I should think him better than he was.

Like all persons with tuberculosis Wilson was sanguine of recovery; and
as he went back to work in one of the shops the day after I left, and
always wrote hopefully, I took it for granted that his health was

Six months only passed before we met again, and I was wholly unprepared
for the startling change in Wilson’s appearance. His cough and the
shortness of his breath were distressing. But the poor fellow was so
delighted to see me that he tried to set his own condition entirely

We had a long talk in the twilight of that lovely May evening, and again
we were seated beside a window, through which the light and sounds of
spring came in. I learned then how hard life was for that dying man. He
was still subject to the strict discipline of the most strictly
disciplined prison in the country: compelled to rise at five in the
morning and go through the hurried but exact preparations for the day
required of well men. He was kept on the coarse prison fare, forced to
march breathlessly in the rapid lock-step of the gang of strong men with
whom he worked, and kept at work in the shop all through the long days.
The strain on nerve and will and physical strength was never relaxed.

These things he told me, and they were all true; but he told me also
better things, not so hard for me to know. He gave me the history of his
moral struggles and victories. He told me of the “comfort” my letters
had been to him; his whole heart was opened to me in the faith that I
would understand and believe him. It was then that he told me he was
trying to live by some verses he had learned; and in answer to my
request, hesitatingly, and with breath shortened still more by
embarrassment, he repeated the lines:

“I stand upon the Mount of God,
With gladness in my soul,
I hear the storms in vale beneath–
I hear the thunder roll.

“But I am calm with Thee, my God,
Beneath these glorious skies,
And to the height on which I stand
No storm nor cloud can rise.”

He was wholly unconscious that there was anything unusual in his
reaching up from the depths of sin, misery, and degradation to the
spiritual heights of eternal light. He rather reproached himself for
having left the valley of repentance, seeming to feel that he had
escaped mental suffering that was deserved; although he admitted: “The
night after you left me in October, when I went back to my cell, the
tears were just running down my face–if that could be called

At the close of our interview, as Wilson was going out, he passed
another prisoner on the way in to see me.

“Do you know Wilson?” was Newton’s greeting as he approached me.

“Do _you_ know Wilson?” was my question in reply.

Newton had taken offence at something in one of my letters and it was to
make peace with him that I had planned the interview, but all
misunderstanding evaporated completely in our common regret and anxiety
about Wilson; for my feeling was fully shared by this man who–well, he
_was_ pretty thoroughly hardened on all other subjects. But here the
chord of tenderness was touched; and all his hardness and resentment
melted in the relief of finding some one who felt as he did on the
subject nearest his heart.

“I have worked beside Wilson in the shop for two years, and I have never
loved any man as I have grown to love him,” he said. “And it has been so
terrible to see him dying by inches, and kept at work when he could
scarcely stand.” The man spoke with strong emotion; the very depths of
his nature were stirred. He told me all about this friendship, which had
developed notwithstanding the fact that conversation between convicts
was supposed to be confined to necessary communication in relation to
work. Side by side they had worked in the shop, and as Wilson’s
strength failed Newton managed to help him. Newton’s praise and
affection really counted for something, as he was an embittered man with
small faith in human nature. He said that in all his life nothing had
been so hard as to see his friend sinking under his fate, while _he_ was
powerless to interfere. Newton and I had one comfort, however, in the
fact that Wilson’s sentence was near the end. In justice to the
authorities of the prison where these men were confined I wish to state
that dying prisoners were usually sent to the hospital. Wilson’s was an
exceptional case of hardship.

Early in July Wilson was released from prison. When he reached Chicago
his evident weakness arrested the attention of a passer-by, who hired a
boy to carry his bundle and see him to his destination. He had
determined to try to support himself, believing that freedom would bring
increased strength; but he was too ill to work. The doctor whom he
consulted spoke encouragingly, but urged the necessity of rest and
Minnesota air. I therefore sent him a pass to Minneapolis, and the route
was by way of my own home.

Life was hard on Wilson, but it gave him one day of happiness apart
from poverty or crime, when he felt himself a welcome guest in the home
of a friend. When his train arrived from Chicago I was at the station to
meet him, and before driving home we called on my physician that I might
know what to anticipate. The doctor commended the plan for the climate
of Minnesota, and spoke encouragingly to Wilson, but to me privately he
gave the fiat, “No hope.”

