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LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON.

THE STORY OP A VICTIM. CHAPTER XXVI. PRISON AID SOCIETIES. The first question asked of a new convict, after the usual inquiry “ Where do you come from and how long have you got 1” is “ Are you going to join the society !” It used to provoke something more than a smile when I heard grave resolutions made as to what a man was intending to do in seven or ten years’ time. Prisoners appear to consider they confer a service to the society by joining it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that upon public works one-fourth of the conversation of prisoners relates entirely to prison aid societies. Honest men join, while habitual thieves shun them. The ordinary convict uses them for his ■own special benefit, but all who know ■ anything of their working are dissatisfied with the limited area of their work. I have heard hundreds of stories of men who have again been driven into crime by the injudicious conduct of persons in connection with those institutions. Men have been extra-officially tracked to their employment and exposed merely to show their knowledge of their antecedents, contrary to the rules of the police. No assistance has been rendered to those who have been desirous of entering a new life, and the class of labor provided has generally been that which a person could obtain without the assistance of a society. One rainy day we were under a shelter, when I heard the details from a dozen men who had been previously convicted, I have no reason to believe any of their statements were untrue. All of the men were fairly decent in their past lives. I mean by this that there was no violent predisposition to habitual crime. They were a fair sample of thousands in every large town who have never been convicted, and who would have preferred a life of honesty to a life of crime. If they had been assisted upon their discharge they would have been average members of society. Left to starve, they drifted into peculation and became habitual criminals by law. The story of a man named Wells was short, but it was explicit, “When,” said Wells, “I was discharged I had three pounds to draw, which, as you know, was the full I could earn in a five years sentence. The first day I received five shillings. The society would not give me any more. The balance was paid in instalments running over a month. I asked them to find me work. They sent me with a piece of paper from one place to another, to places where the utmost wages offered were 15s per week, for working in a stone yard. I took the job, and improved myself elsewhere as soon as I could. According to my license I reported myself every month at the police station. I was told I should not be mplested by the detectives. Before I had been a week at a new situation my employer called me to his office and told me he had learnt that I was a ticket-of-leave man and I must go. I wont away. I was out of work for weeks. At last I got another job. Nobody knew me. I married a "decent servant girl. Before doing so I told her what I had been, and went ■to the Criminal Investigation Office to notify the fact to them that I should marry in my proper name. They advised me to do so, and made the alteration in their books. After I had been married a month, and was settled in comfortable lodgings, one day while at work a detective came to the house to inquire if anyone lived there under the name I was convicted in. The landlord told him no one of such name lived there. Then the officer inquired for my proper name, and intimated that I had been in trouble. This identified me. When I came home at night I was denounced before a crowd as a returned convict. Me and my wife were turned out of the house into the streets. Some kind friend went to my employer. Ho pitied, and would have kept me on, but ho dare not. I was wild with rage. I went to the police station and complained of the way in which I had been hunted from my work and home. They professed to be sorry for me, and said the officer had made a blunder, but that blunder was no solitary one. I was without friends, labor, home, or money. Ih ad toiled hard to keep myself respectable on LI a week. Can you be surprised to find that I went ‘on the cross,’ where I could make L 5 in a few hours! No,” concluded Wells, “ prison aid societies are only got up to find berths for a few clerks, who get their money by publishing lying reports, and live handsomely upon the funds intended for men who have lost their position in life. Their funds are misapplied, and they know it. “ I shall never join the society,” replied another. “ They are in league with the detectives. What is the good! You are supposed to get L2 extra if you join, but what’s the fact! When I was ‘ chucked up ’ they took me to an old Jew’s in Dudley street for my clothes. I was obliged to have whatever he chose to give me. If I wanted anything else i had to pay extra out of my gratuity. Every garment was as well-known as a policeman’s uniform. As I was walking down Cheapside a man came up to me and said: ‘Look here, mate, the sooner you sling them duds away the longer you will keep out of quod. I have been following behind two private clothes detectives, and they spotted you by your togs, so take my tip to get nd of them.’” . , Other prisoners expatiated upon the merits of the two London societies, and I never knew a man who had been to the “Royal Society” who had been either satisfied with his treatment or admitted that he had been assisted in getting employment. All they wanted was to get rid of him as soon as possible, and they generally succeeded. If the man had tolerably decent friends they gave him his gratuity at once. If they were not satisfied on this score they would give him a few shillings each day until his money was finished, and he was so disgusted he would start in his old career. There is another subject upon which my personal experience enables me to speak in a positive manner. I mean the Criminal Investigation Office at

