Eugene V. (Eugene Victor) Debs.

Walls and bars online

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pull" is everywhere in evidence.

The average jail is a filthy, unsanitary den,
in charge of a low grade politician, that would
hardly make a decent pigsty.


The average prison is an unfit place for the
detention of any human being. The rules are
cruel and despotic, the food anything but
nourishing, and the general conditions inhuman
and demoralizing.

This does not appear in the report of the
prison inspection, of course, and I know nothing
in the way of farce that lays it over an average
prison inspection.

Society with its usual consistency puts a man
in prison for stealing and then proceeds promptly
to rob him in the most shameless manner of the
fruit of his labor for the benefit of some grafting
contractor, while allowing his family to face

^Vhat right has the state to appropriate a
man's daily earnings? To compel him to work
without pay while his children are suffering for

The man in prison, however, is better off, after
all, than his dependent mother, wife and children.
It is the family the judge sentences when he sends
the man to prison.

Yes, it is the family that is penalized, punished
without mercy though innocent of offence, and
families without number all over this land are
thus broken up and their members torn asunder,
many of them to recruit the ranks of crime and
the houses of shame.

All of which attests in overwhelming terms the
frightful waste, the appalling destruction of


human life in the present system of administer-
ing justice and dealing with offenders against the
social code.

As these lines are written the report comes of
a sensational scandal at my penal alma mater,
the United States Penitentiary at Atlanta. A
^'dope ring'' has been uncovered and a prison
physician and a number of guards are implicated.
Every effort is being made to suppress the
scandal. According to the reports the ''ring"
furnishing the inmates with "dope" at ex-
tortionate rates, pocketing thousands of dollars
for making "dope fiends" of young inmates who
had not before used the drug. Let it be under
stood that drug addicts in large numbers are
sentenced to the Atlanta penitentiary where they
are supposed to be reformed of the pernicious
habit. I am not surprised at the report. To make
drug addicts while professing to reform them
would be quite consistent with the whole abomni-
able prison scheme which makes criminals instead
of reforming them.

If I were inclined to lock a human being in a
steel cage under any circumstances I think I
should make it a penitentiary offence to send a
human being to a penitentiary. The man who
sends another there should know in justice to
both what it is himself.

In recalling some of my fellow-prisoners and
contemplating their excellent character and
human qualities I am reminded of a prison in-


cident that occurred eight years ago in which I
had an humble part. The noble character of a
convict revealed in this incident must be my
apology for placing it upon record here. There
are men without number in prison, to my per-
sonal knowledge, of the same lofty character and
tender sensibilities as this particular convict.

It was near the Christmas season, 1914. There
was an organization know as the ^'Good Fellow
Club" which provided toys and gifts to homeless
and friendless children. A convict in a state pris-
on at Jackson, Michigan, read of it and wrote the
Club as follows:

**I don't know whether I would be considered a
good fellow or not. Society has decreed that I
was a bad fellow and has segregated me for a
period. In spite of the fact that I transgressed
the law I am being clothed and fed and taken
care of while hundreds of people, especially chil-
dren whose only crime is poverty, are actually
suffering for bare necessities of life and through
no fault of theirs are facing the Christmas season
with scant hope of happiness. I am sendiag $2.00
which I hope you will be able to use to bring in
some small measure gladness to some little one.
You need have no fear of this money being
tainted, for it was honestly earned at 15 cents a
day. I have two little girls of my own and while
I am sending them their Christmas money, I am
sure they will be glad that I shared with some
others less fortunate.

Yours in Christmas spirit,

INMATE 9756''.


The foregoing letter came Tinder my eye in the
press dispatches of a local paper whereupon I
wrote 9756 (a few years later I came near having
that very number myself) as follows:

Terre Haute, Ind., December 16th, 1914.
Inmate No. 9756, Jackson, Mich.

My dear Brother:

**I do not know who you are but I have read
your Christmas letter and I send you my greet-
ing with my heart in it. You may be a convict
but you are my brother and when your message
came to me I was touched to tears.

There is more of the real religion of Jesusi
Christ in the spirit you breathe out to the world
from behind your cruel prison bars than in all
the orthodox sermons ever preached. You love
the little children even as He loved them, and you
are in prison while He was crucified. It is well
that you are patient and forgiving. The world
moves slowly. It may still be said: ^They know
not what they do \

You had the misfortune to be bom in a world
not yet civilized. Jesus loved the erring into
righteousness. His professed followers shut
them out from God's sunlight and torture them
into degeneracy and crime. The erring did not
make themselves. God made them. Let Him
judge them.

The society that sent you to prison devours its
own offspring. Thousands of little children are
starved, stunted and ground into dividends in the
mills of mammon. It is the Christian society's


homeless, neglected babes to whom yon, one of its
condemned convicts, feel moved to send the pen-
nies coined in your own blood and agony.

What a sermon and what a rebuke!

If you ought to be in the penitentiary I know not
one who ought to be out.

Believe me with heart and hand your brother
and fellow-man,


I did not know at the time this letter was writ-
ten that I should soon be a convicted and num-
bered felon myself. But I must have anticipated
my fate for I instinctively realized my kinship
with the men behind the bars.

In going to prison myself I came to know them
well and why they are there, and I came also to
realize the moral obligation resting upon me to
espouse their cause and to wage the war in their
behalf against the vicious system that robbed
them of their birthright, blasted their hopes and
utterly wasted their lives.

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Online LibraryEugene V. (Eugene Victor) DebsWalls and bars → online text (page 14 of 14)