Wilson spent the rest of that day in the library of my home, and all the
afternoon he was smiling. My face reflected his smiles, but I could not
forget the shadow of death in the background. We talked of many things
that afternoon; the breadth and fairness of his opinions on prison
matters, the impersonal way in which he was able to consider the
subject, surprised me, for his individual experience had been
exceptionally severe.

When weariness came into his eyes and his voice I suggested a little
music. The gayer music did not so much appeal to him, but I shall never
forget the man’s delight in the sweet and restful cadences of
Mendelssohn. After a simple tea served Wilson in the library we took a
drive into the country, where the invalid enjoyed the lovely view of
hills and valleys wrapped in the glow of the summer sunset; and then I
left him for the night at a comfortable hotel.

The next morning Wilson was radiantly happy, notwithstanding “a hard
night”; and it happened to be one of the days when summer does her best
to keep us in love with life. All the forenoon we spent under a great
maple-tree, with birds in the branches and blue sky overhead, Wilson
abandoning himself to the simple joy of living and resting. Wilson was a
fine-looking man in citizen’s dress, his regular features refined and
spiritualized by illness.

There were preparations to be made for Minnesota and the suit-case to be
repacked, and what value Wilson placed upon the various articles I
contributed! I think it was the cake of scented soap–clearly a
luxury–that pleased him most, but he was interested in every single
thing, and his heart was warmed by the cordial friendliness of my
mother, who added her own contribution to his future comfort. His one
regret was that he had nothing to give us in return.

But time was on the wing, and the morning slipped by all too rapidly, as
the hours of red-letter days always do, and the afternoon brought the
parting at the train for Minneapolis. Wilson lingered beside me while
there was time, then looking gravely into my eyes, he said: “Good-by; I
hope that we shall meet again–_on this side_.” A moment later the
moving train carried him away toward the north, which to him meant the
hope of health.

Exhausted by the journey to Minneapolis, he at once applied for
admission to a Catholic hospital, and here I will let him speak for
himself, through the first letter that I received after he left me.


“I am now in the hospital, and I am so sleepy when I try to write
that I asked one of the sisters to write for me.

“I felt quite weak when I first came here, but now I take beef-tea,
and I feel so much stronger, I think I will be very much better by
the end of this month.

“The Mother Superior is most kind and calls me her boy and thinks
she will soon have me quite well again. I have a fine room to
myself, and I feel most happy as I enjoy the beautiful fresh air
from the Mississippi River, which runs quite near me.

“Dear friend, I wish you were here to enjoy a few days and see how
happy I am.”

And scrawled below, in a feeble but familiar handwriting, were the

“I tried to write, but failed.”

Under the influence of the sisters Wilson was led back to the church
into which he had been baptized, and although he did not accept its
limitations he found great comfort in the sense of protection that it
gave him. Rest and nursing and the magical air of Minnesota effected
such an improvement in his health that before many weeks Wilson was
discharged from the hospital.

After a short period of outdoor work, in which he tested his strength,
he went into a printing-office, where, for a month, he felt himself a
man among men. But it was an overambitious and unwise step–confinement
and close air of the office were more than he could endure, and with
great regret he gave up the situation.

Winter was setting in and he found no work that he could do, and yet
thought himself too well to again seek admission to a hospital. The
outlook of life darkened, for there seemed to be no place for him
anywhere. He did not write to me during that time of uncertainty, and
one day, after having spent three nights in a railroad station, as a
last resort he asked to be sent to the county home and was received
there; after that he could not easily obtain admission to a hospital.

Western county homes were at that time hard places; in some respects
existence there was harder than in the prison, where restraint and
discipline are in a measure a protection, securing a man undisturbed
possession of his inner life and thoughts, during working hours at
least. The ceaselessly intrusive life of the home, with the lack of
discipline and the unrestrained intercourse of inmates, with the
idleness and the dirt, is far more demoralizing; crime itself does not
sap self-respect like being an idle pauper among paupers. All this could
be read between the lines of Wilson’s letters.

