Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist

By Alexander Berkman (1912)

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(1870 - 1936) ~ Globe-Trotting Anarchist, Journalist, and Exposer of Bolshevik Tyranny : He was a well-known anarchist leader in the United States and life-long friend of Emma Goldman, a young Russian immigrant whom he met on her first day in New York City. The two became lovers and moved in together, remaining close friends for the rest of Berkman's life. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "Or will the workers at last learn the great lesson Of the Russian Revolution that every government, whatever its fine name and nice promises is by its inherent nature, as a government, destructive of the very purposes of the social revolution? It is the mission of government to govern, to subject, to strenghten and perpetuate itself. It is high time the workers learn that only their own organized, creative efforts, free from Political and State interference, can make their age-long struggle for emancipation a lasting success." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)
• "But the 'triumph' of the Bolsheviki over Kronstadt held within itself the defeat of Bolshevism. It exposes the true character of the Communist dictatorship. The Communists proved themselves willing to sacrifice Communism, to make almost any compromise with international capitalism, yet refused the just demands of their own people -- demands that voiced the October slogans of the Bolsheviki themselves: Soviets elected by direct and secret ballot, according to the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R.; and freedom of speech and press for the revolutionary parties." (From : "The Kronstadt Rebellion," by Alexander Berkman, 1....)
• "The present situation in Russia [in 1921] is most anomalous. Economically it is a combination of State and private capitalism. Politically it remains the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or, more correctly, the dictatorship of the inner circle of the Communist Party." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)


This document contains 57 sections, with 141,960 words or 842,552 characters.

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Clearly every detail of that day is engraved on my mind. It is the sixth of July, 1892. We are quietly sitting in the back of our little flat-Fedya and I-when suddenly the Girl enters. Her naturally quick, energetic step sounds more than usually resolute. As I turn to her, I am struck by the peculiar gleam in her eyes and the heightened color. "Have you read it?" she cries, waving the half-open newspaper. "What is it?" "Homestead. Strikers shot. Pinkertons have killed women and children." She speaks in a quick, jerky manner. Her words ring like the cry of a wounded animal, the melodious voice tinged with the harshness of bitterness-the bitterness of helpless agony. I take the paper from her hands. In growing excitement I read the vivid account of the tremendous struggle, the Homestead strike, or, more correctly, the lockout. The report details the conspiracy on the part of the Carnegie Company to crush the Amalgamated... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Contentedly peaceful the Monongahela stretches before me, its waters lazily rippling in the sunlight, and softly crooning to the murmur of the woods on the hazy shore. But the opposite bank presents a picture of sharp contrast. Near the edge of the river rises a high board fence, topped with barbed wire, the menacing aspect heightened by warlike watch-towers and ramparts. The sinister wall looks down on me with a thousand hollow eyes, whose evident murderous purpose fully justifies the name of "Fort Frick." Groups of ex cited people crowd the open spaces between the river and the fort, filling the air with the confusion of many voices. Men carrying Winchesters are hurrying by, their faces grimy, eyes bold yet anxious. From the mill-yard gape the black mouths of can non, dismantled breastworks bar the passages, and the ground is strewn with burning cinders, empty shells, oil barrels, bro ken furnace stacks, and piles of steel and iron. The place looks the aftermath of a sanguinary... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I Like a gigantic hive the twin cities jut out on the banks of the Ohio, heavily breathing the spirit of feverish activity, and permeating the atmosphere with the rage of life. Ceaselessly flow the streams of human ants, meeting and diverging, their paths crossing and recrossing, leaving in their trail a thousand winding passages, mounds of structure, peaked and domed. Their huge shadows overcast the yellow thread of gleaming river that curves and twists its painful way, now hugging the shore, now hiding in affright, and again timidly stretching its arms toward the wrathful monsters that belch fire and smoke into the midst of the giant hive. And over the whole is spread the gloom of thick fog, oppressive and dispiriting-the symbol of our existence, with all its darkness and cold. This is Pittsburgh, the heart of American industrialism, whose spirit molds the life of the great Nation. The spirit of Pittsburgh, the Iron City! Cold as steel, har... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The doors of Frick's private office, to the left of the reception-room, swings open as the colored attendant emerges, and I catch a flitting glimpse of a black-bearded, well-knit figure at a table in the back of the room. "Mistah Frick is engaged. He can't see you now, sah," the negro says, handing back my card. I take the pasteboard, return it to my case, and walk slowly out of the reception-room. But quickly retracing my steps, I pass through the gate separating the clerks from the visitors, and brushing the astounded attendant aside, I step into the office on the left, and find myself facing Frick. For an instant the sunlight, streaming through the windows, dazzles me. I discern two men at the further end of the long table. "Fr-," I begin. The look of terror on his face strikes me speechless. It is the dread of the conscious presence of death. "He understands," it flashes through my mind. With a quick motion I draw the revolver. As I raise... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The clanking of the keys grows fainter and fainter; the sound of footsteps dies away. The officers are gone. It is a relief to be alone. Their insolent looks and stupid questions, insinuations and threats,-how disgusting and tiresome it all is! A sense of complete indifference possesses me. I stretch myself out on the wooden bench, running along the wall of the cell, and at once fall asleep. I awake feeling tired and chilly. All is quiet and dark around me. Is it night? My hand gropes blindly, hesitantly. Something wet and clammy touches my cheek. In sudden affright I draw back. The cell is damp and musty; the foul air nauseates me. Slowly my foot feels the floor, drawing my body forward, all my senses on the alert. I clutch the bars. The feel of iron is reassuring. Pressed close to the door, my mouth in the narrow opening, I draw quick, short breaths. I am hot, perspiring. My throat is dry to cracking; I cannot swallow. "Water! I want wat... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The days ring with noisy clamor. There is constant going and coming. The clatter of levers, the slamming of iron doors, continually reverberates through the corridors. The dull thud of a footfall in the cell above hammers on my head with maddening regularity. In my ears is the yelling and shouting of coarse voices. "Cell num-ber ee-e-lev-ven! To court! Right a-way!" A prisoner hurriedly passes my door. His step is nervous, in his look expectant fear. "Hurry, there! To court!" "Good luck, Jimmie." The man flushes and averts his face, as he passes a group of visitors clustered about an overseer. "Who is that, Officer?" One of the ladies advances, lorgnette in hand, and stares boldly at the prisoner. Suddenly she shrinks back. A man is being led past by the guards. His face is bleeding from a deep gash, his head swathed in bandages. The officers thrust him violently into a cell. He falls heavily a... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The courtroom breathes the chill of the graveyard. The stained windows cast sickly rays into the silent chamber. In the somber light the faces look funereal, spectral. Anxiously I scan the room. Perhaps my friends, the Girl, have come to greet me.... Everywhere cold eyes meet my gaze. Police and court attendants on every side. Several newspaper men draw near. It is humiliating that through them I must speak to the People. "Prisoner at the bar, stand up!" The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-the clerk vociferates-charges me with felonious assault on H. C. Frick, with intent to kill; felonious assault on John G. A. Leishman; feloniously entering the offices of the Carnegie Company on three occasions, each constituting a separate indictment; and with unlawfully carrying concealed weapons. "Do you plead guilty or not guilty?" I protest against the multiplication of the charges. I do not deny the attempt on Frick, but the accusation of havi... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I "Make yourself at home, now. You'll stay here a while, huh, huh! As in a dream I hear the harsh tones. Is the man speaking to me, I wonder. Why is he laughing? I feel so weary, I long to be alone. Now the voice has ceased; the steps are receding. All is silent, and I am alone. A nameless weight oppresses me. I feel exhausted, my mind a void. Heavily I fall on the bed. Head buried in the straw pillow, my heart breaking, I sink into deep sleep. My eyes burn as with hot irons. The heat sears my sight, and consumes my eyelids. Now it pierces my head; my brain is aflame, it is swept by a raging fire. Oh! I wake in horror. A stream of dazzling light is pouring into my face. Terrified, I press my hands to my eyes, but the mysterious flow pierces my lids, and blinds me with maddening torture. "Get up and undress. What's the matter with you, anyhow?" The voice frightens me. The cell is filled with a... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The days drag interminably in the semi-darkness of the cell. The gong regulates my existence with depressing monotony. But the tenor of my thoughts has been changed by the note of the mysterious correspondent. In vain I have been waiting for his appearance,-yet the suggestion of escape has germinated hope. The will to live is beginning to assert itself, growing more imperative as the days go by. I wonder that my mind dwells upon suicide more and more rarely, ever more cursorily. The thought of self-destruction fills me with dismay. Every possibility of escape must first be exhausted, I reassure MY troubled conscience. Surely I have no fear of death-when the proper time arrives. But haste would be highly imprudent; worse, quite unnecessary. indeed, it is my duty as a revolutionist to seize every opportunity for propaganda: escape would afford me many occasions to serve the Cause. it was thoughtless on my part to condemn that man Jamestown. I even resented... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The silence grows more oppressive, the solitude unbearable. My natural buoyancy is weighted down by a nameless dread. With dismay I realize the failing elasticity of my step, the gradual loss of mental vivacity. I feel worn in body and soul. The regular tolling of the gong, calling to toil or meals, accentuates the enervating routine. It sounds ominously amid the stillness, like the portent of some calamity, horrible and sudden. Unshaped fears, the more terrifying because vague, fill my heart. In vain I seek to drown my riotous thoughts by reading and exercise. The walls stand, immovable sentinels, hemming me in on every side, till movement grows into torture. In the constant dusk of the windowless cell the letters dance before my eyes, now forming fantastic figures, now dissolving into corpses and images of death. The morbid pictures fascinate my mind. The hissing gas jet in the corridor irresistibly attracts me. With eyes half shut, I follow the flickering light. Its d... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I yearn for companionship. Even the mere sight of a human form is a relief. Every morning, after breakfast, I eagerly listen for the familiar swish-swash on the flagstones of the hallway: it is the old rangeman "sweeping up." The sensitive mouth puckered up in an inaudible whistle, the one-armed prisoner swings the broom with his left, the top of the handle pressed under the armpit. "Hello, Aleck! How're you feeling to-day? He stands opposite my cell, at the further end of the wall, the broom suspended in mid-stroke. I catch an occasional glance of the kind blue eyes, while his head is in constant motion, turning to right and left, alert for the approach of a guard. "How're you, Aleck?" Oh, nothing extra." "I know how it is, Aleck, I've been through the mill. Keep up your nerve, you'll be all right, old boy. You're young yet." "Old enough to die," I say, bitterly. "S-sh! Don't speak so loud. The... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I I stand in line with a dozen prisoners, in the anteroom of the Deputy's office. Humiliation overcomes me as my eye falls, for the first time in the full light of day, upon my striped clothes. I am degraded to a beast' My first impression of a prisoner in stripes is painfully vivid: he resembled a dangerous brute. Somehow the idea is associated in my mind with a wild tigress,-and I, too, must now look like that. The door of the rotunda swings open, admitting the tall, lank figure of the Deputy Warden. "Hands up!" The Deputy slowly passes along the line, examining a hand here and there. He separates the men into groups; then, pointing to the one in which I am included, he says in his feminine accents: "None crippled. Officers, take them, hmm, hmm, to Number Seven. Turn them over to Mr. Hoods." "Fall in! Forward, march!" My resentment at the cattle-like treatment is merged into eager expectation. (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I Direct To Box A 7, Allegheny City, PA., October 19TH, 1892. Dear Sister: It is just a month, a month to-day, since my coming here. I keep wondering, can such a world of misery and torture be compressed into one short month? ... How I have longed for this opportunity! You will understand: a month's stay is required before we are permitted to write. But many, many long letters I have written to you-in my mind, dear Sonya. Where shall I begin now? My space is very limited, and I have so much to say to you and to the Twin.-I received your letters. You need not wait till you hear from me: keep on writing. I am allowed to receive all mail sent, "of moral contents," in the phraseology of the rules. And I shall write whenever I may. Dear Sonya, I sense bitterness and disappointment in your letter. Why do you speak of failure? You, at least, you and Fedya, should not have your judgment obscured by the mere accident of... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The hours at work help to dull the acute consciousness of my environment. The hosiery department is past the stage of experiment; the introduction of additional knitting machines has enlarged my task, necessitating increased effort and more sedulous application. The shop routine now demands all my attention. It leaves little time for thinking or brooding. My physical condition alarms me: the morning hours completely exhaust me, and I am barely able to keep up with the line returning to the cellhouse for the noon meal. A feeling of lassitude possesses me, my feet drag heavily, and I experience great difficulty in mastering my sleepiness. I have grown indifferent to the meals; the odor of food nauseates me. I am nervous and morbid: the sight of a striped prisoner disgusts me; the proximity of a guard enrages me. The shop officer has repeatedly warned me against my disrespectful and surly manner. But I am indifferent to consequences: what matter w... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Direct To Box A 7, Allegheny City, PA., November 18, 1892. My dear Sonya: It seems an age since I wrote to you, yet it is only a month. But the monotony of my life weights down the heels of time,- the only break in the terrible sameness is afforded me by your dear, affectionate letters, and those of Fedya. When I return to the cell for the noon meal, my step is quickened by the eager expectation of finding mail from you. About eleven in the morning, the Chaplain makes his rounds; his practiced hand shoots the letter between the bars, toward the bed or on to the little table in the corner. But if the missive is light, it will flutter to the floor. As I reach the cell, the position of the little white object at once apprizes me whether the letter is long or short. With closed eyes I sense its weight, like the warm pressure of your own dear hand, the touch reaching softly to my heart, till I feel myself lifted across the chasm into you... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I Suffering and ever-present danger are quick teachers. In the three months of penitentiary life I have learned many things. I doubt whether the vague terrors pictured by my inexperience were more dreadful than the actuality of prison existence. In one respect, especially, the reality is a source of bitterness and constant irritation. Notwithstanding all its terrors, perhaps because of them, I had always thought of prison as a place where, in a measure, nature comes into its own: social distinctions are abolished, artificial barriers destroyed; no need of hiding one's thoughts and emotions; one could be his real self, shedding all hypocrisy and artifice at the prison gates. But how different is this life! It is full of deceit, sham, and pharisaism-an aggravated counterpart of the outside world. The flatterer, the backbiter, the spy,-these find here a rich soil. The ill-will of a guard portends disaster, to be averted only by truckling and flatt... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I Weeks and months pass without clarifying plans of escape. Every step, every movement, is so closely guarded, I seem to be hoping against hope. I am restive and nervous, in a constant state of excitement. Conditions in the shop tend to aggravate my frame of mind. The task of the machine men has been increased; in consequence, I am falling behind in my work. My repeated requests for assistance have been ignored by the overseer, who improves every opportunity to insult and humiliate me. His feet wide apart, arms akimbo, belly disgustingly protruding, he measures me with narrow, fat eyes. "Oh, what's the matter with you," he drawls, "get a move on, won't you, Berk?" Then, changing his tone, he vociferates, "Don't stand there like a fool, d'ye hear? Nex' time I report you, to th' hole you go. That's me talkin', understand?" Often I feel the spirit of Cain stirring within me. But for the hope of escape, I should not be able to bear this a... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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March 4, 1893. Girl and Twin: I am writing with despair in my heart. I was taken to Pittsburgh as a witness in the trial of Nold and Bauer. I had hoped for an opportunity-you understand, friends. It was a slender thread, but I clung to it desperately, prepared to stake everything on it. It proved a broken straw. Now I am back, and I may never leave this place alive. I was bitterly disappointed not to find you in the courtroom. I yearned for the sight of your faces. But you were not there, nor any one else of our New York comrades. I knew what it meant: you are having a hard struggle to exist. Otherwise perhaps something could be done to establish friendly relations between Rakhmetov and Mr. Gebop. It would require an outlay beyond the resources of our own circle; others cannot be approached in this matter. Nothing remains but the "inside" developments,-a terribly slow process. This is all the hope I can hold out to you, dear frien... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I A dense fog rises from the broad bosom of the Ohio. It ensnares the river banks in its mysterious embrace, veils tree and rock with somber mist, and mocks the sun with angry frown. Within the House of Death is felt the chilling breath, and all is quiet and silent in the iron cages. Only an occasional knocking, as on metal, disturbs the stillness. I listen intently. Nearer and more audible seem the sounds, hesitating and apparently intentional. I am involuntarily reminded of the methods of communication practiced by Russian politicals, and I strive to detect some meaning in the tapping. It grows clearer as I approach the back wall of the cell, and instantly I am aware of a faint murmur in the privy. Is it fancy, or did I bear my name? "Halloa! " I call into the pipe. The knocking ceases abruptly. I hear a suppressed, hollow voice: "That you, Aleck?" "Yes. Who is it?" "Never min. You must be deaf not to hear me cal... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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"Ah, there, sporty!" my assistant greets me In the shop. "Stand treat on this festive occasion. "Yes, Red. Have a chew, " I reply with a smile, handing him my fresh plug of tobacco. His eyes twinkle with mischievous humor as he scrutinizes my changed suit of dark gray. The larger part of the plug swelling out his cheek, he flings to me the remnant across the table, remarking: "Don't care fort. Take back your choo, I'll keep me honor,your plug, I mean, sonny. A gentleman of my eminence, sir, a natural-born navigator on the high seas of social life,-are you on, me bye?-a gentleman, I repeat, sir, whose canoe the mutations of all that is human have chucked on this here dry, thrice damned dry latitude, sir, this nocuous plague-spot of civilization,-say, kid, what t' hell am I talkin' about? Damn if I ain't clean forgot." "I'm sure I don't know, Red." "Like hell you don't! It's your glad duds, kid. Offerin' me a ch-aw tob... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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For a week "Boston Red" is absent from work. My best efforts seem ineffectual in the face of the increasing mountain of unturned hosiery, and the officer grows more irritable and insistent. But the fear of clogging the industrial wheel presently forces him to give me assistance, and a dapper young man, keen-eyed and nervous, takes the vacant place. "He's a dip,"' Johnny Davis whispers to me. "A topnotcher" he adds, admiringly. I experience a tinge of resentment at the equality implied by the forced association. I have never before come in personal contact with a professional thief, and I entertain the vaguest ideas concerning his class. But they are not producers; hence parasites who deliberately prey upon society, upon the poor, mostly. There can be nothing in common between me and this man. The new helper's conscious superiority is provoking. His distant manner piques my curiosity. How unlike his scornful mien and proudly independen... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Sunday night: my new cell on the upper gallery is hot and stuffy; I cannot sleep. Through the bars, I gaze upon the Ohio. The full moon hangs above the river, bathing the waters in mellow light. The strains of a sweet lullaby wander through the woods, and the banks are merry with laughter. A girlish cadence rings like a silvery bell, and voices call in the distance. Life is joyous and near, terribly, tantalizingly near, but all is silent and dead around me. For days the feminine voice keeps ringing in my ears. It sounded so youthful and buoyant, so fondly alluring. A beautiful girl, no doubt. What joy to feast my eyes on her! I have not beheld a woman for many months: I long to hear the soft accents, feel the tender touch. My mind persistently reverts to the voice on the river, the sweet strains in the woods; and fancy wreathes sad-toned fugues upon the merry carol, paints vision and image, as I pace the floor in agitation. They live, they breathe! I see the slender figu... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The dying sun grows pale with haze and fog. Slowly the dark-gray line undulates across the shop, and draws its sinuous length along the gloaming yard. The shadowy waves cleave the thickening mist, vibrate ghostlike, and are swallowed in the yawning blackness of the cell-house. "Aleck, Aleck!" I hear an excited whisper behind me, "quick, plant it. The screw's goin' t' frisk me." Something small and hard is thrust into my coat pocket. The guard in front stops short, suspiciously scanning the passing men. "Break ranks!" The overseer approaches me. "You are wanted in the office, Berk." The Warden, blear-eyed and sallow, frowns as I am led in. "What have you got on you?" he demands, abruptly. "I don't understand you." "Yes, you do. Have you money on you?" "I have not." "Who sends clandestine mail for you?" "What mail?" "The letter published... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Four weeks of "Pennsylvania diet" have reduced me almost to a skeleton. A slice of wheat bread with a cup of unsweetened black coffee is my sole meal, with twice a week dinner of vegetable soup, from which every trace of meat has been removed. Every Saturday I am conducted to the office, to be examined by the physician and weighed. The whole week I look forward to the brief respite from the terrible "basket" cell. The sight of the striped men scouring the floor, the friendly smile on a stealthily raised face as I pass through the hall, the strange blue of the sky, the sweet-scented aroma of the April morning-how quickly it is all over! But the seven deep breaths I slowly inhale on the way to the office, and the eager ten on my return, set my blood aglow with renewed life. For an instant my brain reels with the sudden rush of exquisite intoxication, and l am in the tomb again. The torture of the "basket" is maddening; the constant dusk is driving me bl... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Direct To Box A7, Allegheny City, PA. March 25, 1894. I Dear Fedya: This letter is somewhat delayed: for certain reasons I missed mail-day last month. Prison life, too, has its ups and downs, and just now I am on the down side. We are cautioned to refrain from referring to local affairs; therefore I can tell you only that I am in solitary, without work. I don't know how long I am to be kept "locked up." It may be a month, or a year, but I hope it will not be the latter. I was not permitted to receive the magazines and delicacies you sent.... We may subscribe for the daily papers, and you can easily imagine how religiously I read them from headline to the last ad: they keep me in touch, to some extent, with the living.... Blessed be the shades of Guttenberg! Hugo and Zola, even Gogol and Turgenev, are in the library. It is like meeting an old friend in a strange land to find our own Bazarov discoursing-in... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Often the chaplain pauses at my door, and speaks words of encouragement. I feel deeply moved by his sympathy, but my revolutionary traditions forbid the expression of my emotions: a cog in the machinery of oppression, he might mistake my gratitude for the obsequiousness of the fawning convict. But I hope he feels my appreciation in the simple "thank you." It is kind of him to lend me books from his private library, and occasionally also permit me an extra sheet of writing paper. Correspondence with the Girl and the Twin, and the infrequent exchange of notes with my comrades, are the only links that still bind me to the living. I feel weary and life worn, indifferent to the trivial incidents of existence that seem to hold such exciting interest for the other inmates. "Old Sammy," the rangeman, grown nervous with the approach of liberty, invents a hundred opportunities to unburden his heart. All day long he limps from cell to cell, pretending to scrub the doorsills or dust the bars,... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I To K. & G. Good news! I was let out of the cell this morning. The coffee-boy on my range went home yesterday, and I was put in his place. It's lucky the old Deputy died-he was determined to keep me in solitary. In the absence of the Warden, Benny Greaves, the new Deputy, told me he will "risk" giving me a job. But he has issued strict orders I should not be permitted to step into the yard. I'll therefore still be under special surveillance, and I shall not be able to see you. But I am in touch with our "Faithful," and we can now resume a more regular correspondence. Over a year in solitary. It's almost like liberty to be out of the cell! M. II My position as coffee-boy affords many opportunities for closer contact with the prisoners. I assist the rangeman in taking care of a row of sixty-four cells situated on the ground floor, and lettered K. Above it are, successively, I, H, G, and... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The new arrivals are forlorn and dejected, a look of fear and despair in their eyes. The long-timers among them seem dazed, as if with some terrible shock, and fall upon the bed in stupor-like sleep. The boys from the reformatories, some mere children in their teens, weep and moan, and tremble at the officer's footstep. Only the "repeaters" and old-timers preserve their composure, scoff at the "fresh fish," nod at old acquaintances, and exchange vulgar pleasantries with the guards. But all soon grow nervous and irritable, and stand at the door, leaning against the bars, an expression of bewildered hopelessness or anxious expectancy on their faces. They yearn for companionship, and are pathetically eager to talk, to hear the sound of a voice, to unbosom their heavy hearts. I am minutely familiar with every detail of their "case," their life-history, their hopes and fears. Through the endless weeks and months on the range, their tragedies are the sole subject of conversati... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The comparative freedom of the range familiarizes me with the workings of the institution, and brings me in close contact with the authorities. The personnel of the guards is of very inferior character. I find their average intelligence considerably lower than that of the inmates. Especially does the element recruited from the police and the detective service lack sympathy with the unfortunates in their charge. They are mostly men discharged from city employment because of habitual drunkenness, or flagrant brutality and corruption. Their attitude toward the prisoners is summed up in coercion and suppression. They look upon the men as will-less objects of iron handed discipline, exact unquestioning obedience and absolute submissiveness to peremptory whims, and harbor personal animosity toward the less pliant. The more intelligent among the officers scorn inferior duties, and crave advancement. The authority and remuneration of a Deputy Wardenship is alluring... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The summer fades into days of dull gray; the fog thickens on the Ohio; the prison house is dim and damp. The river sirens sound sharp and shrill, and the cells echo with coughing and wheezing. The sick line stretches longer, the men looking more forlorn and dejected. The prisoner in charge of tier "K" suffers a hemorrhage, and is carried to the hospital. From assistant, I am advanced to his position on the range. But one morning the levers are pulled, the cells unlocked, and the men fed, while I remain under key. I wonder at the peculiar oversight, and rap on the bars for the officers. The Block Captain orders me to desist. I request to see the Warden, but am gruffly told that he cannot be disturbed in the morning. In vain I rack my brain to fathom the cause of my punishment. I review the incidents of the past weeks, ponder over each detail, but the mystery remains unsolved. Perhaps I have unwittingly offended some trusty, or I may be the obj... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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April 12, 1896 My Dear Girl: I have craved for a long, long time to have a free talk with you, but this is the first opportunity. A good friend, a "lover of horseflesh," promised to see this "birdie" .through. I hope it will reach you safely. In my local correspondence you have been christened the "Immutable." I realize how difficult it is to keep up letter-writing through the endless years, the points of mutual interest gradually waning. It is one of the tragedies in the existence of a prisoner. "K" and "G" have almost ceased to expect mail. But I am more fortunate. The writes very seldom nowadays; the correspondence of other friends is fitful. But you are never disappointing. It is not so much the contents that matter: these increasingly sound like the language of a strange world, its bewildering and ferment, disturbing the calm of cell-life. But the very arrival of a letter is momentous. It brings a glow into the prisoner's heart to feel... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The change of seasons varies the tone of the prison. A cheerier atmosphere pervades the shops and the cell-house in the summer. The block is airier and lighter; the guards relax their stern look, in anticipation of their vacations; the men hopefully count the hours till their approaching freedom, and the gates open daily to release some one going back to the world. But heavy gloom broods over the prison in winter. The windows are closed and nailed; the vitiated air, artificially heated, is suffocating with dryness. Smoke darkens the shops, and the cells are in constant dusk. Tasks grow heavier, the punishments more severe. The officers look sullen; the men are morose and discontented. The ravings of the insane become wilder, suicides more frequent; despair and hopelessness oppress every heart. The undercurrent of rebellion, swelling with mute suffering and repression, turbulently sweeps the barriers. The severity of the authorities increases, me... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I It is New Year's eve. An air of pleasant anticipation the prison; to-morrow's feast is the exciting subject of conversation. Roast beef will be served for dinner, with a goodly loaf of currant bread, and two cigars for dessert. Extra men have been drafted for the kitchen; they flit from block to yard, looking busy and important, yet halting every passerby to with secretive mien, "Don't say I told you. Sweet potatoes to-morrow!" The younger inmates seem skeptical, and strive to appear indifferent, the while they hover about the yard door, nostrils expanded, sniffing the appetizing wafts from the kitchen. Here and there an old-timer grumbles: we should have sweet "murphies" for Christmas. "'Too high priced,' Sandy said," they sneer in ill humor. The new arrivals grow uneasy; perhaps they are still too expensive? Some study the market quotations on the delicacy. But the chief cook drops in to visit "his" boy, and confides to the rangeman that the sweet potatoes are a "sur... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The dungeon smells foul and musty; the darkness is almost visible, the silence oppressive; but the terror of my former experience has abated. I shall probably be kept in the underground cell for a longer time than on the previous occasion, -- my offense is considered very grave. Three charges have been entered against me: destroying State property, having possession of a knife, and uttering a threat against the Warden. When I saw the officers gathering at my back, while I was facing the Captain, I realized its significance. They were preparing to assault me. Quickly advancing to the Warden, I shook my fist in his face, crying: "If they touch me, I'll hold you personally responsible." He turned pale. Trying to steady his voice, he demanded: "What do you mean? How dare you?" "I mean just what I say. I won't be clubbed. My friends will avenge me, too." He glanced at the guards standing rigid, in ominous silence. One by one t... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Dear K.: I know you must have been worried about me. Give no credence to the reports you hear. I did not try to suicide. I was very nervous and excited over the things that happened while I was in the dungeon. I saw the papers after I came up -- you know what they said. I couldn't sleep; I kept pacing the floor. The screws were hanging about my cell but I paid no attention to them. They spoke to me, but I wouldn't answer: I was in no mood for talking. They must have thought something wrong with me. The doctor came, and felt my pulse, and they took me to the hospital. The Warden rushed in and ordered me into a strait-jacket. "For safety," he said. You know Officer Erwin; he put the jacket on me. He's a pretty decent chap; I saw he hated to do it. But the evening screw is a rat. He called three times during the night, and every time he'd tighten the straps. I thought he'd cut my hands off; but I wouldn't cry for mercy, and that made him wild. They put me in t... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I Like an endless miserere are the days in the solitary. No glimmer of light cheers the to-morrows. In the depths of suffering, existence becomes intolerable; and as of old, I seek refuge in the past. The stages of my life reappear as the acts of a drama which I cannot bring myself to cut short. The possibilities of the dark motive compel the imagination, and halt the thought of destruction. Misery magnifies the estimate of self; the vehemence of revolt strengthens to endure. Despair engenders obstinate resistance; in its spirit hope is trembling. Slowly it assumes more definite shape: escape is the sole salvation. The world of the living is dim and unreal with distance; its voice reaches me like the pale echo of fantasy; the thought of its turbulent vitality is strange with apprehension. But the present is bitter with wretchedness, and gasps desperately for relief. The efforts of my friends bring a glow of warmth into my life. The indefatigable Girl ha... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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CHRISTMAS, 1897. My Dear Carl: I have been despairing of reaching you sub rosa, but the holidays brought the usual transfers, and at last friend Schraube is with me. Dear Carolus, I am worn out with the misery of the months since you left, and the many disappointments. Your official letters were not convincing. I fail to understand why the plan is not practicable. Of course, you can't write openly, but you have means of giving a hint as to the "impossibilities" you speak of. You say that I have become too estranged from the outside, and so forth -- which may be true. Yet I think the matter chiefly concerns the inside, and of that I am the best judge. I do not see the force of your argument when you dwell upon the application at the next session of the Pardon Board. You mean that the other plan would jeopardize the success of the legal attempt. But there is not much hope of favorable action by the Board. We have talked all this over before, but you seem to hav... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I A year of solitary has wasted my strength, and left me feeble and languid. My expectations of relief from complete isolation have been disappointed. Existence is grim with despair, as day by day I feel my vitality ebbing; the long nights are tortured with insomnia; my body is racked with constant pains. All my heart is dark. A glimmer of light breaks through the clouds, as the session of the Pardons Board approaches. I clutch desperately at the faint hope of a favorable decision. With feverish excitement I pore over the letters of the Girl, breathing cheer and encouraging news. My application is supported by numerous labor bodies, she writes. Comrade Harry Kelly has been tireless in my behalf; the success of his efforts to arouse public sympathy augurs well for the application. The United Labor League of Pennsylvania, representing over a hundred thousand toilers, has passed a resolution favoring my release. Together with other similar expressions, individual... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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February 14, 1899. Dear Carlous: The Greeks thought the gods spiteful creatures. When things began to look brighter for man, they grow envious. You’ll be surprised,—Mr. Schraube has turned into an enemy. Mostly my own fault; that's the sting of it. It will explain to you the failure of the former sub rosa route. The present one is safe, but very temporary. It happened last fall. From assistance I was advanced to hallman, having charge of the “crank row,” on Range A. A new order curtailed the rations of the insane,—no cornbread, cheese, or hash; only bread and coffee. As rangeman, I help to “feed,” and generally have “extras” left on the wagon—some one sick, or refusing food, etc. I used to distribute the extras, “on the q.t.,” among the men deprived of them. One day, just before Christmas, an officer happened to notice Patsy chewing a piece of cheese. The poor fellow is quite imbec... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The adverse decision of the Board of Pardons terminates all hope of release by legal means. Had the Board refused to commute my sentence after hearing the argument, another attempt could be made later on. But the refusal to grant a rehearing, the crafty stratagem to circumvent even the presentation of my case, reveals the duplicity of the previous promise and the guilty consciousness of the illegality of my multiplied sentences. The authorities are determined that I should remain in the prison, confident that it will prove my tomb. Realizing this fires my defiance, and all the stubborn resistance of my being. There is no hope of surviving my term. At best even with the full benefit of the commutation time -- which will hardly be granted me, in view of the attitude of the prison management -- I still have over nine years to serve. But existence is becoming increasingly more unbearable; long confinement and the solitary have drained my vitality. To endure the nine years... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Sub Rosa, Jan. 15, 1900. Tony: I write in an agony of despair. I am locked up again. It was all on account of my bird. You remember my feathered pet; Dick. Last summer the Warden ordered him put out, but when cold weather set in, Dick returned. Would you believe it? He came back to my old cell, and recognized me when I passed by. I kept him, and he grew as tame as before--he had become a bit wild in the life outside. On Christmas day, as Dick was playing near my cell, Bob Runyon--the stool, you know--came by and deliberately kicked the bird. When I saw Dick turn over on his side, his little eyes rolling in the throes of death, I rushed at Runyon and knocked him down. He was not hurt much, and everything could have passed off quietly, as no screw was about. But the stool reported me to the Deputy, and I was locked up. Mitchell has just been talking to me. The good old fellow was fond of Dick, and he promises to get me back on the rang... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The disappearance of the revolvers is shrouded in mystery. In vain I rack my brain to fathom the precarious situation; it defies comprehension and torments me with misgivings. Jim's certainty that the weapons did not pass between the bars of the cellar, momentarily allays my dread. But Tony's vehement insistence that he had delivered the package, throws me into a panic of fear. My firm faith in the two confidants distracts me with uncertainty and suspense. It is incredible that Tony should seek to deceive me. Yet Jim has kept constant vigil at the point of delivery; there is little probability of his having missed the package. But supposing he has, what has become of it? Perhaps it fell into some dark comer of the cellar. The place must be searched at once. Desperate with anxiety, I resort to the most reckless means to afford Jim an opportunity to visit the cellar. I ransack the cell-house for old papers and rags; with miserly hand I gather all odds and e... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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May 10, 1900. My Dear Tony: Your letters intoxicvate me with hope and joy. No sooner have I sipped the rich aroma than I am athirst for more nectar. Write often, dear friend; it is the only sollace of suspense. Do not worry about this end of the line. All is well. By stratagem I have at last procured the privilege of the yard. Only for a few minutes every morning, but I am judiciously extending my prescribed time and area. The prospects are bright here; every one talks of my application to the Superior Court, and peace reigns -- you understand. A pity I cannot write directly to my dear, faithful comrades, your coworkers. You shall be the medium. Transmit to them my deepest appreciation. Tell "Yankee" and "Ibsen" and our Italian comrades what I feel -- I know I need not explain it further to you. No one realizes better than myself the terrible risks they are taking, the fearful toil in silence and darkness, almost within hearing of the guards. (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The discovery of the tunnel overwhelms me with the violence of an avalanche. The plan of continuing the work, the trembling hope of escape, of liberty, life-all is suddenly terminated. My nerves, tense with the months of suspense and anxiety, relax abruptly. With torpid brain I wonder, "Is it possible, is it really possible?" An air of uneasiness, as of lurking danger, fills the prison. Vague rumors are afloat: a wholesale jail delivery had been planned, the walls were to be dynamited, the guards killed. An escape has actually taken place, it is whispered about. The Warden wears a look of bewilderment and fear; the officers are alert with suspicion. The inmates manifest disappointment and nervous impatience. The routine is violently disturbed: the shops are closed, the men locked in the cells. The discovery of the tunnel mystifies the prison and the city authorities. Some children, at play on the street, had accidentally wandered into the yard of the desert... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The solitary is stifling with the August heat. The hall windows, high above the floor, cast a sickly light, shrouding the bottom range in darksome gloom. At every point, my gaze meets the irritating white of the walls, in spots yellow with damp. The long days are oppressive with silence; the stone cage echoes my languid footsteps mournfully. Once more I feel cast into the night, torn from the midst of the living. The failure of the tunnel forever excludes the hope of liberty. Terrified by the possibilities of the planned escape, the Warden's determination dooms my fate. I shall end my days in strictest seclusion, he has informed me. Severe punishment is visited upon anyone daring to converse with me; even officers are forbidden to pause at my cell. Old Evans, the night guard, is afraid even to answer my greeting, since he was disciplined with the loss of ten days' pay for being seen at my door. It was not his fault, poor old man. The night was sultry; the s... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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My new neighbor turns my thoughts into a different channel. It is "Fighting" Tom, returned after several years of absence. By means of a string attached to a wire we "swing" notes to each other at night, and Tom startles me by the confession that he was the author of the mysterious note I had received soon after my arrival in the penitentiary. An escape was being planned, he informs me, and I was to be "let in," by his recommendation. But one of the conspirators getting "cold feet," the plot was betrayed to the Warden, whereupon Tom "sent the snitch to the hospital." As a result, however, he was kept in solitary till his release. In the prison he had become proficient as a broommaker, and it was his intention to follow the trade. There was nothing in the crooked line, he thought; and he resolved to be honest. But on the day of his discharge he was arrested at the gate by officers from Illinois on an old charge. He swore vengeance against Assistant Deputy Hopkins, before whom he h... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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In my utter isolation, the world outside appears like a faint memory, unreal and dim. The deprivation of newspapers has entirely severed me from the living. Letters from my comrades have become rare and irregular; they sound strangely cold and impersonal. The life of the prison is also receding; no communication reaches me from my friends. "Pious!' John, the rangeman, is unsympathetic; he still bears me ill will from the days of the jail. Only young Russell still remembers me. I tremble for the reckless boy as I hear his low cough, apprizing me of the "stiff" he unerringly shoots between the bars, while the double file of prisoners marches past my door. He looks pale and haggard, the old buoyant step now languid and heavy. A tone of apprehension pervades his notes. He is constantly harassed by the officers, he writes; his task has been increased; he is nervous and weak, and his health is declining. In the broken sentences, I sense some vague misgiving, as of impending calamity. (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I July 10, 1901. Dear Girl: This is from the hospital, sub rosa. Just out of the strait-jacket, after eight days. For over a year I was in the strictest solitary; for a long time mail and reading matter were denied me. I have no words to describe the horror of the last months. . . . I have passed through a great crisis. Two of my best friends died in a frightful manner. The death of Russell, especially, affected me. He was very young, and my dearest and most devoted friend, and he died a terrible death. The doctor charged the boy with shamming, but now he says it was spinal meningitis. I cannot tell you the awful truth, - it was nothing short of murder, and my poor friend rotted away by inches. When he died they found his back one mass of bedsores. If you could read the pitiful letters he wrote, begging to see me, and to be nursed by mc! But the Warden wouldn't permit it. In some manner his agony seemed to affect me, and I be... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The Discussion with the Girl is a source of much mortification. Harassed on every side, persecuted by the authorities, and hounded even into the street, my friend, in her hour of bitterness, confounds my appreciative disagreement with the denunciation of stupidity and inertia. I realize the inadequacy of the written word, and despair at the hopelessness of human understanding, as I vainly seek to elucidate the meaning of the Buffalo tragedy to friendly guards and prisoners. Continued correspondence with the Girl accentuates the divergence of our views, painfully discovering the fundamental difference of attitude underlying even common conclusions. By degrees the stress of activities reacts upon my friend's correspondence. Our discussion lags, and soon ceases entirely. The world of the outside, temporarily brought closer, again recedes, and the urgency of the immediate absorbs me in the life of the prison. II A spirit of hopefulness... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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The presence of my old friend is a source of much pleasure. George is an intelligent man; the long years of incarceration have not circumscribed his intellectual horizon. The approach of release is intensifying his interest in the life beyond the gates, and we pass the idle hours conversing over subjects of mutual interest, discussing social theories and problems of the day. He has a broad grasp of affairs, but his temperament and Catholic traditions are antagonistic to the ideas dear to me. Yet his attitude is free from personalities and narrow prejudice, and our talks are conducted along scientific and philosophical lines. The recent death of Liebknecht and the American lecture tour of Peter Kropotkin afford opportunity for the discussion of modern social questions. There are many subjects of mutual interest, and my friend, whose great-grandfather was among the signers of the Declaration, waxes eloquent in denunciation of his country's policy of extermination in the Philippines a... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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Castle On The Ohio, Aug. 18, 1902. My Dear Carolus: You know the saying, "Der eine hat den Beutel, der andere das Geld." I find it a difficult problem to keep in touch with my correspondents. I have the leisure, but theirs is the advantage of the paper supply. Thus runs the world. But you, a most faithful correspondent, have been neglected a long while. Therefore this unexpected sub rosa chance is for you. My dear boy, whatever your experiences since you left me, don't fashion your philosophy in the image of disappointment. All life is a multiplied pain; its highest expressions, love and friendship, are sources of the most heart-breaking sorrow. That has been my experience; no doubt yours also. And you are aware that here under prison conditions, the disappointments, the grief, anguish, are so much more acute, more bitter and lasting. What then? Shall one seal his emotions, or barricade his heart? All, if it were possible, it would be... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I It is September the nineteenth. The cell-house is silent and gray in the afternoon dusk. In the yard the rain walks with long strides, hastening in the dim twilight, hastening whither the shadows have gone. I stand at the door, in reverie. In the somber light, I see myself led through the gate yonder,-it was ten years ago this day. The walls towered menacingly in the dark, the iron gripped my heart, and I was lost in despair. I should not have believed then that I could survive the long years of misery and pain. But the nimble feet of the rain patter hopefully; its tears dissipate the clouds, and bring light; and soon I shall step into the sunshine, and come forth grown and matured, as the world must have grown in the struggle of suffering "Fresh fish!" a rangeman announces, pointing to the long line of striped men, trudging dejectedly across the yard, and stumbling against each other in the unaccustomed lockstep. The door opens, and Aleck Killian, the lifet... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I With deep gratification I observe the unfoldment of Harry's mind. My friendship has wakened in him hope and interest in life. Merely to please me, he smilingly reiterated, he would apply himself to reading the mapped-out course. But as time passed he became absorbed in the studies, developing a thirst for knowledge that is transforming his primitive intelligence into a mentality of great power and character. Often I marvel at the peculiar strength and aspiration springing from the depths of a prison friendship. "I did not believe in friendship, Aleck," Harry says, as we ply our brooms in the day's work, "but now I feel that I wouldn't be here, if I had then a real friend. It isn't only that we suffer together, but you have made me feel that our minds can rise above these rules and bars. You know, the screws have warned me against you, and I was afraid of you. I don't know how to put it, Aleck, but the first time we had that long talk last year, I felt as if something... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The able-bodied men have been withdrawn to the shops, and only the old and decrepit remain in the cell-house. But even the light duties of assistant prove too difficult for the Swede. The guards insist that he is shamming. Every night he is placed in a strait-jacket, and gagged to stifle his groans. I protest against the mistreatment, and am cited to the office. The Deputy's desk is occupied by "Bighead," the officer of the hosiery department, now promoted to the position of Second Assistant Deputy. He greets me with a malicious grin. "I knew you wouldn't behave," he chuckles; "know you too damn well from the stockin' shop." The gigantic Colonel, the new Deputy, loose-jointed and broad, strolls in with long, swinging step. He glances over the report against me. "Is that all?" he inquires of the guard, in cold, impassive voice. "Yes, sir." "Go back to your work, Berkman." But in the afternoon, Officer "Bighead" struts in... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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On the Homestretch, Sub Rosa April 15, 1905. My Dear Girl: The last spring is here, and a song is in my heart. Only three more months, and I shall have settled accounts with Father Penn. There is the year in the workhouse, of course, and that prison, I am told, is even a worse hell than this one. But I feel strong with the suffering that is past, and perhaps even more so with the wonderful jewel I have found. The man I mentioned in former letters has proved a most beautiful soul and sincere friend. In every possible way he has been trying to make my existence more endurable. With what little he may, he says, he wants to make amends for the injustice and brutality of society. He is a Socialist, with a broad outlook upon life. Our lengthy discussions (per notes) afford me many moments of pleasure and joy. It is chiefly to his exertions that I shall owe my commutation time. The sentiment of the Inspectors was not favorable. I believe it w... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I The Gates of the penitentiary open to leave me out, and I pause involuntarily at the fascinating sight. It is a street: a line of houses stretches before me; a woman, young and wonderfully sweet-faced, is passing on the opposite side. My eyes follow her graceful lines, as she turns the corner. Men stand about. They wear citizen clothes, and scan me with curious, insistent gaze. . . . The handcuff grows taut on my wrist, and I follow the sheriff into the waiting carriage. A little child runs by. I lean out of the window to look at the rosy-cheeked, strangely youthful face. But the guard impatiently lowers the blind, and we sit in gloomy silence. The spell of the civilian garb is upon me. It gives an exhilarating sense of manhood. Again and again I glance at my clothes, and verify the numerous pockets to reassure myself of the reality of the situation. I am free, past the dismal gray walls! Free? Yet even now captive of the law. The law! The eng... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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I All night I toss sleeplessly on the cot, and pace the cell in nervous agitation, waiting for the dawn. With restless joy I watch the darkness melt, as the first rays herald the coming of the day. It is the 18th of May -- my last day, my very last! A few more hours, and I shall walk through the gates, and drink in the warm sunshine and the balmy air, and be free to go and come as I please, after the nightmare of thirteen years and ten months in jail, penitentiary, and workhouse. My step quickens with the excitement of the outside, and I try to while away the heavy hours thinking of freedom and of friends. But my brain is in a turmoil; I cannot concentrate my thoughts. Visions of the near future, images of the past, flash before me, and crowd each other in bewildering confusion. Again and again my mind reverts to the unnecessary cruelty that has kept me in prison three months over and above my time. It was sheer sophistry to consider me a "new"... (From : Anarchy Archives.)


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