Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter III - The Prison and its Routine

ONCE prisoners are within the prison their condition is much more comfortable than it had been when they were under the charge of the policeman. When they leave the van their identity is checked and the warrants for their detention are inspected. They are then passed into the reception-room and are placed each in a separate box. They are taken one by one and questioned as to certain details that are noted for purposes of identification and for statistical records. Then comes the bath. The prisoner removes all his clothing and an inventory of it is taken. When he leaves the bath his own clothing has been replaced by a dress provided by the State. His clothing is disinfected and placed aside in a bundle, against the time of his liberation. He now receives a copy of the prison rules, which he must obey; a Bible, which he may study; a hymn-book; an industry-card, on which his earnings will be noted; and some other articles; and he is passed on to prison.

His life there is one of monotonous routine whether his sentence be short or long.

The prison surprises visitors by its quiet and by the conspicuous cleanliness which is its characteristic feature. Yet it is not surprising that people should be able to keep the place clean and tidy, when they have little else to do and no opportunity for making it dirty and untidy. The cleanliness and tidiness of a prison is different from that of any household. It is not the cleanliness and tidiness of healthy life. It is part of the prisoner’s work to keep his cell and its furniture in order.

One thing visitors cannot miss seeing, yet do not observe, though it is of much more significance than the cleanliness they admire: the good temper and tractability of the prisoners. That a prisoner should bo clean is wonderful; that people who have been committing breaches of the peace, assaults, thefts, and have been generally a nuisance or a terror to the public, should be moving about at work or at exercises quietly and peaceably, should be so obedient and tractable that one warder can look after twenty of them and seldom have anything to report to their discredit, is far more wonderful. These people are sent to prison because they cannot obey the law, but while in prison they are not rebellious; so that it is reasonable to infer that there has been something in the conditions of their life outside which has led them into misconduct, and not that they are inherently incapable of behaving themselves.

The modem prison is built on a simple plan. Roughly it may be described as two blocks of cells joined by a gable at each end and roofed over; a well being left between the blocks and lighted from the roof. All the cells have windows in the outer, and doors in the inner, walls. Balconies run round these inner walls, from which access is had to the cells in each flat. The cells in which the prisoners are confined are apartments measuring about 10 ft. by 7 ft. by 10 ft. high. The partitions and roofs of the cells are of whitewashed brickwork, and the floor of stone and asphalt. Each cell has a little window in the wall near the door glazed with obscured glass, and on the outside of these windows a gas bracket is placed. At night the cell is lit by this arrangement, which diminishes the amount of hight and fixes its source in a corner. It is designed to prevent any person from attempting suicide by inhalation of gas; but in institutions where attempts at suicide are more likely to take place other means have been found to prevent the adoption of this method. It ensures that one hundred thousand people are inconvenienced in order that one may be prevented from ending his discomfort. There are other ways of breaking a walnut than crushing it with a steam-hammer.

A prison cell does not contain much furniture. The bed is a wooden shutter hinged to the wall, so that it can be folded up during the day-time. When not in use the bedding is rolled together and placed in a corner of the apartment. Convicted male prisoners who are under sixty years of age are not allowed a mattress during the first thirty days of their imprisonment ; they just lie on the board. I do not suppose that anybody imagines that a man is more likely to lead a new life if he is made to sleep on a bare board, than he would be if he were allowed a mattress. It is intended to hurt, and it will hurt the more sensitive in a greater degree than those of a coarser constitution. It is a part of the system, and will go with it when people wake up to the fact that it is a senseless thing to set about to irritate and annoy others.

Of late years it has been discovered that prisoners were as little likely to escape if their cells were well lit as they would be their cells being ill lit. The windows have consequently been enlarged and nobody has been the loser. The cell at the best is not a place to inspire cheerfulness, but an effort has been made to make the place less bare. Some years ago a six-inch circle of glass was attached to the wall in many cells. The glass was of that variety that distorts everything seen through it when it is used for windows, and when it is silvered and converted into a mirror the effect is peculiar.

The walls of some of the cells are decorated with a chromolithograph, such as is given to customers as a calendar by many shopkeepers at the New Year time. The mirror and the print, bad work and bad art though they may be, relieve the bare, ugly walls of the cells, and indicate a consciousness that the present system is not quite so perfect as it might be. Whether any such mitigations (if it can always be called a mitigation to see your face twisted out of shape and to gaze upon a sentimental chromo) are worthy of the fuss made about them is another matter, for the main question is not whether imprisonment should be mitigated, but—what is its object?