And now a new dread was taking hold of him. All his hope and ambition
had centred in the desire to be good for this life. He had persistently
shut out the thought of death as the one thing that would prevent his
realizing this desire. Nature and youth clung passionately to life, and
all the strength of his will was nerved to resist the advance of
disease. But day by day the realization that life was slipping from him
forced itself deeper into his consciousness; even for the time
discouraging him morally. His high resolves seemed of no avail. It was
all of no use. He must die a pauper with no chance to regain his lost
manhood; life seemed indeed a hopeless failure. I had supplied Wilson
with paper and envelopes, stamped and addressed, that I might never fail
of hearing from him directly or through others; but there came an
interval of several weeks when I heard nothing, although writing
regularly. Perplexed, as well as anxious, in my determination to break
the silence at all hazards, I wrote a somewhat peremptory letter. The
answer came by return mail, but it was the keeper of the county home who
wrote that Wilson had written regularly and that he was very unhappy
over my last letter, adding:

“He says that if this room was filled with money it would not tempt him
to neglect his best friend; and when I told him that this room was
pretty big and would hold a lot of money he said that didn’t make any

I could not be reconciled to Wilson’s dying in that place, and when the
spring days came he was sent to Chicago, where his entrance to a
hospital had been arranged. It was an April afternoon when I found him
in one of the main wards of the hospital, a large room flooded with
sunshine and fresh air. Young women, charming in their nurses’ uniform,
with skilled and gentle hands, were the ministering spirits there; the
presiding genius a beautiful Philadelphian whose gracious tranquillity
was in itself a heavenly benediction to the sick and suffering among
whom she lived. On a table beside Wilson’s bed trailing arbutus was
filling the air with fragrance and telling the story of spring.

Wilson was greatly altered; but his face was radiant in the gladness of
our meeting. For weeks previous he had not been able to write me of his
thoughts or feelings, and I do not know when the change came. But it was
clearly evident that, as death approached, he had turned to meet it; and
had found, as so many others have found, that death no longer seemed an
enemy and the end of all things, but a friend who was leading the way to
fuller life; he assumed that I understood all this; he would have found
it difficult to express it in words; but he had much to tell me of all
those around him, and wished to share with me the friendships he had
formed in the hospital; and I was interested in the way the _quality of
the man’s nature_ had made itself felt among nurses and patients alike.

One of the patients who had just been discharged came to the bedside to
bid him good-by; Wilson grasped his hand and in a few earnest words
reminded him of promises given in a previous conversation. With broken
voice the man renewed his promises, and left with his eyes full of
tears. He was unable to utter the good-by he had come to give.

At the close of my visit Wilson insisted upon giving me the loveliest
cluster of his arbutus; while Miss Alden, the Philadelphian, sanctioned
with a smile his sharing of her gift with another.

As Miss Alden went with me to the door she told me of her deep interest
in Wilson, and of the respect and affection he had won from all who had
come in contact with him. “The nurses consider it a pleasure to do
anything for one who asks so little and is so grateful,” she said.
Though knowing that he had been in prison, Miss Alden was surprised to
learn that Wilson was not a man of education. His use of English, the
general tone of his thoughts and conversation, had classed him as a man
familiar with good literature and refined associations. She, too, had
felt in him a certain spiritual strength, and was touched by his loyalty
to me, which seemed never obscured by his gratitude to others. She
believed that only the strength of his desire to see me once again had
kept him in this world for the previous week.

The next morning Wilson was visibly weaker; the animation caused by the
excitement of seeing me the day before was gone; but the spiritual peace
and strength which had come to him were the more evident.

At his dictation I wrote a last message to Newton, and directions as to
the disposal of his clothing, to be given to patients whose needs he had
discovered. He expressed a wish to leave some little remembrances for
each of the nurses; there were six to whom he felt particularly
indebted. There was Miss Stevens, “who has been so very kind at night”;
every one had her special claim, and I promised that each should receive
some token of his gratitude.

Afterward he spoke of the new life before him as naturally and easily as
he spoke of the hospital. He seemed already to have crossed the border
of the new life. His heart had found its home in God; there he could
give himself without reserve. Life and eternity were gladly offered to
the One in whom he had perfect trust.

“Tell me,” I said, “what is your thought of heaven, now that it is so
near? What do you expect?”

