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four may be sent in, and the letters from home, for which, by a flash of rare illumination, the Prison Commissioners provide a little wooden rack. But these few exceptions do not touch the tendency of the whole system, though they represent small but praiseworthy efforts to redeem it. The vast majority of men work away mechanically at their mat-making or mail-bag sewing, and have no opportunities such as those of the 'cleaner' or library-assistant. And I am afraid that a considerable proportion of ordinary prisoners have not learnt to aspire to any books beyond a sensational novel or magazine, and have no homes capable of acting as sources of inspiration to the monthly letter or visit.
It will be readily inferred from what I have already said that prisons are characterised by an almost complete absence of trust in the honour or obedience of the prisoner; and that the warders and Governor rule not by love but by the fear which punishment and the threat to punish inspires. The regulations that hang on the wall of each cell give a portentous list of some twenty or thirty different forms of activity, for which punishment is prescribed; and the attempt to indulge in any one of these is punishable equally with the activity itself. As we were moved about to and from chapel or workshop or exercise-ring, warders were stationed at different vantage points, with the object of cutting off every effort to communicate with the next man. 'Keep that tongue quiet or you'll soon be having a change of diet,' was a frequent exhortation. Every step and action is watched and spied upon. The gardening gang, for instance, has to move about as if they were roped together. Whenever one man has the smallest job in another part of the garden, e.g. emptying out some weeds or fetching some vegetables for replanting, the whole party has to down tools and accompany him; otherwise the warder in charge would be temporarily out of sight or hearing of one portion or other of his gang. The whole effect is ridiculous in the extreme, and not calculated to produce good work.
Compared with this constant and wearying bondage outside one's cell, the stern walls, barred windows and locked door of that small chamber furnish a certain sense of freedom. But even here there is no true privacy.
About once a month there is a surprise search of everything in one's cell and of one's clothing, to detect forbidden articles. One's person is searched too on the return from the laundry or the garden, lest a piece of soap or a raw vegetable should be hidden there-and, in fact, so hungry were we, that I have seen many a root grabbed from the soil surreptitiously at exercise or while gardening. Every cell door is provided with a glass spy-hole, through which the inmate can be inspected at any hour of the day or night. The warder walks about outside in soft slippers like a cat, and noiselessly slips aside the spy-hole's cover. In this way, even when one's daily task is fully completed, one may be threatened with punishment by a harsh voice for lying down before bedtime or for standing upon one's stool to gaze longingly out of the scanty and heavily-barred window-an action which exposes one to the suspicion of attempting to communicate with the man in one of the adjoining cells.
The want of confidence in the prisoners is accompanied by a corresponding want of confidence in the warders. These officers are also spied upon by the Chief Warder and Governor; and such is the fear of collusion or bribery, that a warder is forbidden to engage in 'familiar conversation with a prisoner, and is not supposed to say anything to him that does not bear upon his work or the prison rules. This rule is largely disregarded, but, as warders themselves have complained to me, it makes it practically impossible for them to exercise a lasting reformative or uplifting influence on a prisoner. Yet, if any one could help to reform him, it would be, not the Chaplain or Governor, but the warder, who has to supply all his needs, direct his work, and control his movements. The harshness and solitude of prison make one peculiarly sensitive to any token of kindness or compassion that breaks through the machinelike routine; and I have often poured blessings inwardly upon a warder for some kindly look or word. I have heard the better warders denounce the present system. as tyranny' from their point of view also, and express regret, on grounds of humanity, that they ever entered the prison service. Considering the nature of the tasks imposed upon them, it is less surprising that some of them should become harsh task-masters than
that others should preserve, in spite of it all, so much of the milk of human kindness. The only criticism one can make of most warders-and that only tentativelyis that they remain in a profession in which daily actions of direct or indirect harshness to their fellow-beings are inseparable from the routine of duty.
I will add one little incident to show that the trouble usually lies much less with the character of the warders than with the system which they have to enforce. At one of the monthly visits allowed after the first three months of a sentence, I was given the exceptional privilege of seeing my wife, with only a long table between us, instead of through the usual double set of bars or wire gauze. One of the strictest warders was taking' the interview, and at the end my wife asked to be allowed a parting kiss. The warder bluntly refused, and the interview ended. Whereat I, knowing that other warders (in defiance, of course, of the rules) would have allowed it, forgot my principles and murmured a vicious 'You brute!' beneath my breath. But I had not long been back again in my cell and was trying to change my curse into a blessing, when I heard a key in the lock, and the tyrant of our visit came in, and, in a way that indicated how deeply moved he was, begged me to believe that he felt as unhappy over the incident as we must be feeling, and that there was nothing more hateful than having the duty of 'standing between man and wife.' My faith in humanity was renewed.