Scotland Yard, where every London convict has to report himself on his discharge. This was formerly under the charge of Mr Howard Vincent, M.P. I have seen some most sensational reports as to the manner in which prisoners have been treated upon their discharge. I am satisfied that while under Mr Howard Vincent’s management the interest of every man was carefully studied, and that no man had any reason to complain of unnecessary interference. Whenever a prisoner on the works asked my advice as to whether he should report himself and join the society, I always told him to do so if he meant to lead an honest life, and if he did not wish to do so, then keep away. Those questions were the daily subject of conversation during the last six months of a prisoner’s sentence. It is usual for every man who is discharged at London to be sent there a week before his time expires. He there appears before one or two directors on the Wednesday prior to his discharge. Upon the morning of his liberation he is taken to the Royal or St. Giles’s Society, if he is going to join as a member, and from thence to Scotland Yard, where he reports himself, and is told to go on a certain day in each month to the police station of the district in which he resides and report himself. He is also obliged to comply with the instructions printed on the license, which are by no means onerous if a man wishes to lead an honest life. They are: — 1. To produce the license when called upon to do so by a magistrate or police officer. 2. To abstain from any violence of the law. 3. Not to associate with bad characters —thieves or prostitutes. 4. Shall not lead an idle or dissolute life, without any visible means of subsistence.

If he commits any breach of those conditions the license is forfeited, and he is sent back to complete the term of his original sentence. I have known men who had been liberated upon a license, and have kept free from any penalty until the last day, and then had to lose the benefit of such remission. One man who occupied for a long time the next cell to me was reconvicted the clay previous to that on which his ticket of two years and four months expired. He was compelled to complete the former sentence, in addition to the one which was passed upon him for the second offence. For myself, I have to acknowledge the courtesy of the Criminal Investigation Department, and I know of no other in the public service where more consideration is shown to persons placed under their charge. Ido not stand alone. I am aware of many persons who have been treated as considerately as myself. In fact, I believe that the rule as to police reporting will be relaxed in any case whore good reason is shown that it is unnecessary. The gentleman who has charge of this department is Mr Chief-inspector Neame. I have heard nothing but praise spoken of his tact and kindness. When I was discharged I laid a statement of facts before Mr Howard Vincent, who was just then vacating his appointment, asking to be relieved from the degradation. A few days afterwards I was requested to wait upon Mr Chief-inspector Neame. I satisfied him that mine was an exceptional case which required special intervention, and I showed him materials upon which I intended to act in reference to proving a reversal of my sentence. He admitted that mine was an exceptional case, and stated that the department would take every care that I should not be annoyed by the police. He promised no official but himself should ever know my address. He then gave me liberty to report myself by letter, and I never experienced the least trouble from anyone in the department. Lately there has been a long newspaper controversy referring to the measures adopted in the case of Kurrs and Benson, who achieved notoriety nine years ago in the Goncourt frauds, when a number of London detectives were implicated. The treatment of Benson was commented upon severely by the Press as being harsh, but from what I personally know of some of the men I cannot agree with the hostile criticisms. Recent disclosures of the attempted frauds in Switzerland have justified my opinion that Scotland Yard pursued a correct course in preventing a series of great crimes. I was for a time the occupant of the same prison as Bale, one of the persons convicted in those frauds. He had tried a great reduction of sentence and failed. I felt that if the propercourse had been taken the Home Office would, according to precedent, have been compelled to have granted some alteration in the sentence on account of the evidence given by the prisoners against the detectives, which led to their conviction. I prepared a petition in the tone I thought proper, and it was successful. The sentence was not removed, but the prisoners were permitted to earn ten instead of eight marks a day, which had the effect of reducing a ten years' to rather less than a seven years' sentence. From what I personally knew, I am satisfied that the Scotland Yard people only did their duty in " shadowing " those men who were at liberty before the principal offender was discharged. I cannot conclude this subject without saying that I honestly believe that the authorities of the Criminal Investigation Department are actuated by the best motives in their dealing with license-holders, and had I ever wanted assistance which I could not otherwise have obtained I should not have had the slightest hesitation to have applied to Mr Chief Inspector Neame for either protection or assistance, as I am sure it would have been given to any applicant who was justified in asking for it. At the same time the department will keep these, with doubtful records, vigorously in sight.

CHAPTER XXVII. CONCLUSION. The one thing which an educated man dreads is the fear lest he should die in prison. Whether he is guilty or innocent there is the terrible fear that if he dies in captivity a slain will rest upon his name for ever. If he can live long enough to meet his friends