How full of courage and trust and honesty was his answer! “I do not
expect happiness; at least not at once. God is too just for that, after
the life I have lived.” Imprisonment, sickness, poverty, all the evils
that we most dread, had been endured for years, but counted for nothing
to him when weighed against his ruined life. But the thought of
suffering brought no fear. The justice of God was dearer to him than
personal happiness. I left that feeling undisturbed. He was nearer than
I to the light of the perfect day, and I could see that, unconsciously,
he had ceased to look to any one “on this side” for light.

Wilson was sleeping when I saw him again, but the rapid change which had
taken place was apparent at a glance. When he opened his eyes and saw me
standing beside him he looked at me silently for a moment. With an
effort he gathered strength for what he evidently wished to say; and all
the gratitude and affection that he had never before attempted to
express to me directly were revealed in a few simple words. He would
have no good-by; the loss of the supreme friendship of his life formed
no part of his idea of death. Then he spoke of the larger life of
humanity for which he had learned to feel so deeply, and his final words
to me were: “Be to others what you have been to me. We are all brothers
and sisters.” The last thought between us was not to be of an exclusive,
individual friendship, but of that universal tie which binds each to

Before midnight the earthly life had ended, peacefully and without fear.
The stem of Easter lilies that I carried to the hospital next day was
placed in the hands folded in the last sleep, and Wilson clasped in
death the symbol of new life and heavenly purity.

Wilson was one of the men behind the bars; but it is as man among men
that I think of him; and his last words to me, “We are all brothers and
sisters,” sum up the truth that inspires every effort the round world
over to answer the call of those who are desolate or oppressed–whether
the cry comes from little children in the mine, the workshop, or the
tenement, or from those who are in slavery, in hospital, or in prison.

It was during the eighties and the nineties of the last century that I
was most closely in touch with prison life; and it was at that time that
the men whose stories I have told and from whose letters I have quoted
were behind the bars. For forty years or more there was no radical
change in methods of discipline in this prison, but material conditions
were somewhat improved, the stripes and the lock-step were abandoned,
and sanitation was bettered.

This institution stood as one of the best in the country, and doubtless
it was above the average in most respects. While the convicts were under
rigid repressive regulations, the guards were under rules scarcely less
strict, no favoritism was allowed, no bribery tolerated, and the
successive administrations were thoroughly honorable. While the
different wardens conformed to accepted standards of discipline there
were many instances of individual kindness from members of the
administration, and no favor that I asked for a prisoner was ever

But the twentieth century has brought a complete revolution in methods
of dealing with convicts. This radical revolution is overthrowing
century-old customs, and theories both ancient and modern. It has been
sprung upon us so suddenly that we have not yet grasped its full
meaning, but the causes leading up to it have been silently working
these many years.

For ages the individuality of the human being has been merged in the
term criminal; the criminal had practically ceased to be a man, and was
classified only according to his offence; as murderer, thief, forger,
pickpocket, etc. During the nineteenth century there was a gradual
mitigation of the fate of the convict: laws became more flexible,
efforts were made to secure more uniformity in the length of sentence
imposed, many States discarded the lock-step and the striped clothing,
and the contract system was giving place to other employment of
convicts. While the older prisons were growing unspeakably worse through
decaying walls and increasing vermin, as new penitentiaries were built
more light, better ventilation, larger cells, and altogether better
sanitation were adopted. However, the Lombroso theory of a distinct
criminal type, stamped with pronounced physical characteristics, was
taught in all our universities and so generally accepted by the public
that the criminal was believed to be _a different kind of man_.

The courts did a thriving business collecting all their fees and keeping
our prisons well filled, while the discipline of the convicts was left
to the prison officials, with practically no interference. Prison
congresses were held and there was much talk around and about the
criminal, but he was not regarded as a man with human feelings and human
rights; methods of management were discussed, but the inhuman
punishments sanctioned by some of these very wardens were never
mentioned in these discussions. “We are in charge; all’s right in the
convict world,” was the impression given the outsider who listened to
their addresses.

