GENERAL ARTICLES

House of Hate

AUSTIN CAMPBELL November 1 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

House of Hate

AUSTIN CAMPBELL November 1 1933

House of Hate

AUSTIN CAMPBELL

AFTER ALL is said and done, the purpose of a prison is to keep men prisoners. So when Inmate Mond did his “Co Boy” stunt from Collins Bay, late one afternoon, he started a vast machine into throbbing life. The land of the wire fence sprang into sudden, angry activity.

Telephone, radio and every means of communication crackled out the alarm and shouted the call for help. All the guards in the prison itself went automatically on continuous, unbroken twenty-four hour duty. There was to be no relief from this duty till the runaway was captured.

Prison guards on leave or on holidays were instantly summoned back. County constables and provincial police were ordered into the search. Airplanes zoomed across the fields searching for hiding-places, or circled over the lake, watching for possible boats. Motqr traffic officers patrolled the roads, examining all cars. Even farmers and residents for miles around were warned to be on watch and advised to keep doors locked and clothing in from the line, so as to prevent the fugitive from securing a change of garments.

A tireless, alert cordon was quickly thrown around a defined area. All roads, lanes, ditches and paths w-ere guarded by sentries night and day. Crack, high speed trains were either stopped and searched, or were not permitted to slow1 down inside the suspected area. The whole majesty and power of the law' was buzzing: all bent on capturing a man hatless, coatless, without money, matches, weapons, food or friends.

While all this excitement was in progress outside, we who were left inside the wire spent our days in a portentous calm. When any untoward event occurs in a penitentiary, the first official act is to rush every man to his cell. Though tumult rage outside, peace reigns inside, so long as every man is in his cell. It is, however, the peace of both guilt and suspicion, for the general attitude of the guards seems to be to suspect

every one of us of aiding, and believe every one of us to be guilty. Perhaps this is a natural prison psychology.

However that may be, the first thing we knew at least most of us knew—about the “Go Boy” was the long and insistent ringing of the bell. Even that did not necessarily mean that a man had escaped, for the ringing of the bell was a regular daily function to call in the various working gangs. But this time the bell was rung violently and long.

Our first idea was that some inmate was {lulling the rope as a joke, or that some guard had gone dingy. Neither of these things would have surprised us so much as the quick commands: "Every man line up for count. Everybody into the dormitories.”

Then we knew that something serious had happened. Geniality vanished. Discipline clamped down suddenly and grimly. Orders were growled or barked out, and in mirthless silence we marched to our lieds.

The kitchen gang, all the office clerks or trusties, the laundry gang, men from the fields and shops were hurried to the comparative security of “Inside the Wire.” were dropped, machines abandoned, cows left half milked, the evening supper half prepared all were neglected. The business of the penitentiary came to a sudden, jarring stop.

Over and over again we were lined up and counted. First, one anxious-eyed official and then another, pencil in hand,

counted us and added the amounts. Always the total came out the same: one man was short. Inmate Mond was gone.

Twenty-five Minutes Start

QUICKLY the details of the story Hew from man to man.

Mond had been one of the quarry gang. It had been the custom of the gang to take cover whenever a blast was set off. The guard had failed to count tlie men when they went into cover, and had likewise not counted them when they went back to their tools. Finally, as Mond appeared to lx* missing, the guard began to make enquiries. Two of the other inmates [xrhaps with intent declared they had seen Mond only a few moments before. Thus suspicion was allayed, with the result that Mond had full twenty-five minutes start lie fore the alarm was given.

The quarry where Mond had been working was about a mile from the prison, in an ojien, exposed area. Some few hundred yards of level Held lay between the quarry and the nearest trees. There was no mounted guard. The lire was touched to the fuse. The guard and inmates dashed for cover from the blast, and Mond dashed for the distant cover of the trees. He had timed his going well. If he could avoid detection for an hour or two, night would close in and give him a chance of escajx-.

This much of the story was clear to us. as we talked it over in the dormitories. But never did a gossipy bunch of tea drinkers evolve more complications than this event s*xm collected. A journalist, with a nosefor lurid news, would have got enough "gangdom” stories to have satisfied the most voracious yellow-journal editor. So, while the two guards on duty in the dormitory strcxle up and down the long line of beds, the various bits of news were passed from cubicle to cubicle, till Mond became a modem Robin Hood. "He’s the brains of Capone’s gang in Chicago.”

"He always boasted that if his Detroit friends knew he was here, they would drive over in armored tars and shoot him out to freedom.”

