KanColl Books
   The Twin Hells, by John R. ReynoldsTable of Contents



A MISSOURI HELL.


CHAPTER XIV.

THE CONVICT'S HOME.

"JEFFERSON CITY is the next station," called out the train man as the Missouri Pacific rolled into the capital of the great commonwealth of Missouri. It was two o'clock in the morning. From an easy reclining chair, to an omnibus, and to a cozy room in the Madison House, was the work of but a few moments. It being rather an unseasonable hour to begin the investigation of a large penal institution, I made a brief journey to the land of dreams, and there remained until a noisy porter knocked at my bed-room door, and shouted, "Nine o'clock, last call for breakfast, old man; if you want any thing to eat you had better get a move on you." Being of the opinion this was rather a cheerful morning salutation, I arose, dressed, and soon felt better because of a good breakfast. I am now ready for my work --- an investigation of the Missouri penitentiary. Before leaving

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my home in Atchison, Kansas, I procured a letter of introduction from Hon. B. P. Waggener, mayor of that city, to Governor Francis of Missouri. I found my way to the capitol, and to the office of the governor. After a brief delay I was shown into the private apartment of the obliging executive, where I presented my letter, stated the object of my visit, and received a letter to the warden of the prison, contianing a request that the bearer be shown every thing there was to be seen in and about the penitentiary.

     From the capitol to the prison is a walk of but a few minutes. On my way there I met a one-legged ex-convict who was just leaving the institution. His pale face, shoddy suit of clothes and light-colored felt hat all spoke but too plainly of the fact that he was very recently "let loose," Entering into conversation with him, I found that he had a few moments before completed a term of five years at hard labor. From him I gathered a great deal of important information as to the treatment of the prisoners, of which he had ben an eye-witness for five years. He also gave me his own history. In a saloon brawl, he became involved in a fight with a drunken comrade, half-crazed

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with drink. Pistols were drawn, and shots were exchanged. He received a bullet in his thigh, that caused the amputation of his limb. His antagonist was killed. On a trial for murder he received a sentence for man-slaughter. Said he, "Whisky sent me to prison. Had I not been drunk I would never had taken the life of the man whom I shot. He had been, for years, a good friend of mine. I will never take another drink as long as I live. It has been my ruin." In the conversation he informed me that he had left behind him, when sent to prison, a wife and three children. During his confinement they had to depend for the most part on their relatives and public charity for support. On account of their poverty they had not been able to visit him at any time during his imprisonment. They had continued to love him, notwithstanding his misfortune; had been true to him during his days of bondage; and he was now anxious to reach his home to meet them. How true it is that the blow which falls upon the culprit, and which justice intends for him alone, often falls with equal force and effect upon wife, child or other helpless and dependent relative! I asked him how he felt on recover-

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ing his liberty after being in prison for five years.

     "Oh!" said he, "this is the happiest day of my life thus far; I never knew the blessings of liberty as I do now. I never saw the sun shine so brightly before. Everything about me seems so beautiful. From this time I will appreciate more than ever I have done, this beautiful world. It almost pays a man to be penned up for a time to enable him to appreciate what there is in the world for him. Behind the walls, however, banished from the presence of loved ones, it is a veritable hell. I cannot find a term that expresses my views of a prison life that is more suitable than that word --- hell. Those long, dreary days of monotonous work --- the same thing must be gone over, day after day; the food we eat, the treatment of which we are subjected, our loneliness and solitude, all combined, make prison life almost unbearable." "Do you know," I asked, "of any prisoners who are so satisfied with their condition as to be willing to remain in the penitentiary, did they have an opportunity of obtaining their liberty?" "There is not a person in that institution," he replied, "who would not hail with joy his re-

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lease. Some of them are physical wrecks, and would have to go to the almshouse to be taken care of in case they should obtain their freedom, yet they would prefer any place to that of a prison cell, deprived of their freedom." After spending more than an hour in conversation with this ex-convict, and bidding him "good bye," I proceded on my journey to the prison. As I walked along thinking of the poor ex-convict I had just passed, my imagination pictured for him a rather gloomy future. He is a cripple, and has a large family to support; he must bear with him along life's journey the heavy load of disgrace that whisky placed upon him. An ex-convict! Who will give him work to do? Who will lend him a helping hand in his struggle to regain a foothold in the outside world? After a few vain efforts to regain what he has lost, will he not yeild to despair, as thousands have done before him, and, becoming a pitiless wreck, pass on down the current of crime until he drifts over Time's last precipice and drops into the arms of Death? To the average ex-convict there is but little hope for success in this life.

