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



A MISSOURI HELL.


CHAPTER XVI.

THE MISSOURI PRISONERS.

     THE Missouri penitentiary contains 1,894 convicts. This is the most populous penal institution in the United States. Crime is on the increase. The number of prisoners is gradually becoming larger. Reformation is not the success that it should be. A great many of the prisoners return a second, third and many the fourth time. There is one old convict now an inmate who has served nine different terms in this prison. The highest number that was ever at any prior time in this penitentiary, was reached on Thanksgiving Day of 1889. In 1836, fifty-four years ago, when this prison was founded, there were eighteen prisoners received the first day. During the year one received a pardon, leaving at the close seventeen prisoners. At the close of 1889 there were nineteen hundred inmates. As the population of Missouri increases, she is generous enough to contribute her quota to the felon cells within her borders. The increase of from seventeen at the close of the first year to that of nineteen

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hundred at the close of the last year, speaks volumes. What can be done to lessen this fearful increase of crime? It is true that the population of the State has increased amazingly since 1836, but crime has increased too rapidly in proportion to the increase of population.

     When a man, accused of crime, is convicted and sentenced in any of the courts of the State, a commitment is furnished the sheriff, by the clerk of the court. This document is a writing, giving the name of the prisoner, the crime of which he stands committed, and the term for which he is sentenced. It is the authority given the sheriff to convey to the penitentiary the person named therein, and to deliver him to the warden. As soon as the warden receives the commitment he assumes control of the prisoner, and retains it until his term of service expires, or is liberated by pardon or some court decree. It is curious to note how differently prisoners act on coming to the penitentiary. Some of them quake with fear and tremble as the aspen leaf. Others weep like whipped children. While others do not seem to mind it much. This latter class is chiefly made up of those who have served terms before, and have had experience. The officers

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try to crush the spirit of the criminal the first day he enters. The poor culprit, already quaking with fear, is spoken to in a cross and harsh manner, as if he was going to be struck over the head with a club the next moment. He is locked up in the reception cell, a low, dark dungeon. To use the expressive language of the prison, he is left in this dungeon to "soak" for an indefinite time, often for a day and a night. In this dreaded spot, in his loneliness and shame he has an opportunity for meditation. I don't suppose there ever was a person who, in this reception cell for the first time, did not heartily regret the commission of his crime. Here he thinks of his past life. The days of his innocent childhood come flitting before him. The faces of loved ones, many of whom now dead, pass in review. It is here he thinks of his loving mother, of his kind old father, of his weeping sisters and sympathizing brothers.

     He travels, time and again, the road of his past life. In his reveries of solitude he sits once more in the old school-house of his boyhood days. It comes to him, now with greater force than ever before, what he might have been, had he taken a different course.

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     Alas! it is too late. He is forever disgraced. There is but little hope for him now in the future. Reader, behold this unfortunate youth as he sits in his lonely dungeon, his first day in the penitentiary. On a low chair, his elbows resting on his knees, his face buried in his hands, he sits and tries to imagine what is in store for him. He endeavors to peer into the future, and all is gloom. That sweet angel we call Hope, has spread her wings, taken her flight and left him comfortless. The cloud of despair, black as the Egyptian midnight, settles down upon him. He wishes that he was dead. I can never forget my first day in a felon's cell. Of all my eventful life, into which many dark days have crowded themselves, my first day in prison was the darkest. After the "soaking season" is over, an officer advances to the dungeon, throws back the bolts, pulls open the door, and, in a harsh manner, commands the broken-hearted culprit to follow. He is conducted to an apartment, takes a bath, and dons the suit of stripes. Ye angels! did you ever behold such a sight? Is it not a travesty on every thing that is good to dress a human being in such a suit of clothes. A striped

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coat, striped pantaloons, striped shirt, striped cap, in fine everything he wears is striped. There is nothing in this world so humiliates a person as being compelled to wear these stripes. No language can describe the feeling of horror that took hold upon me the first time I saw myself arrayed in these emblems of disgrace. I passed through all the fiery ordeal of trial, sentence, reception cell, undaunted, but when I made my first toilet in the penitentiary, I must admit, I was "knocked out." Then I felt keenly the sting of disgrace. The prisoner is next introduced to a convict barber, who shaves him and "clips" his hair. By the time the barber gets through with his part of the programme, the prisoner has but little hair either on his face or head. The prison physician examines him and it is decided where he is to work. He is next shown the cell he is to occupy, and later on his place of work. Over his cell is placed his name and number. He now enters upon that indescribable, desolate, and dreary life of a convict.