“Did you see that yellow hydroplane yesterday? That’s

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his gang. It flew low over us in the quarry, and then circled back to study the arrangements at the gate. That was the signal that his friends were ready. He’ll swim out into the lake and they’ll pick him up tonight.” "A quiet guy? Sure, he's quiet. He’d better be. He’s the guy that held up the Bank of Toronto, but the dicks ain’t on to that yet. You remember the bank never admitted how much it lost, but Mond got fifty grand as his split. He’s got it all tucked away in a Detroit safe deposit. He’ll be visitin’ that box about this time tomorrer.”

“If he ever gets a gun, some of these here guards will be shakin’ hands with their ancestors. Shoot? Say, that guy’d pull a ‘rod’ on his own mother. He told me once, he’d shoot quick if they ever came for him again. A dead cop makes a bum stool pigeon.”

“Clever? Say, that guy can talk six languages. He’s a college graduate, he is. Knows all that ancient stuff ’bout Samson and Egypt, and men cornin’ from monkeys, see? He’s too smart for these dumb-heads they got around here. Bet you two decks of weed he gets clear away.”

But tohacoo was too precious tí) waste on betting against the police organization. Besides, as I was running the library, I remembered that Mond's choice of literature liad been anything but intellectual. SÍ) I decided that his cleverness was more a matter of fiction than fact, and that his inspiration to escajx* had come from reading Western two-gun thriller stories rather than studying the Decalogue.

IT WrAS our turn now to watch men work when they didn't want to, and the men were the guards. At times such as this, the rule appears to be that all inmates must be locked up and all guards stay on duty. Accordingly, the guards had to tum in, roll up their sleeves, put overalls on and do the work of the prison. True, the men of the kitchen gang were allowed out to cook for the two hundred inmates and for the extra guards who came on duty to assist in the pursuit. But the cleaning of stables and milking of cows were performed by the guards. Officers fired the boilers, did the heavy and dirty work, while, for three days, the inmates stayed in the dormitories reading and playing cards and making bets on the “Go Boy’s” chances. Regular meals were served, the men being allowed into the Mess Hall, one dormitory at a time, and when through, promptly returned to their dormitories.

The prison was officially closed. Such guards as were on duty at the time of the escape had to remain there. Not one could leave, not one could go home for so much as a bath or a shave, much less for a sleep. The laundry was turned into living quarters for guards. Ironing tables became beds, and such extra blankets and old uniforms as happened to be on hand, were used as mattresses and bedclothes. The butcher table and a long desk, even the bare floor, were used as "flop places” for tired officers, wom out after hours of tramping around the country and searching barn and hedge.

shaves. So, crushed clothes and bristly beards decorated the inmates, while red eyes and the lagging stepof utter exhaustion were the lot of the guards. The inmates luxuriated in three days of indolent, well-fed ease.

The Warden was every place. Tireless, covered with burrs, no sleep for two nights, he had travelled every road around Kingston. Trucks drove into the prison with tired, hungry guards, loaded up with fresh officers, and with supplies of sandwiches and coffee, roared off again to make the rounds of the various guarded points.

Still there was no word of the quiet little fellow, whose going had caused all the rumpus. He had been gone two days, and the betting was ten decks to a drag—ten packages of tobacco to one cigarettethat “he would make it.” The guards had become glumly silent; they would not talk. Forming our opinions of the progress of the chase by carefully studying the guards’ behavior, we came to the conclusion that official hope was lost and that Mond was gone.

But the Warden remained cheerful. He never seemed to flag; he didn’t change. We could get nothing from studying him. The Deputy w'as, as usual, grim. The quick arm action, as he returned a salute, indicated a tireless will. But his eyes were hollow and black, and his voice husky. He might be good for another twelve hours, or he might not. He appeared as though he would crack at any moment.

Keeper Biioth lost none of his calm and philosophy. He had been on duty thirty-six hours without sleep, but still had an admirable control of his temper. There w'as something w'iser and better even than a sense of duty in that tall, strong frame.

It was amusing to watch officialdom assert its dignity. Apparently the proper thing to do was to blame t he man immediately junior to you for all your own mistakes. That is all right, until progression by means of regression gets down to the most junior guard. I le, poor chap, can’t load it on to the inmates, because the inmates are all locked up. Of course it’s tough on the junior, but then, that’s what juniors are for in the red tape system of the Civil Service.

The true human relationship of convict and guard now became apparent. We convicts are the cause of their discomforts; the guards w'ould make us the victims of their resentment, if they could. They would like to boot us about —especially as we cannot strike back. There is an oppressive atmosphere. You sense and feel a suppressed danger. You hesitate to speak, for fear that your merest word might touch off an explosion.

“I’d shoot the guts out of him,” declared one guard petulantly. And no one seemed to resent his brutality.

Finally even the inmates grew restless and tired of the vigil. Three days of unremitting watch ! What for? What good? If he’s stayed away three days, he’s gone;

better forget about him. What good does it do to close the laundry, leave the cattle and pigs to anyone’s care? Why no baths? No shaves? No books? It’s all very silly. That’s the way the affair seemed to us.