     The painful history of a majority of them is,

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after they have fallen into the meshes of a criminal life, they never have the moral power to extricate themselves. My musings are now at an end, for I have just reached the entrance of the penitentiary --- "A Missouri Hell." A prison official on duty at the entrance conducted me into the presence of the warden, Hon. John L. Morrison. This genial gentleman is a resident of Howard County, where he has born and spent the greater portion of his life. He is sixty years of age, and by occupation a farmer. For four years he was sheriff of his county. He received his appointment as warden less than one year ago. He is without any prison experience. The reason, no doubt, for his being appointed warden of so great a penal institution is, that outside from his being a man of unimpeachable integrity, he exerts no little political influence in that portion of the State where he resides. We have no cause for criticising the governor's selection. Perhaps he is one of the very best men that could have been procured for the place. At any rate, he is credited with starting out well. But it is not every honest, upright man that makes a good warden. It requires a man with a special fitness to be a success in handling pris-

Convicts marching


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oners and making a penal institution beneficial to all interested. After Warden Morrison has been given a fair trial, and it becomes evident that he is a successful prison man, he should be retained many years in that responsible position. For the longer he is kept at the head of the institution the more valuable will his services be to the State. I remained several days, and through the kindness of the warden and other prison officials, saw everything about the institution that was noteworthy.

     The Missouri penitentiary is located in the southern suburbs of Jefferson City. Its entrance is from the north. It covers an area of seventeen acres. This tract of ground is surrounded by a stone wall twenty feet high and four feet thick. The prison enclosure is rectangular in form. At each of the four corners, and at stated intervals, towers arise eight feet, which are occupied by officers on duty. Occupying this elevated position, these officers can readily observe all that occurs within the prison walls, outside the buildings. At stated times the officers emerge from the towers and walk along on top of the wall to see if anything unusual is taking place about the prison. Loose stones are piled on top of portions of the wall

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that surrounds the prison, to prevent the convicts from securing a fastening for ladder hooks, should they attempt to escape. A portion of this wall was erected fifty-four years ago, the prison having been established in 1836. Could these towering stones speak, what scenes of misery and wretchedness they might describe! O, ye rocks, that make up this barrier between freedom and the worst form of human slavery, as you have been occupying your silent position for the past half hundred years, had your ears been unstopped, what countless groans of despair would you have heard? Could your eyes have opened, when first you took your place in that prison wall fifty years ago, how many indescribable scenes of anguish would you have witnessed? A heavy iron door swings upon its creaking hinges. Bolts fly back into their sockets. I step into a revolving iron cage, which, manipulated by a guard, turns half way round on its axis, and I emerge from this into the prison campus --- the space surrounded by the walls. What wonderful scenes now are discovered! Many of them, indeed, are heartrending.

     I will describe what I saw and make mention of what I heard. There are four large

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buildings of brick and stone; honeycombed with cells --- the homes of the prisoners. The cells, in one of these buildings, are large and commodious, and contain four criminals. In dimension they are nine feet wide and thirteen feet long. The remainder of the cells are small and contain but one man in a cell. The large cells are objectionable, for the reason that the men, being locked up together in such small rooms, get to talking, and often quarrels and fights result. A number of convicts have been almost murdered in these larger cells, where there were more than one occupant. Again, if there be three in a cell who desire to have the fourth one removed, they combine against him and render his existence while in the cell unbearable. They abuse him constantly. If he reports them to the officer the three stoutly deny all accusations, often bringing upon the innocent one punishment which should have been meted out to the three guilty ones.

     It requires but little stretch of the imagination to enable one to see how miserable a prisoner may be rendered in one of these cells when three occupants of the same cell combine against him. The large cells are a source

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of great annoyance to prison officials, and are now, after trial, universally condemned. The small cells are about four feet wide, seven feet long, and seven feet high. The doors are very low, and the prisoner has to stoop as he enters. The low door gives to the cell a more gloomy appearance than it would possess if the entrance was higher. On going into one of these cells one has the same feeling as takes hold of him when he crawls into a low, dark hole in the ground. The cells are constructed of stone, with wooden floors. The cells of the Kansas and other penitentiaries are higher and better ventilated. The furniture of the cell consists of an iron rack, on which is placed a straw bed with sufficient covering to keep the convict warm. There are also a bucket, wash-basin and towel. The prisoner washes himself in the cell. He also has a chair to sit on and a Holy Bible to read. This is about all the furniture to be found in the cells. Occasionally a carpet covers the floor, but the prisoner furnishes this out of his own means. If he has no means he has no carpet. I was much surprised to learn that there was no way provided for the convicts to take a plunge bath, and that many of them became very filthy because of

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their not being compelled to bathe at stated times. Other penitentiaries are supplied with bath-houses, and once each week the inmates are required to take a bath. This certainly is conducive to good health. The cell-houses are lighted by electric lights, and each cell is provided with a lamp. Thus the prisoner has an opportunity of reading during the evenings, which is a great blessing, and should be highly appreciated.