In Scotland the diet prescribed is a very simple one. In quantity it is ample for the needs of the great majority of the prisoners. Indeed, a fair proportion receive more than they are fit to consume. The medical officer may reduce a diet to prevent waste; or he may increase a diet, if in his view the prisoner requires more food. As I believe that nearly every man knows his own needs a great deal better than the diet specialist, a request from a prisoner for more food is never refused provided he is consuming all he gets.

A request for a change of food is quite another thing ; but a man who for gluttony would gorge himself with the diet provided for prisoners would be a curiosity.

The food is excellent in quality, but there is not much variety. There are three meals daily. Porridge and sour milk with bread form the morning and evening meals, and the dinner usually consists of broth and bread. This is the ordinary routine diet, and one can understand that after a time it is not unnatural there should be longings for a change. It is a simple diet and is sufficient. The death-rate in prisons is small. The improvement in the health of broken-down and habitually debauched persons during their term of imprisonment is marked, and there can be no doubt that the regimen saves many of them from death and prolongs their lives.

In these days the benefits of sour milk have been preached by the scientific man, and the culture of the lactic-acid bacillus has become a recognised industry. In the Scottish prisons the inmates have had the advantage of its beneficent operations for many years, though they did not know its name and would have been glad to have seen sweet milk rather than sour. The state of their health forms a strong argument for the advocates of the simple life, yet most of them would choose greater variety in food, though they should die a few years earlier.

The clothing of prisoners, as regards cutting and material, resembles nothing seen outside. The untried male is officially clothed in brown corduroy, and when convicted he exchanges this for white moleskin. The surface of the cloth used to be decorated with broad-arrows, so that the prisoner looked like a person in a prehistoric dress over which some gigantic hen had walked after puddling in printer’s ink; but this has been discontinued.

The cut of the clothing seems to be designed to save cloth, and so long as the prisoner is kept warm he does not concern himself about the unfashionable character of his clothes. As for the women’s dress, being a mere man I cannot describe it; but ladies who visit the prison seem to be agreed that it is plain and neat. It is certainly strikingly different from anything they wear.

It is a rule that all convicted prisoners shall wear prison clothes. There are not very many of them whose own clothing is clean enough for them to wear, and not a few are more ragged than they need be. Whether they would not be better employed in cleaning and mending their own clothes than in doing many of the things they are required to do is a question that might be considered. It certainly does not seem reasonable that because a person has offended we should thrust upon him our hospitality to the extent of causing him to use clothing provided by us, if he has clothing of his own that he can decently wear. His own clothing has been placed aside while under our care, and at the expiry of his sentence it may be handed back to him as it was taken from him, excepting for the creases it has acquired in the interval. It would cost more trouble to the officials to set prisoners to improve their own appearance than to set them to break stones, and yet it might not be a bad thing to do nothing for a man, not even to provide him with clothing, if he can do it for himself. [The Rules for Prisons in Scotland, 1854, ordain that the Matron u should ascertain how far those prisoners who are committed for considerable periods are deficient in a knowledge of domestic matters, such as cooking, washing, and repairing clothes, and instruct them in these things. She should encourage prisoners, in their spare time, to put their own clothes into a good state of repair before they leave the Prison, and in some cases to make new clothes for themselves. And, lastly, she should learn what their prospects are on leaving prison; and with the aid of the Governor and Chaplain, do what she can to procure suitable situations for them.”]

When prisoners’ sentences exceed a certain term their own clothing is washed, and at the end of their imprisonment it is restored to them clean. This teaches them that if they do not keep their clothing clean it will be cleaned for them. At any rate, it does not teach them to do the necessary work themselves ; but then it is much easier to do things for some people than to teach them to do these things for themselves.