THE TREATMENT OF THE PRISONERS.

     The inmates of the Missouri penitentiary are well clothed. In this respect, this prison has

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no rival. All the prisoners presented the appearance of being cleanly, so far as their clothing is concerned. All are dressed in stripes. None are exempt. Here are nearly two thousand men on an equality. None of them can look down upon others, and say, I am more nicely dressed than you. I never saw a convict dude in the entire lot. The prisoners are well fed. For breakfast, the bill of fare consists of bread, coffee, without milk or sugar, and hash. There is no change to this bill of fare. If the prisoner has been there for ten years, if not in the hospital, he has feasted upon hash every morning. Boiled meat, corn bread, potatoes and water makes up the dinner, and for supper the convict has bread, molasses and coffee. The principal objection to this diet is its monotony. Whenever a change of diet becomes a strict necessity, the prisoner is permitted to take a few meals in the hospital dining-room. Here he receives a first-class meal. This is a capital idea. A great deal of sickness is prevented by thus permitting the convict to have an occasional change of diet. On holidays, such as Thanksgiving day, Christmas, etc., an extra dinner is given, which is keenly relished by all. I have before me a

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statement of the expenses for a Sunday breakfast and dinner. There are only two meals given on Sunday. The hash was made up of 612 pounds of beef, 90 pounds of bacon, and 30 bushels of potatoes. Fifty-one pounds of coffee were used, and four and a half barrels of flour. The entire meal cost $68.38.

     For dinner, 1,585 pounds of beef, 30 bushels of potatoes, and 4 1/2 barrels of flour, were used. This meal cost $100.61. It cost about ten cents each a day to feed the prisoners. Some of the convicts, after they get their daily tasks performed, do overwork. The contractors pay them small sums for this extra labor. With this money the convict is permitted to purchase apples from the commissary department, which he can take to his cell and eat at his leisure. The commissary keeps these apples on hand at all times in packages, which he sells to the prisoners at twenty cents each. In prison, apples are the most healthful diet the inmate can have. Should friends on the outside desire to send delicacies to any of the prisoners, they are permitted to receive the same, and, taking them to their cells, eat at their leisure. These luxuries are highly appreciated by the men in stripes, whose daily food

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is largely made up of hash and corn bread. The female prisoners must subsist on the same kind of food as the males. In some penal institutions, Kansas for example, the women have better diet than is furnished the men. Not so in this penitentiary. All are treated alike, so far as food is concerned.

     Three times each day the men march into the large dining-hall, which accommodates 1,500, and partake of their meals. The tableware is of tin and somewhat meager. The tables themselves present the appearance of the modern school-desk, being long enough that twenty men may be comfortably seated at each. No table-linen is used. When eating, the convict is not permitted to call for anything he may wish. When a dish is empty it is held aloft, and an officer or a convict waiter replenishes it. Ample time is given to eat. All have a sufficiency of food such as it is. Every thing is clean. After the meal is over, the prisoners, in ranks, return to their work-shops, or to their cells in case it is the last meal of the day. It is a very interesting sight to witness 1,500 convicts eating at the same time.

     The officials are to be commended for the

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following privileges they grant the prisoners: On all holidays, such as Fourth of July, Christmas, etc., they are let out of their cells into a large open square, inside the prison walls, and are allowed to converse with each other, and are given full liberty to do as they wish. These are days of freedom. Officers, of course, are among them to see that no fighting occurs, and also to prevent any from effecting their escape by scaling the walls. The prisoners do certainly enjoy these times. They shake hands with each other, run about, shout, leap for joy, and have more real happiness than a lot of school-boys who have been shut up in a room all day at their studies and are in the evening turned out for play The men are very careful not to abuse this privilege which they prize very highly. There never have been any disturbances, nor fights, nor attempts at escape during these holidays. These privileges granted the prisoners demonstrate the humaneness of the prison officials.

     The question often arises, why is it there are no more riots and insurrections in this prison. Here are nearly two thousand men huddled up together. They are prisoners, suffering the worst kind of bondage. Why is it they do

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not make a rush for liberty whenever an opportunity presents itself? Many of them are in for life, and may never again see beyond their prison walls. Why are they so docile? These questions can be easily answered. Many of the men are short-time prisoners, having from one to three years, and cannot afford to get into trouble, as their time is short. Added to this, if the prisoner behaves himself, and obtains a good prison record, he obtains a pardon and restoration to citizenship when three-fourth of his time has expired. If a man is sent for ten years, by good conduct he will be pardoned at the end of seven and a half years. This is a great inducement to good behavior. The reason the life-men cause but little, if any, disturbance in the prison is, that they all have a hope sometime or other of receiving a pardon, and they know very well that, if they do not have a good prison record, they can never obtain a pardon. A custom also prevails at the prison that has much to do in causing the long-time men to behave themselves, and be obedient to the regulations of the institution. Every Fourth of July and Christmas the governor of the State grants pardons to two long-time men, so there are

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four chances annually for a man to obtain his freedom. Before the governor will pardon one of these men, he must be satisfied, among other things, that the convict has a good prison record.