     The prison is supplied with a large library of choice books to which the inmates have access. They also are allowed to read daily newspapers, if they have money with which to purchase them. The managing officials of the Kansas pententiary are possessed of a very foolish notion in regard to the reading of daily newspapers. They will not under any circumstances allow a prisoner to take his home paper, or have access to any political daily. They claim that it excites the prisoner and makes his imprisonment more difficult to bear when he knows what is going on in the outside world. It seems that this custom smacks of barbarism, and the prison directors of the Kansas prison should discard it at once. Imagine the condition of a prisoner who has

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been in confinement for ten years, having no access to the daily or weekly newspapers. He would be an ignoramus of the worst type. Our penal institutions should try and improve their prisoners, instead of rendering them more ignorant and debased. We are glad to note that the Missouri penitentiary is in advance of the Kansas prison in this respect. If the prisoner can take a little pleasure in reading, daily or weekly, what takes place at his own home, why not give him the privilege, since it is evident that such a permission will not be detrimental to prison discipline? There are school books to be found in the prison library, and the prisoners, if they desire, can get these books and study them. A great many do improve these opportunities, and a number have made great advancement in their studies. They are also permitted to have writing materials in their cells, a privilege which is considred very dangerous, and which but few similar institutions grant. Many of the convicts who could not read or write on entering the prison make considerable progress in these studies.

     The Missouri prison does not go far enough in matters of education. It should be pro-

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vided with a school. In this matter the Kansas and Iowa penitentiaries are far in advance. They have regular graded schools, and many convicts have acquired an education sufficient to enable them to teach when they went out again into the free world. It is to be hoped when the Legislature meets again the members will see to it that ample provision is made for a first-class school at the prison, with a corps of good teachers. The State will lose nothing by this movement.

     In the Iowa prison at Ft. Madison the convicts are taught in the evening, after the work of the day is over. In the Kansas prison, instruction is given Sunday afternoon. These schools are accomplishing great good. The chief object of imprisonment should be reformation. Ignorance and reformation do not affiliate. Some will argue that if prisoners are educated and treated so humanely they will have a desire to return to the prison, in fact, make it their home. Experience teaches us that, treat a human being as a prince, and deprive him of his liberty, and the greatest burden of life is placed upon him, and he is rendered a pitiable object of abject misery. There is no punishment to which a human

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being can be subjected which it is possible to endure, that is more to be dreaded than confinement. Those long, weary, lonely hours that the prisoner spends in his cell are laden with the greatest of all continuous sorrows. There is but little danger of surfeiting him with kindness and advantages, so long as he is deprived of his freedom. If there is any hope for the reformation of the vicious and depraved, no better place can be found to commence that reformation than while he is an inmate of the prison. While there, he is shut out from the society of his wicked companions; he is not subjected to the same temptations in prison as on the outside. Save being deprived of his freedom, he is placed in the most favorable position for reformation that it is possible for one to occupy. If he is not reformed here it is not likely he ever will be. It is to the highest interest of the State that these opportunities should be improved. Every effort should be put forth to make these men better while they are in prison. They are worth saving. It must not be forgotten that one of the essential features in a thorough reformation of a man, is to drive away the mists of

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ignorance by which he is surrounded. Other things being equal, he is the better prepared to wage successfully life's warfare, who is educated. He will be better able to resist the temptations which he will meet when his days of bondage are over. Yes, by all means, let every prison have its school. It is of the greatest importance to the prisoner, likewise to the State. As I was passing through these cell-houses, reading the names of the convicts, placed above the cell door, I came to one which contained four brothers. Five brothers were convicted of robbery and sent to the prison, but a short time ago one of them was pardoned, and the four now remain. The liberated one was on a visit to his brothers while I was at the prison. Reader, is it not a sad thought that these four young men, brothers, should spend ten of the best years of their lives in a prison? Surely the way of the transgressor is hard.

     Young man, you who have as yet never been an inmate of a prison, imagine, if possible, the loneliness experienced as one spends his days, weeks, months and years behind these frowning prison walls, shut up the greatest portion of the time in these small cells that I have de-

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scribed in this chapter. If you do not wish a life of this nature, shun the company of wicked and vicious associates, and strive with all your power to resist the tempter in whatever form he may approach you. It is not force he employs to drag you down to the plane of the convict, but he causes the sweet song of the syren to ring in your ear, and in this manner allures you away from the right, and gently leads you down the pathway that ends in a felon cell, disgrace and death.



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