The work provided for prisoners varies in kind in different districts, but it has one common characteristic, which is that few could earn a living by it outside. It has been said by those who ought to know better that the prisons cannot undertake anything but the lowest kinds of unskilled labour, because of the objections made by trade unions. These societies are no more infallible in their wisdom than their critics, but they do not adopt the foolish attitude attributed to them. Like employers of labour, they have objected to unfair competition on the part of prisons, and quite properly have taken steps to prevent underselling on the part of the authorities. Prisons are not self-supporting institutions, and, in the nature of things as they exist, cannot be made to defray the expenditure incurred in their upkeep. Most prisoners could quite well earn the cost of their food and clothing ; but the cost of their supervision is greatly in excess of the cost of their board. It does not take much to keep a prisoner, but it takes a good deal to keep me and my colleagues, and that is a necessary part of the expenditure incurred on behalf of the institution.

This rule is omitted from the edition of 1875, and subsequently; but it is greatly in advance of anything that has been substituted for it.

The prison accounts, as published, show a profit in some departments of prison labour, but this is arrived at by the ingenuous way of leaving out everything but the cost of material and (if the work is not for an outside customer) so much an hour for every prisoner engaged at it. If a manufacturer had only these items to consider there would be fewer bankrupts and more wealthy men; and if the price of goods were determined on an estimate of cost which only included these items plus a reasonable profit, it is quite clear that prison labour could undersell free labour. The trade unions and the private employers have simply insisted on prison-made goods being sold at prices which will not cut the market rate.

Prison labour is never so efficient as free labour, and though the employment of prisoners to do prison work may be justified on other grounds, it cannot be defended on an economic basis. It has often been suggested that tradesmen who have been convicted should be allowed to work at their trades while undergoing imprisonment; thereby they would be kept in practice, and would be less unfitted to resume their ordinary occupation on the expiry of their sentence; but a little consideration of the facts will show that however desirable this might be it is not practicable. In prison at any one time there may be a number of tradesmen, but their occupations are very different; and in many cases they are of such a character that even if work for them could be had it could not be undertaken owing to the fact that expensive machinery would require to be installed.

Even where the work is of such a kind that it could be done in prison it cannot be obtained for other reasons. In Glasgow prison, where there are more women than men incarcerated, a laundry was started some years ago, and customers were invited to send in their washing to be done at ordinary outside rates. The washing is done by hand and no modem laundry machine is employed. The result is that the articles cleaned are not subjected to the same strain, and are likely to last longer. Before long difficulties arose, and it became perfectly clear that these were not due to any action on the part of outside laundries, with which the prison was competing, but to inherent defects in the prison laundry. No business will be successful for long unless it keeps faith with its customers, who require to have their work done and delivered in proper condition within a fixed period. Sometimes there are skilled laundresses among the prisoners, and at other times there are not. Washing may be a very simple process, not requiring much training (although a great many occupations are considered, by those who do not undertake them, to be quite easy, but are difficult to those who try them for the first time), but it requires some skill to starch and iron clothing in a satisfactory way. Customers found this out for themselves. Work of that kind, and it seems a simple kind, is difficult to get, not because competing firms outside put obstacles in the way, but because the customer has no guarantee that he will have it done regularly to his satisfaction.

The workshops vary in kind in different prisons, but they have the common character of differing from any workshop outside a prison. The ability and experience possessed by the managers of prisons are not the same kind as those present in managers of workshops outside. The training has been quite different. The outside man may be very proud of his working arrangements, but if his balance-sheet is unsatisfactory his pride is effectively checked. There is no such check to the satisfaction of those who manage prisons. When one remembers that they are the sole authorised critics of their own work, it is not surprising that its character should differ from that produced by industrial concerns outside. As a general rule prisoners are engaged at unskilled labour. Some of them are associated at work, but always under the supervision of an officer, who sees that they do not engage in conversation with each other.

Public attention has been directed to the cruelty of solitary confinement, and nothing that has been said or written on the subject could be too strong in its condemnation. The term “Solitary Confinement” is generally objected to and that of “Separate Confinement” substituted for it; but the public need not concern itself with differences which are merely technical. The practice of rigidly enforcing silence and attempting to prevent any but the merest official interviews or associations between a prisoner and others will do as much serious harm under whatever name it is called. Experience has shown that the association of prisoners with each other in the absence of strict supervision may result in general corruption, but rational efforts to prevent this evil can be made without the risk of inducing a greater.

It is against the rules for prisoners to engage in conversation with one another; and the officers are not in a position to talk much to them except on business, even if they had the inclination to do so.