Such being the leading characteristics of the system, I will now attempt to illustrate further from my own personal experience what I regard as the most deplorable and immoral of all the rules. This is the attempt to enforce complete silence and separation upon prisoners. In the first place, this regulation, together with the absence of trust that is so conspicuous, brings to bear upon almost every prisoner an overpowering temptation to swerve more and more from the path of truthfulness and openness of conduct, and to fall into varying degrees of dishonesty, deception, and artfulness.
In point of fact hardly any prisoners keep the absolute rule of silence during a single day of their term. Some warders, sensitive to the inhuman nature of the
restriction, wink more or less openly at talking between prisoners, at least whenever there is no danger of a sudden invasion from the Chief Warder or Governor; but they do this at considerable risk, for they are fined, and may even be discharged, for allowing conversation. On the other hand, it is practically impossible for the strictest and most dutiful warder to detect all breaches of the rule. There are brief occasions on the exercisering or elsewhere when the prisoner is actually too far away from him to be overheard; more often it is due to the simple fact that the warder's eyes cannot be turned in the direction of every prisoner at once. Talking without detection in a special kind of whisper, that will not carry more than a yard or two, becomes a fine art; as does also the swift handing of a note or other harmless article to one's neighbour, while the warder's attention is directed elsewhere. It is easy to imagine to what a pitch of skill the professional thief or burglar develops this artfulness. I used to watch them as we sat together in the workroom where, at regulated intervals, some thirty of us were sewing our bags in apparent silence.
Under the pressure of the cruel and unnatural restrictions nearly all of us conscientious objectors were also driven to similar forms of underhand communication. From the first, I personally took every opportunity of exchanging cheerful greetings and scraps of news with my companions in misfortune. Apart from the muchneeded outlet for self-expression, it seemed a religious duty to pass on words of cheer and interest. At one time a single brief remark could be thrown out, at another a considerable conversation, protracted probably by interruptions, might even be carried on. In this way one's various companions gradually became distinct personalities, and one could love them and pray for them in a far more real way. And one's efforts, some successful and some unsuccessful, to communicate with different men added a spice of adventure to the monotony of the day. But gradually, as the months passed by, I felt increasingly the disloyalty to the spirit of absolute Truth entailed by the calculation and concealment without which the prohibited conversation would have been impossible. The sin against Truth was of a very subtle and excusable kind, but it was real; and one slight shade
of untruthfulness led on to another of a darker hue. Words thrown out quickly and boldly, when one was momentarily out of range of the warder's eyes and ears, might be blameless enough. But it is different when one habitually turns round to examine that officer's location and attentiveness, before venturing a whispered remark; or when one actually contracts the habit of closely watching his eyes, and regulates one's speech or silence in accordance with their direction at the moment, adopting involuntarily expressions of innocence when those suspicious eyes are turned upon oneself. And even when an unusually friendly warder openly winked at our whispered conversation, we were really involved in the deception, which he, by secretly allowing us to break the rules, was practising on the authorities responsible for the discipline.
Some may think it ridiculous to be conscientious about such minute and excusable breaches of the code of truth, but there seems to me no doubt that their cumulative effect was to create an atmosphere of falsehood, suspicion, and dishonesty which affected adversely every one in the prison; and that, to those who had previously acquired no rooted love of truth, prison was a school of artfulness and deceit as effective as human ingenuity could devise. In any case certain incidents, into which I need not enter here, caused me, when I had spent about eight months in prison, to decide that, cost what it might, I must once and for all break the meshes of calculating concealment in which I, along with the others, was entangled, and make an open protest to the Governor against the inhuman rule which lay at the root of the whole trouble. The result was that, in order to prevent my carrying out my intention of talking openly to my fellow prisoners, I was removed to a cell at a distance from the others, had a separate track to myself for the daily exercise, and spent the rest of my time, with the exception of four (or at most five) weekly periods of chapel,' in solitary confinement in my cell, where, of course, talking to other men was impossible. On an average nearly 23 hours of every 24 were spent inside my locked door for about four months preceding my release.
I was now almost completely removed from temptation to untruthfulness, but, on the other hand, I felt