Unquestionably many of these prison wardens were at heart humanitarians,
and gave to their prisons a distinctive atmosphere as the result of
their personal characteristics, but they were all the victims of
tradition as to dealing with convicts–tradition and precedent, the
established order of prison management. The inexperienced warden taking
charge naturally followed the beaten tracks; he studied the situation
from the point of view of his predecessor, and the position at best was
a difficult one; radical innovations could be made only with the
sanction of the prison commissioners, who seemed to be mainly interested
in the prison as a paying proposition; and pay it did under the
abominable contract system.

And so the years went on with the main lines of prison discipline–the
daily lives of the convicts–practically unchanged. The convict was
merely a human machine to be worked a certain number of hours with no
incentive to good work beyond the fear of punishment. No thought was
given to fitting him for future citizenship. Every prison had its
punishment cells, some of them underground, most of them dark, where men
were confined for days on bread and water, usually shackled standing to
the iron door of the cell during working hours, and at night sleeping on
the stone floor unless a board was provided–the food a scant allowance
of bread and water. Punishment of this kind was inflicted for even
slight infractions of rules, while floggings, “water cures,” and other
devilish methods were sometimes resorted to. In prisons of the better
grade the most rigidly repressive measures were enforced and all
natural human impulses were repressed. This was considered “excellent

Now, as to the results of those severe punishments and rigid repressive
methods: were the criminals reformed? Was society protected? What were
the fruits of our prisons and reformatories? I have before me reliable,
up-to-date statistics from a neighboring State as to the number of men
convicted of a second offence after serving one term in prison. The
general average shows that forty, out of every hundred men sent to
prison for the first time, on being released commit a second crime. This
percentage represents a fair average of the results of non-progressive
prison methods to-day. But while our prisons were practically at a
standstill and crime was on the increase the world was moving, new ideas
were in the very air, destined to be of no less importance in human
development than the mastery of electricity is proving in the material

There is an old proverb that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Some fifteen years ago the vital truth contained in this old saying
suddenly crystallized into the playground movement. More chance for
recreation, more variety in mental occupation, more fresh air and
sunshine, were strenuously demanded. Not only have playgrounds broken
out even in the midst of our crowded cities, but open-air schools have
sprung into existence in Europe and are gaining in favor in this country
where climate permits. Athletics in all forms have steadily gained in
popularity. Freedom for the body, exercise for every muscle, is not only
advocated by physicians but has become the fashion, until golf is now
the great American pastime, and the benefit of physical recreation is no
longer questioned.

Even more far-reaching in eventual influence is the modern recognition
of the rights and claims of the individual. This awakening is so
widespread that it cannot be centralized in any personal leadership. It
is like the dawning of a great light upon the life of the twentieth
century in all civilized countries, and already it is affecting
existence in countless directions.

In the army the common soldier is no longer regarded as merely a
shooting-machine, he is drilled and trained and schooled into
development as a man as well as a soldier. In the treatment of the
insane, physical restraint is gradually being relegated to the past;
the patient is regarded first of all as a human being, not merely as a
case. More and more the individual needs are studied and individual
talents brought into activity. In schools for the mentally defective the
very foundation of the methods and aims is to promote the development of
the individual, to draw out to the utmost whatever rudiments of ability
the child may possess and to keep the light turned steadily on the
normal rather than the abnormal in his nature. Physicians,
psychologists, and educators alike are realizing the importance of
adapting methods to the needs of the individual.

Child-study–unfortunately, in many cases the study of text-books rather
than of the living child in the family, but child-study in some
form–prevails among the mothers of to-day. The gifted Madame
Montessori, from both the scientific and the humanitarian standpoint, is
emphasizing the importance of giving the child freedom for
self-expression. In the suffrage movement we have another evidence of
the same impulse toward recognition of individual rights. It comes to us
from every direction, even from the battle-field where the Red Cross
nurse sees neither friend nor foe, only a suffering man needing her

Here we have two great forces: nature’s imperative demand for more
freedom for the body, more of God’s sunshine and fresh air; and the
still more imperative demand from the spirit in man for recognition and
release. The two forces unite in the one demand, _Pro sanitate totius
hominis_–for the health of the whole man.