Prisoners may not be the most suitable company for each other; but, in the case of most of them, to shut one in to no company but himself can only result in his mental deterioration, and there can be no doubt that some have been driven towards insanity through this treatment.

It is not an uncommon characteristic of old convicts that they show delusions of suspicion and of persecution, and this is not to be wondered at when one considers the narrowness of their life in prison, and the undue importance that is apt to be placed on little things by a man who is denied rational intercourse with others and whose natural curiosity is repressed.

The more monotonous his life, the more his mind is compelled to dwell on the trivial incidents that are happening around him; the more he is shut in to himself, the greater the tendency for him to become twisted mentally. The fresher and more varied his interest is kept in things outside of himself the better for him and for others.

The tendency of late years has all been towards a less rigid application of the rules which are designed to enforce silence, and there is now more reasonable association of prisoners than ever there has been, and less tendency when they are associated for their attention to be strained in an effort to watch at the same time their work and the warder who is supervising it.

When they are under supervision by a sensible person there is very little danger of their doing or saying things that would be harmful; and as at night they are all in separate cells, the corruption that sometimes takes place in institutions where the dormitory system is in use is not possible.

Amongst prisoners in Glasgow there has never in my experience been any chance for the development of a brooding, suspicious, unhealthy habit. The fact that so many untried prisoners are detained there, necessarily under conditions more favourable than the convicted, has made the place one in which the life is more varied and in which rules could be less readily enforced than in some other establishments. There have been more occurrences taking place under the prisoners’ eyes, and they have had more to interest them.

A good deal of the work is done in association, and that which is done in the cells is usually engaged in by prisoners who are detained for short terms; but even in their case they are not left alone for long periods. Visits to them are frequent for one purpose or another, and there is no attempt made to harass or drive them. Still, at the best, the life is not a healthy one from the mental standpoint.

Work and good conduct are rewarded by marks. Prisoners whose sentence exceeds fourteen days, and who are not on hard labour, may earn four marks per day. For every six marks earned one penny is allowed as a gratuity to the prisoner at the expiry of his sentence, and this may be paid to him on his discharge, or he may receive it through one or other of the Aid Societies after his liberation. Hard-labour prisoners may receive a gratuity of one shilling a month if their conduct and work have been satisfactory.

The Governor sees each prisoner daily in order to hear any complaint that may arise, either on the part of the prisoner or of the warder; but the visit otherwise is a formal one, as visits of inspection usually are. If the prisoner has a complaint or a request to make it is examined or attended to. Should there be a complaint against the prisoner the parties are heard and judgment is given. There are numerous acts which are offences in prison, and the governor has power in minor cases to deal with them and to award punishment at his discretion ; but in no case involving a change of diet or the infliction of any physical discomfort can the punishment be carried out until the prisoner is certified by the Medical Officer to be fit to stand it.

The prisoner may offend in a great variety of ways, as through carelessness breaking a dish; through idleness failing to perform his task; through untidiness keeping his cell in an unsatisfactory condition; he may be insolent and insubordinate towards the officers; or he may be convicted of speaking to another prisoner or of making unauthorised communications. The offences for the most part are trifling in character and would not be offences outside the prison, but if the system is to be maintained the offenders must be dealt with.

In more serious cases the offender is tried by a member of the Visiting Committee of the prison or by a Prison Commissioner. In some cases the conclusion cannot be escaped that offences are due more to an incompatibility of temperament between the prisoner and those over him than to anything else. A prisoner may behave and work well when under the supervision of one officer, and may do badly when under the care of another. Some people can manage those under them better than others; but not infrequently the prisoner is neither a malicious person nor the warder a stupid person, and yet they cannot get on together. The obvious thing to do is to separate them ; the easy thing to do is to punish the prisoner.

Sometimes assaults are made on warders by prisoners. In sixteen years’ experience I have seen very few, and the assailants were usually half-witted creatures who had conceived a dislike, which did not seem to be founded on any tangible reason, against the person assailed. In my opinion these cases should never be tried in prison. Offences committed in prison which would be cognisable by the criminal authorities if committed outside should be tried in an open Court. I do not suggest that the prisoner would be treated unjustly if tried in prison, but it cannot be denied that the atmosphere is not favourable to his receiving the impression that he is getting what he would call “a fair show”; and the trial of a man before a Court consisting of those interested in the management of prisons, on the complaint of a prison official, and without the presence of any members of the general public, is not calculated to inspire confidence.

