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floor they were compelled to share) the insidious lessons of seduction. The young apprentice, in custody for some venial fault, the tyro in guilt, the unfortunate debtor, the untried and sometimes guiltless prisoners, the innocent witnesses, detained for their evidence in court against those charged with crimes, were associated with the incorrigible felon, the loathsome victim of disease and vice, and the disgusting drunkard (whose means of intoxication were unblushingly furnished by the jailer !) Idleness, profligacy, and widely-diffused contamination, were the inevitable results. The frantic yells of bacchanalian revelry ; the horrid execrations and disgusting obscenities from the lips of profligacy; the frequent infliction of the lash ; the clanking of fetters ; the wild exclamation of the wretch driven frantic by desperation, the ferocious cries of combatants ; the groans of those wounded in the frequent frays (a common pastime in the prison), mingled with the unpitied moans of the sick (lying unattended and sometimes destitute of clothes and covering), the faint but imploring accents for sustenance by the miserable debtor, cut off from all means of self-support, and abandoned to his own resources, or to lingering starvation ; and the continual though unheeded complaints of the miserable and destitute, formed the discordant sounds heard in the only public abode of misery in Philadelphia, where the voice of hope, of mercy, of religion, never entered. In this nursery of crime, almost every species of profligacy was practised without punishment, and openly taught without any attempt at prevention ; — sins, to which the purity of Christianity has not attached even a name, were nightly perpetrated.”
" In this abo le of moral contamination and of suffering, a few were released from their misery by the lingering pains of hunger, of cold, and neglect; several committed suicide ; and the frequent and fatal pestilence, — the inevitable consequence of filth and crowded apartments, — swept off multitudes, to whom the means of education, as well as the lessons of religion, had never been offered, — whose dying hours were unimproved, — whose beds were attended by no merciful minister of the gospel, urging them to repentance, and bearing the blessed hope of mercy and forgiveness. They departed, either unheeded, or surrounded by wretches on whom their awful example produced no reform ; from whom their sufferings received no compassion, nor any alleviation. The last sigh of the most hardened was breathed out in audacious and shocking defiance ; whilst brutal indifference, or agonizing despair, marked the dying moments of many of the tenants of a jail of a Christian community.
“ Those of our citizens, who remember the former condition of the prison in Walnut Street, can testify to the correctness of this description. It is no overcharged picture of the fancy." - Defence of System of Solitary Confinement, pp. 10 - 12.
Such is a faithful description of the prison in the heart of Philadelphia, a city renowned for her deeds of philanthropy. It is a melancholy illustration of the fact, that there is scarcely a conceivable degree of inhumanity, to which we may not become so accustomed as to survey it, for years together, with almost absolute indifference.
Shocking as is this description, it is sorrowful to add, that it too accurately portrays the condition of the greater part of the prisons in this country, and in Europe, at the time to which it refers, the year 1788–9. It is yet more painful to remark, that prisons of essentially the same character have, until very lately, existed in almost every State in the Union. The old State prison in New York, the old State prison at Charlestown, Massachusetts, the old New Jersey State prison, we have reason to believe, so far at least as moral contamination is concerned, but too nearly resembled the Walnut Street prison in Philadelphia. In respect to the prison at Charlestown, as late as 1826, Governor Lincoln, in his annual message, speaks as follows ;
"So few are the cells, that, in many of them, from four to sixteen convicts are locked up together at night. In these emphatically committee-rooms of mischief, the vilest schemes of profligacy are devised, and the grossest acts of depravity perpetrated. Confederacies and combinations are here formed, by the practised veteran, with the noviciate in crime ; and, to complete the infamy of the association, a horrible offence is here committed, between wretches who are alike destitute of moral sentiment, and without the reach of physical restraint. Nature and humanity cry aloud for redemption from this dreadful degradation. "Better even that the laws were written in blood, than that they should be executed in sin.” — Message, January, 1826.
The Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, in their report on the state of this prison for the same year, assert, that “If the convict who is sentenced to the State prison, have any spark of virtue left when he enters its walls, he will soon learn to forget the distinction between virtue and vice, and assimilate himself to his companions.”
VOL. XLIX. - NO. 104.
Such was the condition of the principal prison of Pennsylvania in 1788 - 9, and of the State prison of Massachusetts in 1826. The condition of the State prison of Newgate, in Connecticut, was, if any thing, still more deplorable. We refer to these, especially, because no State in the Union holds a higher rank for benevolence and intelligence, than Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. If the condition of prisons was anywhere else more encouraging, it must have been owing to accident, and not to the superior virtue and wisdom of the community.