With which summing up of the situation the prison went to sleep that Friday night, only to wake up, on Saturday morning, feeling different.

FOR SOME peculiar reason, all the gamblers suddenly dashed to cancel, or to cover, their long-odd bets. For some reason, the tension was over. No one told us anything, but somehow we sensed that, during the night, the steel barred cells in “The Hole” had a new occupant and that the “Go Boy” had come back.

Breakfast being served in the normal way —that is. all of us together—for the first time in three days, confirmed the rumor. Smiles and good nature had returned to both guard and inmate.

All the extra guards, and those who had been on special duty in the prison, flocked to the gate, cranked up their cars that had lain idle for nearly eighty hours, and departed. They were tired but happy; the blot on their official escutcheon had been cleared.

Even the inmates were happy, because it meant that with Mond safely back in our midst there w'as less likelihood of severe retribution upon the rest of us. This w'as a selfish happiness, doubtless, but is not most happiness selfish? We were sorry for Mond. Sorry he tried, but glad that he failed. Sympathy for a “Go Boy” is a prisoner’s most natural emotion. Even the best of convicts cannot resist the hope that he will not be caught. Then, “contrariwise,” w’hen he is caught, his fellows cannot resist the inclination to be happy, because his going had made things uncomfortable for us. Yes, a contradictory philosophy, but—true.

So Mond was back, and locked up in “The Hole.” Prison conversation now w'as: What did he do? How did he live? Where did he go? How was he caught? The one man who would say the least about it, was Mond. Within a few days of his capture, he was released from “The Hole” and rejoined us in the Mess Hall. But if he had earned a reputation for silence before his ill-starred attempt, his verbal peace was now profound and absolute. The most astute enquiry brought only whimsical smiles.

It took several days for the narrative to be pieced together, from smuggled newspapers and whispered words from friendly guards.

It was, at best, a dull story of cold and starvation, unrelieved by gay adventure or rash escapade. Without money and without food, in prison clothes and no prearranged assistance, what could Mond do against a search organization that was on guard even as far away as Niagara Falls and Windsor? Driven to desperation he stole a car. This seems to have constituted his only bid for romance. Rumor maintains that the car was the property of one of the guards, and

parked in front of that officer’s home. With the accelerator shoved full down, Mond dashed across a bridge and ignored the command to stop. By this act he definitely informed the hundreds of searchers what part of the country he was in. After that, his capture was inevitable. Every available guard was concentrated on the new area.

Patrolling the roads till the demands of sleep would accept no further denial, two guards finally pulled up, far off the beaten trail on a country lane. How long they slept—one over the wheel and the other slumped in the seat—is not known. Perhaps even the sleep would be denied, though no one would blame them. However, as dawn came dimly over the land, the license number of another car, similarly parked and ' immediately in front of them, became apparent. The guards looked up, startled. Fifteen paces before them stood the car, which the “Go Boy” was known to have stolen in Napanee, and asleep over the steering wheel was the erring member of the quarry gang.

A further futile attempt to run was stopped by a very definite threat to shoot, and Mond was given the choice of coming peaceably, or—well, coming anyway. He chose the former.

Dazed and exhausted by three days and nights without food, he sat quietly for some time. Then, as they were crossing a bridge, he broke out suddenly into a furious fight. So, as one of the guards explained, “We showed him we could be rough, too. I got one knee on his neck, and one on his stomach and I gripped both his wrists. I never let go till we were inside the gates, and that was a sixty-mile drive. He could only stand on one foot when we got here. We almost had to carry him to his cell.”

Thus ended the affair of the first “Go Boy” from the new penitentiary at Collins Bay. That there may be others, as the institution goes along, foolish enough to make the attempt, seems obvious. But that they will be equally unsuccessful would be equally obvious to anyone familiar with local conditions and with the police organization. It looks simple, those open fields, but, if you think you could get away with it, just ask inmate Mond what he thinks. Then, perhaps, you won’t.

No, that didn’t quite end the affair. There was the aftertalk, as inevitable as the post-mortem of a game of bridge. Strange how our heroes lose their sparkle and glory, when we see them in the ashes of defeat. The halo of criminal fame dropped instantly from the brows of inmate Mond. He was not some hard racketeering overlord. He was not a dangerous gunman. He wasn’t a quick-witted cop dodger. He was just a poor prune who had spent two nights out in the cold, and now would have to face a court on a charge of stealing a car. This—probably a two-year sentence, together with the usual two years for attempted escape—would just add four years more on to his bit. Whew! Not so rosy. Not so clever, after all.

Previous articles in this series appeared in Maclean's August 1, 15; September 1, 15; October 1, 15. The next article will appear November 15.