Prisoners are at liberty to make any complaint to the Prison Commissioners in writing, and the governor is obliged to forward it; or they may communicate direct with the Secretary for Scotland without the writing being seen by the prison officials. Such complaints may be referred to those complained against for answer, and if the result is not satisfactory a special enquiry may take place.

Each prison has its punishment cells—places for the incarceration of unruly prisoners. Under rational management there is no use for them except temporarily, and then only to prevent the prisoner from injuring himself or others, or from annoying other prisoners by noise, in a fit of temper suggestive of insanity.

It is one of the Chaplain’s duties to visit the prisoners, and although it is intended that he should minister to them spiritual consolation, that term may mean anything in practice. A man, whether a clergyman or not, who puts himself in a position of censor of morals to his fellows, is not regarded by them with any degree of affection or respect, unless he does not stop there. Few people like to be talked down to, whether they are in prison or out of it. A superior attitude adopted towards some is more likely to draw out their evil qualities, and to excite them to bad temper and wrath, than to help them. I do not think Prison Chaplains in Scotland, whether belonging to one denomination or another, are given to the practice of assuming that with those whom they address necessarily lies all the blame for their position. There is more a disposition to pity than to blame, although an attitude of pity is sometimes a greater insult than one of censure and may irritate as deeply.

There has been a growing disposition to say kind things to and of prisoners. We may believe that more can be done by the kind look than by the harsh word, and lose sight of the fact that pity and sympathy are two quite different things. The fact of the matter is that nobody is able to assess justly the amount of blame to be attached to a man for his misdeeds, and the amount to be placed to the discredit of society; but in few cases is anyone helped by being encouraged to believe that he is free from blame, that he could not do any better than he has done.

Prisoners are not different from others in their tendency to put the best construction on their own behaviour. An astonishing number are in jail because they had bad neighbours. According to their statements, they could get along all right if it were not for the people next door. It may be quite true to some extent, but they are not to be helped in mending their own conduct by attention to the faults of their neighbours. I do not suggest that this attitude on their part, this disposition to prove how comparatively stainless they are and how objectionable are those with whom they have been brought in contact, is due to the ministrations of the clergy, but merely that it affects their estimate of the ministers of religion.

The attitude of the prisoner towards the minister is one thing ; his attitude towards the doctor, for instance, is quite another. The Chaplain desires to be regarded as a friend of the prisoner, and that by many he is so regarded there can be no doubt; but unfortunately, with some of them, they seem to measure friendship by their ability to humbug the friend, and the value of the clergyman by what they can put into him which may tell in their favour when he estimates their character, and by what they can get out of him in the way of material help. The Chaplain is sometimes swindled, but so are we all; his office and his message make him a mark for the shafts of the wicked. He sees one side of the prisoner better than any other official, and if he has counterfeit penitents he has also real ones. His visits may be a source of encouragement and strength to the prisoner; but whatever spiritual effect his teaching may have— whether it be great or little—if he has a human interest in those he visits, in so far as his character commands respect his ministrations tend to prevent the prisoner from sinking under the monotony of the discipline to which he is subjected.

Representatives of various religious agencies visit prisoners. They are remarkable for their earnestness and zeal, but there is often a fatal difference of standpoint between visitor and visited. A girl brought up in a slum, seeing and hearing sights and sounds which are an outrage on decency; working for long hours to earn a scanty living; housed rather worse than many horses and dogs; ill-taught and ill-cared for; has transgressed the law and been sent to prison. She knows she is to blame for doing the thing she has done in the way she has done it, but she and those like her regard her imprisonment as in some degree an accident. It is difficult to describe the standpoint.

In a busy street where there is a constant stream of horses and mechanical traffic going in different directions and at different rates of speed, there is always danger to the passenger who seeks to cross ; and occasionally someone is run down and hurt. The injured party is always to blame to some extent, and is hurt because he has failed to estimate the danger accurately and to avoid it successfully; but others may be to blame also. The fault is never wholly on one side. To the girl the law resembles the traffic in the street; and when she is knocked down she and her friends regard her as the victim of misfortune.