and assure them that ho has been wrongly convicted he may die contented, if not happy. At one time I was afraid that I should not live to complete my sentence. I recollect well one autumn when I had had a succession of advices which pointed at a possible Government inquiry, and my mind had been on the rack for a long time when I sustained a reverse which told hardly upon my constitution. I had been working on the " Traveller " with a fellow prisoner whom I thought had been, like myself, unjustly convicted. He asked my assistance to prepare a "case" for counsel, which was duly written. In all my professional avocations I had been very careful to leave few traces of my penmanship, but in this case I had not been as particular as was my usual habit JVTy friend discussed with me by the day the peculiarity of his case, and I took more than usual pains to give him the benefit of all I knew. He duly copied it and sent it away by official leave, but he omitted to destroy the traces which compromised me. The evidence was contained in about two sheets of brown tissue paper, written in ink made from gunpowder. Instead of being torn up by the client he hid it under a stone, where in due course another prisoner thinking that it was some tobacco, stole it, and when to his disgust found it was only some MSS., handed it to the officer, who finding the name of H upon it, " run him in." I expected that my handwriting would have been detected, and felt extremely nervous, but my surprise was great to see X return. The governor was in a merciful mood, and had let him off with one day's bread and water, fortytwo marks." Such a lenient sentence was remarkable, as similar offences generally entailed " three and twentyfive," or three days' bread and water and twenty-five days " penal" on the crank. Some considerable time elapsed, when, one unfortunate morning as we were marching down to chapel, a prisoner, thinking to gratify me, pushed in front of his file and mysteriously gave me a piece of a " reader." I felt I was observed by an officer, but instead of throwing the "reader" away I secreted it under my belt. When I got to the chapel I tried to shift its position to where it would not be felt in "searching," and contrary to the advice of all the habitues I frequently turned my head to observe the"screws." When service was over, I walked out of the chapel to the parade, but had not proceeded further than the Warder's Hall when I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I received the orders to march in the Hall. I knew what this meant, and silently obeyed. As I reached upstairs I mechanically undressed while the two officers examined all my clothing. The " reader " fell to the floor, and I felt it was very hard to have to run such risks for a piece of a London newspaper, which I had not even read. A piece of " cedar," a " letter," and a " spike" were discovered, and then I was run over to the " separates," and duly reported at noon to the governor, who passed a sentence of fourteen days' penal class upon me, with some serious advice as to the enormity cf my offence, and that no prisoner in the establishment had more reason to keep out of trouble than myself. Next day I was sent for " special," when I saw laid on the table the " case for counsel" which I had written for X. The Governor commenced his oration by saying that he had recollected X's report, and had instructed his clerk to hunt up the evidence, as he knew at the time that I was the only man in the prison who could have prepared such a legal argument, and he had compared my handwriting with the MSS., and found it to be the same, so that he should beobliged to have me reported again at the expiration of my fourteen days'. He then asked me if it was my handwriting, and I instantly acknowledged the fact, and expected that there would be no further notice taken of it, I had completed the fourteen days, and was going to be let off punishment, but unfortunately it was Sunday, and as the governor made his official round he caught sight of me, and turned round to the officer and said " Report this prisoner to-morrow for surreptitiously communicating with a fellow prisoner." I was again The officer came to me and said, "It is impossible for you to be reported, as nothing has been found upon you, and I cannot charge you with anything contrary to prison regulations." Next day, when brought before the governor, the officer said " I report this prisoner by your orders, sir." " What do you know of this report 1" I demanded. " Nothing," he replied. The governor then interfered, and said "You are reported by my orders;" but I rejoined "How can. you act as governor and accuser, sir, especially as you have no evidence except on my own admission ? You cannot, in honor or justice, extract from me a statement which I told you in good faith, and then punish me forit. Evenif you do you must recollect that the principal in the matter has been before you, and the offence has been decided to entail one day's bread and water. You cannot pass a heavier sentence on me." " Oh, yes, I can. I shall give you fourteen days' penal and eighty-four marks." I returned to my cell, where I remained the complete twenty-eight days. Strange to say, a letter, in answer to a special leave, was received the day I was first "run in," and the effect of the report was that I should not have received such letter for eight months, as each report entailed loss of class three months, and the rules are that a prisoner has to be two months clear of report in his class before he can receive a letter. It is this cruelty which causes prisoners to lose all control over themselves. In my case the letter was a " special one," and by the rules of the prison I was entitled to receive it as soon as I came off my punishment. It had relation to efforts as to procuring my freedom. I was fearfully excited. The terrible suspense was hourly telling upon my system. The chaplain when he visited me stayed longer than was his usual custom. I believe he sympathised with my sufferings. I recolleot him saying to me "There is some inscrutable design in your prolonged imprisonment. I and the assistant chaplain frequently talk over your case, and we both think | you are hero for some beneficent ' purpose, as we ate satisfied that you

ought not to be here. We think that if you were a Christian you would find some unexpected I'elief; as it is, it appears to be a trial to break your spirit to the divine will." Such, in effect, were the words of the chaplain, to whose constant kindness I owed much. But rarely did he discuss spiritual matters with me. When he left my cell I began to be in doubt whether I should get the letter I had waited so long for. A gloomy feeling gradually overcame me. I had long ceased to care for life, and could have welcomed death as a ministering friend had it not been for the shrinking I felt at the thought of leaving the world with a cloud upon my name.

(To be continued.)

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890525.2.35.2

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LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON., Issue 7916, 25 May 1889, Supplement

Word Count
3,480

LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON. Issue 7916, 25 May 1889, Supplement

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