Some thirty years ago Richard Dugdale, a large-hearted, large-brained
student of sociology, had the courage to state that the great blunder of
society in dealing with criminals began with shutting up so many of them
within our prisons, practically enslaving them to the state, depriving
them of all rewards for their labor and often throwing their families
upon public taxation for support; even in many cases making the
punishment fall more heavily upon innocent relatives than upon the
offenders themselves. He believed, however, that there would be a
residue of practically irreclaimable criminals whose permanent removal
from society was necessary, but that life for this class should be made
as nearly normal as possible. Richard Dugdale was a man of prophetic
insight, with a clear vision of the whole question of social
economics–social duties as well. Unfortunately, his death soon followed
the publication of his articles. But time is making his dreams come
true, and vindicating the soundness of his theories. Even during the
lifetime of this man spasmodic efforts were made in placing men on
probation after a first offence instead of sending them to prison.

With the introduction of the juvenile courts early in the present
century this idea assumed practical form; and Judge Lindsey, of Denver,
gave such impetus to the movement to save young offenders from the
demoralizing influence of jails and miscalled reformatories that this
example has been followed in all directions, and thousands of boys have
been rescued from criminal life. “Save the boys and girls” appealed
directly to the masses, and this ounce of prevention was indorsed with
little opposition.

But when the extension of the probation privilege to include adult
offenders–still further to reduce the prison population–was advocated
the public held back, fearing danger to society in allowing these older
lawbreakers to escape the legal penalties of their offences. However,
the current of progress was not to be stemmed, and adult probation has
been legalized in many States. The results have been satisfactory beyond
expectation, showing an average of less than five per cent of men
released on probation reverting to crime, against forty per cent of
reversions after a term in a non-progressive penitentiary.

This adult probation law confers upon the judge not mandatory but
discretionary power, and the character of the judge plays a part not
less important than the character of the offender; the application of
the law is primarily a relation of man to man; the unjust judge will be
unjust still, the timid judge will avoid taking risks; in the very human
side in which lies the strength of this course lie also its limitations.

Now the very foundation of the probation idea is the recognition of the
individual character of the offender and the circumstances leading to
the crime. But no sooner was the adult probation law in force than the
claim of the individual from another direction began to be recognized.
Curiously enough, in legal proceedings against criminals the injured
party had been entirely ignored–according to the old English precedent.
It was not the crime of man against man but the crime of man against the
state, the violation of a state law, that was punished. To the mind of
the criminal a crime against the state was but a vague and indefinite
abstraction, except in case of murder unlikely to cause remorse, or any
feeling of responsibility toward the person injured. If the injured
party were revengeful he had the satisfaction of knowing that the
criminal was punished; but the sending of the delinquent to prison
deprived him of all opportunity for reparation.

An interesting thing begins to happen when the judge is given power to
put a man on probation. At last the injury to the individual is taken
into consideration. Here is an actual instance in point.

“Five thousand dollars was embezzled from a Los Angeles theatre and
dissipated in high living by a man twenty-one years old. He confessed
and received this sentence from the judge:

“‘You shall stay at home nights. You shall remain within the limits of
this county. You shall not play billiards or pool, frequent cafés or
drink intoxicating liquors, and you shall go immediately to work and
keep at it till you pay back every dollar that you stole. Violate these
terms and you go to prison.'”[14]

This practice of making restitution one of the conditions of probation
is spreading rapidly. Here we have a method hitherto unapproached of
securing all-round, common-sense justice, directly in line also with
sound social economics. Mr. Morrison Swift has well said of a term in
prison that “it breaks the current between the man and life, so that
when he emerges it is hard to form connections again. He has lost his
job, and too often health, nerve, and self-respect are impaired. These
obstacles to reformation are swept away when a man retains his
connection with the community by working in it like anybody else.”

Another factor in the scheme of probation is that it brings the
delinquent directly in touch with a friendly, guiding, and helping hand,
placing him at once under good influences; for it is the duty of the
probation officer to secure for his charge environment calculated to
foster reformation: he becomes indeed his brother’s keeper.

While modern ideas have thus been applied in the rescue of the
individual before he has become identified with criminal life, even more
marked has been the invasion of recent movements into the very
stronghold of the penitentiary itself.