     Any one can readily see that this is a great inducement for the prisoner to behave himself. Missouri is the only State, so far as my knowledge extends, that has this custom. It should become, not only a custom, but a law, in every State. It is founded on good sense.

THE PRISONER'S SENTENCE.

I believe in capital punishment. When a man falls so low as maliciously, willfully and premeditatedly, to take the life of a human being, he should be hung by the neck until he is dead. Before it is just to impose such a sentence as this upon a human being he should have a fair and impartial trial, which many persons charged with crime do not get. If poor and unable to employ the best legal talent, the court should see that it is furnished. Too often is it the case when a poor man, charged with crime, makes affidavit that he is unable to procure counsel, that some young and inexperienced attorney is selected, in order to give

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him a start in practice. The consequence of this inexperience is that the man charged with crime has to suffer for his lawyer's inability to secure for him his rights. After the jury has brought in a verdict of guilty he should have the privilege of taking his case to the Supreme Court, and have it reviewed by the tribunal at the expense of the State. No human being should be hung on circumstantial evidence, unsupported by positive testimony. If the judgment below is confirmed, then let the murderer be kept in close confinement in the penitentiary for one year, and, if during that time no new evidence or mitigating circumstances arise let him be hung by the neck until he is dead.

     Let the execution take place in the prison, let it be private and witnessed by but few persons, designated by the executive of the State. It is better for the criminal to be hung than to be sent to the penitentiary for life. While serving out a lifetime sentence he suffers ten thousand deaths. Those States where the death penalty is inflicted have the least number of brutal murders, in proportion to their population. The dread of death is a better protection to society than a life of imprison-

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ment. The fiend with murder in his heart thinks "while there is life, hope remains," and if he is sent to the penitentiary for life he may get a pardon after a time. But if he is aware of the fact that if he strikes the fatal blow he must atone for his crime on the gallows, he is more liable to think twice before striking his innocent victim once. There should be no such a thing as life sentence. No criminal should be sent to the penitentiary for a term longer than fifteen years. The suffering he endures during this long sentence is enough to atone for any crime he may commit aside from a brutal murder, and for this he should be hung. Fifteen years of imprisonment is sufficient to break down almost any constitution. Having spent this length of time behind prison walls a man is a physical wreck, and, having atoned for his crime, let him have the last days of life in the world of freedom. The greatest desire of a life man in our penitentiaries is to die outside of prison walls. No criminal should be sent to the penitentiary for less than five years. After giving him one fourth off for good behavior, he has but little more than three years of actual service. This will give him plenty of time to learn a trade, so that

Cell No. 19


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when he goes out of prison he can make a living for himself and for those depending upon him. For crimes that require lighter sentences of imprisonment let jails or reformatories be brought into requisition. In the eyes of the world a jail sentence is not so disgraceful as one in the penitentiary.

     The plumage of a jail-bird is not so black as that of a penitentiary bird. The disgrace of being sent to the penitentiary for one year is as great as being sent for five or ten years. Whether he goes for one or five years, for all the future he is set down as an ex-convict. People do not stop to inquire as to the length of his sentence. The main question is: Was he in the penitentiary? If so, he wears the mark of Cain --- the stamp of disgrace. Not so, if he simply has been in jail. There are a great many young men, while surrounded by bad company, yield to temptation and commit crime. A dose of jail service will do them as much good as a year in the penitentiary. After they get out they do not feel the disgrace so keenly, and there is some hope for their reformation. Send them to the penitentiary and it will be a miracle if they ever amount to anything in the future. If a jail

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sentence of a year does not reform a young criminal, or a man of older years, who has committed his first offense, then give a term in the penitentiary for five years for the second offense. It is too true that a sentence to the penitentiary for a first term is the irretrievable ruin of the young offender. This becomes an obstacle which, during all the future, he cannot surmount. This plan being adopted, let everything be done to reform the youthful offender while in jail. It is much easier to carry forward the work of reformation in a jail or reformatory than in a penitentiary.




The Work of the Convict      The Missouri Prisoners, Continued     Table of Contents

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