That is not the standpoint of the visitor. She may have known nothing of the trials and temptations of the poor, save what she has seen from the outside. Hunger has never been her attendant; poverty has been unknown to her. She has received attention and care in her early days; has not been tasked beyond her strength; has been able to choose her own work and do it in her own time; has been well housed and well fed; and has found it easy to obey the law. Between the two a great gulf is fixed. Their outlook is as different as their experience.

It is a great mistake to assume that the rich know more of the poor than the poor know of the rich. The street-corner spouter may denounce the luxury of the wealthy and expose himself to their ridicule. They know that they are not as he paints them, and they laugh or sneer at his ignorance ; but they are as little qualified to judge him as he is to judge them. Each sees the other’s vices ; and every visitor is as much a subject of criticism by the prisoner as a critic.

It is as unreasonable to expect that a woman in prison will give her confidence to a stranger who visits her, as it would be for the prisoner to expect that the visitor would submit to her questions. One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that visitors do not do the good they imagine they are doing when they pass from one cell to another exhorting the prisoners to better behaviour. They stir up the emotions of those to whom they minister, and some of the women find great consolation and relief in a good cry. There are those, however, who have learned to distrust the possibility of wholesale reform of prisoners, and who single out some one whom it seems possible to help and hang on to her, visit and encourage her on her liberation, and have their reward in the consciousness that they have really rendered effective assistance where it was needed.

The ideal held up by the visitors in their advice to prisoners too often seems impossible of attainment by those to whom it is presented. There are some who have no ambition to five within the law, but there are many who would rather do so if they could. Most of us have not in us the capacity to become great saints; and to ask the ordinary person to conform to a standard which would present difficulties to us, does not seem reasonable. Something is gained if, though you fail to persuade a person to be good, you can induce him to be better than he has been. Just as many have drifted into evil courses step by step, they may be led into a better way of living by degrees. Sudden conversions are not uncommon, but they are not the rule. The visits to prisoners on the part of people from outside are of great benefit; anything is that breaks the monotony of the day; and if the visitors are receptive they may learn a good deal from the prisoners, and may be made the better for their visit even though they fail to make the impression they desire on those to whom they have spoken.

There are three forms of religion recognised in prison: the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Episcopalian. A service is held once a week by a clergyman of each of these Churches, and the Presbyterians go out to prayers daily.

The chapel has a more or less ecclesiastical appearance, and is divided in such a way that the male and the female prisoners do not see each other, though the preacher can see both divisions. Most of the prisoners do not attend religious services when they are at liberty, but some make an ingenious distinction between religion and conduct. I remember one old woman who had grown grey and almost blind after a long course of vicious and criminal conduct. She was eloquent regarding a person whom she described as being “nae better than an infidel.” I replied that “at least he had kept out of prison,” and she replied, “Aye; but though I have been a drunkard, a blackguard, and a thief, thank God I never neglected my religion.”

I do not know whether the Salvation Army representatives are more effective as religious agents than the other visitors. Their work is certainly better advertised, and they belong usually to the same social rank as many of the prisoners. The religion they teach, if more emotionally expressed, is not different from that taught by the other visitors; but they can appeal to the prisoner more effectively because they are better able than many others to appreciate and sympathise with the difficulties and temptations under which the wrongdoer has fallen.

Many of those in prison are not there because of idleness. They have worked harder in their day than the people who talk eloquently about the dignity of labour. Neither are they there because, like the heathen, they have never heard the message of the gospel. As a matter of fact, most of them can never get away from the voice of the preacher for any long time, for the evangelists are abroad nightly singing hymns and exhorting the public in all the poorer working-class districts. They have worked hard enough to earn money and are in prison because they have not known how to spend it wisely. In prison they are not taught useful work, and as little are they taught how to recreate themselves after work. Their day may be divided into four parts: There is a time for eating; there is a time for working; and what they do and what food they have has already been shown. There is a time for sleeping : they go to bed early in the evening and rise early in the morning. “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man” well, it doesn’t.

At any rate, the inmates of the prison have not attracted attention hitherto on account of their wealth or their wisdom. Then there is a time left for meditation.