The fact then was, we fear, in few words, very much as follows. Throughout the whole of this country, prisons were erected for carrying into effect the enactments of criminal law, and at the same time for the confinement of debtors, and persons detained either as witnesses or on suspicion of crime. In the construction of these prisons, but one demand was ever made upon the architect, and that was, that he should render them secure. Provided they were strong, it seems to have been supposed, that nothing further could be required. It was not considered of the least importance to inquire, whether the convicts spent their time together or apart, either by day or by night ; whether they were idle or industrious ; whether the novice were separated from the old offender, or whether they all mingled together in one loathsome mass of moral putrefaction. Nor was this all. As prisons thus constructed, at variance with every principle of virtue or humanity, would, by necessity, call into action all the baleful passions of the human heart, it was to be expected, that they would be disorderly and liable to frequent insurrections. Such was the fact; and hence it became indispensable to invest the keepers with authority to inflict punishment to any extent, which might be requisite, to subdue the refractory. This power they were obliged very frequently to exercise. The prisoners were sometimes beaten with the lash ; at other times confined in cold and dark dungeons, on a short allowance of meagre food; and, in general, the government of the prison was left, without much responsibility, to the warden and keepers. In other words these officers were required to govern men, placed under a system, of which the whole tendency was to render them as ungovernable as possible. That in this protracted struggle for supremacy, the heart of the keeper should become steeled, and all the fountains of his sympathy dried up, was of course to be expected. It would be a miracle, were it otherwise. His will must become an iron will. His word must be law. His authority would be endangered by any manifestation of tenderness. Knowing that he has to do with men on whom, in their present situation, no moral or social motive would produce effect, he must govern by a perpetual appeal to personal fear. Now we do not ask, how Howard or Mrs. Fry would have governed a prison under such a system ; but we ask, Can any one doubt whether, with the degree of virtue which falls to the share of ordinary men, there is one out of a thousand, who would not, under such circumstances, become a tyrant ? Such, we fear, was the actual result. The discipline of prisons became, in general, unfeeling and severe, and the only motive brought to bear on reasonable and moral beings, was the fear of the lash, the dungeon, or the gallows.
The case, however, became still worse from accidental circumstances. A prison is, or at least was, a place which scarcely any one visited except on official business. Those who crossed that gloomy threshold unconvicted, were either persons interested in its management, or the near relatives of the condemned. The former would not be the first to complain of a system by which they obtained their bread, and for the establishment of which they were not responsible ; the latter, sensitive to the disgrace of being related to a State-prisoner, would always be reluctant to speak publicly of abuses. The criminals, who had suffered from ill treatment, would rarely publish their wrongs, for very few of them could write intelligibly ; and those, who were able to reveal what they had seen, would rather bury their disgrace in oblivion, than, by a publication of what they had seen, proclaim their infamy to the world, and thus engrave their shame upon an ever-during record.
The result of all this was, that a prison became a secret place, an imperium in imperio, governed by its own laws, or rather by its own precedents ; a cavern, whose gloom was never irradiated by a gleam of sunshine, and whose noisome miasma was never stirred by the breezes of heaven. Here every noxious plant vegetated in rank luxuriance, and here every obscene beast made his chosen habitation. So thick was the darkness which enshrouded these abodes of misery, that they might exist in the very midst of an enlightened and philanthropic city, and yet not a man could be found who had any knowledge of what was transacted within their walls. Whatever might be the sufferings of the wretched inmates, they were all borne, so far as the community was concerned, in silence. No one would believe the narrative of a Stateprison convict; or, if he believed it, no one would be easily convinced, that criminals could be governed by any thing better than starvation and cold, the lash, the dungeon, and the bayonet.
The effect of this treatment upon prisoners may be easily conceived. By the laws of our nature cruelty produces hatred, oppression creates resistance, injury awakens revenge, and combination is resisted by combination. The criminal believed himself to be treated with unfeeling harshness, and he hated the jailer who restrained him, but most of all society, by whose authority the jailer acted. He may have felt conscious of crime, but yet the very moral sense, which convicted him, taught him also, that it was lacerating injustice to consign him, with utter heartlessness, to so intolerable a doom. From this state of mind, the transition was inevitable, to that of a fixed resolution to be revenged on society for the injuries which he supposed himself to have suffered. Men agitated by such feelings, and enjoying every facility for unrestrained intercourse, would naturally combine against the laws which restrained them, and cherish a deadly hostility against the men by whom the laws were enacted. Thus it came to pass that every prison in the land was a hotbed of crime. Murders, thefts, robberies, were devised there day after day, and there were the instruments fabricated by which these crimes were to be perpetrated. Every human being, who came within the sphere of the influence of such a system, became, inevitably, more depraved. The very means for preventing crime became in fact the means, not only of multiplying it, but also of rendering it more cautious, more expert, more nefarious, and more systematic.
As an illustration of the nature and tendencies of the former, and to too great a degree the present system, of prison discipline, we would mention a case which occurred only a few years since, in one of the New England States. The only voucher for its accuracy, it is true, is the veracity of the sufferer himself ; but the naturalness of the whole narrative