The twentieth century marks the beginning of the crusade against
tuberculosis. Physicians, philanthropists, and legislators combined
against the fearful ravages of this enemy to the very life of the
people. Generous appropriations were given by the state for the cure of
the disease and every effort was made to trace the sources of the evil.
And then it transpired that, while the state with her left hand was
establishing out-of-door colonies for the treatment of tuberculosis,
with her right hand she was maintaining laboratories for the culture of
the fatal germs, and industriously scattering the seeds in localities
where they would be most fruitful. In other words, the very walls of our
prisons had become beds of infection. Doctor J. B. Ransome, of New York
State, finds that from forty to sixty per cent of the deaths in all
prisons are from tuberculosis; at times the mortality has run as high as
eighty per cent. He tells us also that in the United States to-day there
are twenty thousand tubercular prisoners, most of whom will return to
the congested districts and stuffy tenements where the disease is most
rapidly and virulently spread.[15]

He urges as of the utmost importance _that infected prisons be
destroyed_, and that convicts be given work in the open air when
possible; and that light, air, exercise, more nourishing food, and more
healthful conditions generally be substituted for the disease-breeding
conditions under which prisons have always existed. Thus, apart from all
humanitarian considerations, public health demands radical changes in
prisons and in the lives of the prisoners.

The automobile, the autocrat of the present day, has little of the
missionary spirit; but it has made its imperious demand for good roads
all over the country, and legislation now authorizing convict labor on
State roads is not only responding to this demand but is partly solving
the vexed problem of the employment of convicts.

How far the men responsible for the revolution in the management of
prisoners have studied these trends of the times I do not know. Most of
these men have doubtless builded better than they knew. All the winds of
progress, moving from every direction, seem to be concentrating in one
blast destined to crumble the walls of our prisons as the walls of
Jericho are said to have crumbled under the blast of the trumpets of the
hosts of the Lord. It may even be that the hosts of the Lord are back
of these winds of progress.

The introduction of this reform movement required men of exceptional
force and ability, and in answer to this demand just such men are coming
to the front. The United States has already developed a remarkable line
of captains of industry, but not less remarkable men are taking this
humanitarian field to-day.

The pioneer in revolutionizing prison-management was neither penologist
nor philanthropist. The first step was taken for purely practical ends.
It happened, when the twentieth century had just begun, that Mr. John
Cleghorne, a newly appointed warden of a Colorado penitentiary, found
that the State had provided neither cells nor workshops within the
prison for the number of convicts sentenced to hard labor. To meet this
exigency this warden decided to put a number of men to work outside the
walls, organizing a camp and putting the men, then in striped clothing,
on their honor not to escape. The experiment was altogether successful;
but so quietly carried on that it received little attention outside the
borders of its own State until the appointment of the next warden,
Thomas J. Tynan, who recognized the beginning of true reform in the
treatment of convicts and openly advocated the changes from humanitarian

While to Colorado is given the precedence in this movement, a notable
feature is the nearly simultaneous expression of feeling and ideas
practically the same in widely separated localities, from the Pacific
coast to the Atlantic, and even on the shores of Panama. Naturally the
movement started in the West, in newer States less trammelled by
precedent than the older States, where traditions of prison discipline
had been handed down for two centuries; but the time was ripe for the
change and it has been brought about through men, some of them trained
penologists, others practical men of affairs, but all united in faith in
human nature and in the one aim of fitting the men under their
jurisdiction for self-supporting, law-abiding citizenship.

Sceptics as to the effect on the prisoner of this liberalizing tendency
are silenced by the amazing response on the part of the convicts in
every prison where the honor system has been applied. This response is
unquestionable: a spirit of mutual confidence is displacing one of
suspicion and discouragement, and in supplanting the old antagonism to
prison authorities by a hearty sense of co-operation with them an
inestimable point in prison discipline is gained. We hear much these
days of the power of suggestion, and the suggestion, conscious and
unconscious, permeating the very atmosphere of these progressive prisons
is hopeful and helpful.

Never before in the tragic history of prisons has a spiritual force been
applied to the control of prisoners; and yet with one consent the first
step taken by these progressive wardens is to place convicts on their
honor: not chains and shackles, not bolts and bars, no form of physical
restraint; but a force indefinable, impalpable, invisible, applied to
the spirit of these men. In bringing this force to bear on their charges
these wardens have indeed “hitched their wagon to a star.”


[14] Morrison I. Swift, _Atlantic Monthly_, August, 1911.

[15] _Atlantic Monthly_, August, 1911.