Every prisoner has his Bible and his Prayer Book. I am far from suggesting that this is a provision that should not be made, but by this time it will be generally admitted that mere Bible reading, or praying, when a prisoner is in a measure compelled to it, are not likely to have the most beneficial effect. It is a useful thing occasionally to be able to quote scripture, and some of those who have spent a considerable portion of their lives in prison have stored their memory with a large and varied assortment of texts, which they are prepared to use when they think a profit is to be made thereby. A profession of reformation seems to have a more powerful effect when buttressed with texts of scripture, and an appeal for help on the part of the penitent is more likely to succeed when heard by the godly, many of whom are exceedingly kind to those who show a disposition to conform to their theological standards.

Persons whose sentences exceed fourteen days may have books from the prison library with which to beguile their time. The books provided resemble the clothing, in respect that it is greatly a matter of chance as to whether they suit the person who gets them. I have seen an illiterate lad from the slums hopelessly wrestling with an elementary manual on Electricity and Magnetism. I suppose this would be regarded as an educational work. The library is carefully selected with the intention of excluding all pernicious literature—certainly the sensational is passed by—but we all differ in our ideas as to the value of books; I myself would describe some popular works as pernicious literature; and many of the papers that one set of people appreciate and are able to read without apparent injury are of no use to others. The complaint which has been made that prison libraries contain a great deal of poor stuff, and do not contain a sufficient representation of the classic writers, leaves out of account the fact that these classic writers are more talked about than read. The popular novelist of to-day has a larger audience in his own generation than ever Shakespeare had. The one writer is read during his lifetime, the other finds his audience all through the ages. In a prison, as in all institutions, the attempt is made to work to an average. When the educated person appears in prison let us refrain from insulting his intelligence by giving him books to read which he despises ; but he must remember that others are not as he is, and that they may even derive stimulus and benefit from those works which can only annoy him.

The untried prisoner may have newspapers and magazines sent in to him as well as books, unless, indeed, the Visiting Committee refuse to permit this. He can choose suitable literature for himself provided his friends are willing to send it to him, but immediately he is convicted he has no choice in the matter. The State is his librarian; and it seems a little absurd that the taxpayer should be charged for providing him with things which he does not want, and which can do him no good, if he or his friends could, at their own expense, procure him books he would enjoy.

Of late years lectures have been given to prisoners, and occasionally concerts have been provided for them. The lectures have been on all kinds of subjects. Some of them have dealt with travel and have been illustrated by limelight views; others have dealt with sanitation, physiology, and the treatment of common ailments; others have taken the form of cookery demonstrations ; and the prison audience is invariably more appreciative than most audiences outside. They enjoy anything that breaks the dulness of their routine life. No sensible person expects that the lectures will make them travellers, or physiologists, or cooks, though an interest in these subjects may be kindled by the lecturer. Few people are ever lectured into a change of life, but anything that prevents them from sinking into apathy, from brooding on the petty incidents that go to make up their lives in prison, from beating against the bars of their cage, is beneficial.

There are those who protest against making the prison too comfortable and who seem to believe that people want to go there. There need be no fear of this. A cage is a cage even though it be gilded, and they are few indeed who seek imprisonment. Occasionally you have some saying they prefer the prison to the poorhouse. I have worked in both places and wholly agree with their preference, but that is not a testimony to the desirability of life in prison, but a reproach to the poorhouse. Those who support efforts to lessen the monotony of prison life are not moved by any desire that the prisoners may have a good time. For my own part, I am not concerned to make their lot less mechanical merely for their sakes, but for the sake of the community of which they are a part. I believe that imprisonment has been shown to have a bad effect on those who suffer it, and as some day they are to be turned loose on the community, it is advisable to prevent them being liberated in a condition that would make their more dangerous to their fellow-citizens, or more troublesome, than they were before their arrest.

Outside the block of cells is an airing-yard, which consists of a space round which two narrow paved walks run. On these the prisoners take their exercise, each walking for an hour daily for the benefit of his health; separated by a space from the prisoner in front and the prisoner behind him, and watched by a warder lest any conversation or sign of recognition takes place between him and his fellows. The elderly or physically defective prisoners walk round the inner ring, where the pace is slower.

Some of the female prisoners undergo a course of instruction in Swedish drill. Their opinion is expressed in the name by which the exercise is known. It is called the “Daft hour,” and they enjoy it. As to its usefulness from an industrial standpoint the less said the better. It does no harm and it is a pleasant break in the day. In short, the prisoners are better employed in going through the drill than in doing something worse.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus