GENERAL ARTICLES

HOUSE OF HATE

AUSTIN CAMPBELL August 15 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

HOUSE OF HATE

AUSTIN CAMPBELL August 15 1933

HOUSE OF HATE

AUSTIN CAMPBELL

WE WERE called into the warden’s office. Such a call, in the ordinary course of prison life, is about as pleasing to an inmate as a summons to the office of the principal is for a schoolboy. But with us it is the “paddling table," as it is called, that takes the place of a cane. Discipline is, of course, the nerve medicine that keeps a penitentiary in good health. But too much or too rigorous medicine, is just about as dangerous and painful as none at all. It can be well claimed that, by their very nature, penitentiary inmates are not fundamentally law abiding persons. Yet even admitting that they are definitely opjxised to discipline, it is a matter of grave question to decide where wise discipline ends and ignorant irritation begins. As a general rule, it is admitted that inmates have only two rights. These are food and sleep. Consequently it is almost impossible to exist without violating some of the innumerable Verholens with which the place is rule-ridden.

It is very much to the credit of some of the officers that they deliberately neglect to see infractions of the rules. Like Admiral Nelson, they frequently watch with a “blind eye.” Only too often these men suffer seriously for their charity. The discipline of the institution is not by any means directed only against inmates. Indeed I have heard many an inmate declare, fervently, that he would prefer to be a convict rather than have to take the abuse to which these humane guards are sometimes subjected. The pay of a guard is notoriously inadequate, yet even this almost impossible minimum is often further reduced by fines, imposed because the fellow could not steel his heart to enforce some rule that his better sense told him was ten per cent useful and ninety per cent irritable.

For an infraction of the rules, a guard makes out a “ducket.” This is a report to the warden that a crime has been committed. It states the name and number of the particular inmate offending. The inmate is paraded to the warden s office next day. Acting as sole judge, the warden has wide powers, ranging from the minor punishment of stopping a man s tobacco, up to imposing the lash or having the man locked in the "hole.”

The “hole’ is a series of cells under the floor of the Keeper s Hall and is partially below ground. A gloomy light can filter into the corridor outside these cells, but when the heavy oak door of the cell is closed it is practically impossible for light to reach the prisoner. As an embellishment of this torture, recalcitrant offenders are sometimes secured to a steel, barred gate by means of handcuffs. The handcuffs are clipped to the bars well above the prisoner's head, so high in fact that it is impossible for the man to put his heels to the ground. His toes touch, but to rest his weight on his heels it would be necessary for the victim to so strain on the handcuffs as to injure his wrists. Under this form of punishment, a man is chained up shortly after breakfast and remains so until noon. At noon he is unchained in order to eat his dinner--usually only bread and water - and is again fastened to the bars till supper. The treatment is usually of a maximum of a week’s duration.

I am open to conviction that this may be the only possible treatment for certain almost hopeless types, but the man who will most successfully convince me will be the warden or guard w ho first submits himself to one week of this experience^ who will never convince me is the guard whose comments I accidentally overheard:

“Well, Blank has had his dinner. I’ll —t. the handcuffs and

string him up. I enjoy stringing that son of a lito the bars.”

THERE IS no denying the fact of the many difficulties of a warden. None of them are free from the criticism of their superiors, from anger of the inmates or the uncertain temper cf the public. A penitentiary official is admittedly dealing with the hardest class of society. A criminal will not and does not want to co-operate. Naturally, he resents control and authority. Many will use very possible trick or subterfuge to defeat not only justice but the plans of the institution where he is incarcerated. In the long day-after-dav grind of hearing charges against inmates, one can at least in some measure excuse a warden’s impatience.

One can understand his natural inclination to disbelieve the excuse for, or denial of. a crime, as given by an accused man.

But this reservation being allowed, the Continued on page 25

Continued from page 13

fact remains that simple human justice insists that an accused man may not only have a hearing but may produce evidence to prove his innocence. Y et story after story has been told by inmates, indicating that their statements were ruthlessly tossed aside and scorned as false. "What!" demanded the warden angrily of one accused man. "Do you mean to say that my officer would lie?"

"No. sir, not lying. Just mistaken. He has accused the wrong man. It was the man immediately in front of me who was talking. The guard was ten paces away and could not possibly know for certain which of us spoke."

“Tut, tut. nonsense. Five days off your good time. ’Bout turn, march !"

A trifle, of course. Merely five days longer that the man has to remain in this place of injustice. In other words, this man, when he finishes the time of his sentence according to the regulations and would normally be discharged, will have to remain five days longer. Five days may not seem much on top of, say. a five-year bit. But it is the last few days of a man’s time that are immeasurably the hardest. So, when five more are added unjustly for a crime not committed, it becomes a form of mental torture exceeding description.

I have watched men during the last few weeks and days of their time. Men who were decent fellows all the long months went to pieces in the last few days. The strain of expectation was too much. Sleep was almost agony, food nauseating and companionship painful. Take the case of—well, call him Brent. For months I had worked closely with Brent, and never by word or act could I detect anything but the attitude of a wellcontrolled gentleman. A week or two before the date of his discharge, I first noticed the signs of strain. He became irritable and morose. He did his work mechanically. On the fifth day he exploded. He was in the kitchen and another inmate happened to splash him with water. In a flash of nervous energy my friend snatched up a heavy wooden ipotato masher. His face was contorted and snarling. It was an instant of trembling danger. I do not remember thinking it out, but 1 shouted his name once. Perhaps it was the very sound of his own name the name that he was so anxious to clear of its stain that checked him. The fury on his face changed quickly to horror at the realization of his act. The club dropped from his fingers and the fellow sagged into a chair, sobbing.

I have often wondered what might have happened if my friend had been one of those unfortunates who had been handed five days extra by a warden whose first principle of justice was to disbelieve every statement of an inmate.

PYEN SILENCE before your accusers L. brings its penalty. Refusing to answer questions is termed “silent insolence.” It carries varying degrees of punishment, depending upon whether you are withholding desired information, or merely holding your tongue in order to be aggravating. Take, however, the case of Rennap, who was charged with having contraband cigarette papers. Obviously there was only one way the man could have got the papers, namely, through one of the guards. This much the accused man admitted. It was a self-evident fact which, in law. requires neither proof nor admission. But when the warden demanded that the prisoner tell him which one of the guards supplied the innocent papers, the lips of the convict remained heroically and nobly shut. Persisting in his silence. Rennap was consigned to the "hole." There he stayed in almost total darkness for one week. His meals—twenty-one of them, this number being quite in accordance with official penitentiary regulations—were nothing but dry bread and water. At the conclusion of this week, he was again haled before the warden.

"Well, you have had time now to think it

over. One of your pals has confessed, so you might as well come clean and tell us who supplied those papers."

But Rennap was made of better stuff than the bars of the very hole that had held him. He kept his secret.

"Perhaps ten straps on your buttocks would help you to remember." the warden threatened. "You'll get them at ten o’clock tomorrow morning."

Next day. with the deputy warden present and a penitentiary doctor to take Rennap’s pulse, he was tied on to the paddling table. The paddling table is. in fact just a specially prepared, heavy table. The victim is compelled to bend over this, his arms stretched above his head and his wrists are fastened. His ankles are shackled to the lower framework of the table and a belt is fixed firmly across his back. His trousers are pulled down and his eyes are blindfolded. Then a door opens and the guard who is to administer the strap enters. The "paddle” is a strap about three feet long by two inches wide. It is attached to a wooden handle. A series of holes, roughly diamond shaped, have been cut in the material, and as the strap strikes the flesh these holes break the skin and after a few blows pieces of skin are pulled off by the strap.

Rennap endured ten strokes in silence.

Slash ! The heavy strap cut him across the buttocks.

“Now will you speak?”

"No.”

Slash !

The silence was broken only by the man’s gasp of pain, but he would not betray his friend. For ten blows the strap rose and fell, till blood trickled down Rennap’s legs.

That is the story as told to me by the victim. Other inmates added that after his whipping Rennap was again confined in the hole, and that night his friends heard him sobbing in pain. Rennap is free today. But there is a stain of deeper blackness upon the spotted record of Canada’s premier penal institution.

MY ONE VISIT to the warden’s office in "K.P.,” in company with eight of my newlv-in companions, was a part of the official system of admission. Dressed in civilian clothes and seated at his desk, was the warden. He had a guard standing at attention beside him and another close at hand. Eight of us toed the line, while the warden looked us over. His glance was hardly cordial and certainly not reassuring.

Did one of us so much as move a hand, we were roughly checked by a guard and told to toe the line and stand still. To interrupt us in the middle of an answer to a question from the warden was obviously one of the official tricks, for it was done so often and so deliberately. There was no room for doubt that part of the purpose of this interview was to afford an impressive occasion for the guards to show us that, in the official opinion of the institution, we were crooks, criminals and dangerous beasts.

To those of us who had a sense of humor, the treatment was laughable. But those who had a knowledge of psychology were both sad and angry, witnessing this exhibition of the belief that a man’s spirit must be broken to reform him and that moral regeneration can be achieved by humiliating punishment.

To the warden's question as to whether any of us had been in jail before, six of us

answered no. But our answers were hesitant. as though we thought that this omission might relegate us to some lower grade in prison society. When one admitted that this was not his first conviction, the warden said:

"I see it is not. You are Jones, aren't you? You have been convicted for theft five times. You have done time in several jails, and were only discharged from here six months ago, weren’t you?”

“Well, you know the rules.” the warden continued ominously. “Observe them. I don’t mind telling you, you’re not in the least welcome.”

Then, addressing the rest of us, the warden explained {ponderously :

"The motto of this institution is ‘Work, and more work, and then more work.’ If you do that and behave yourselves, your time will pass quickly. Those of you who are here for the first time can look forward to the possibility of being released on parole at half time. As for you, Jones,” he added, ‘T do not hold out any such hope.”

“Now, you new men.” and the warden seemed to be speaking directly to me, "have you seen the rules?”

“I have read the—” I began when a guard interrupted :

“Keep your feet together.”

"I have read the printed sheets ” I repeated, only to be again checked, this time by the second guard.

“Don’t move your hands." he ordered, and added as a sort of autocratic afterthought. "You are standing before the warden of Kingston Penitentiary."

Only with difficulty did I suppress a smile. “ {printed sheets in my cell.” I managed to conclude, with an assumed humility that I hoped would conceal my amazement over this futile masquerade.

I was successful. My ready submission must have gratified the seated lord of the Big House, for he continued pompously:

"I want you men to distinctly understand, and always to remember, that 1 have supreme authority within these walls. The rules must be obeyed. I hope that none of you will come before me charged with any crime. Bit if you do. I can sentence you to loss of ‘Good time' or deprivation of tobacco, or” he [paused to give his concluding remarks the emphasis of a royal proclamation "I have authority to sentence you to solitary confinement, even to give you the lash.”

It was the most ingenuous example of ignorant autocracy and degenerate brute force to which I had ever listened. Were it not so vitally real and desperately true, it could have been ludicrous. Something of the hopeless wrong, the vast psychological error of the place and its rules and principles, gripped me. Redemption, reconstruction, reformation seemed to be blank spaces in the vocabulary of Kingston Penitentiary and of its warden. Yet it was funny, tragically, painfully, gruesomely funny.

Halting again in a line in the Dome, Jones, the unwelcome guest, growled at me:

"Ain't he the ? Say, that guy’s mean. He’s so mean he’d steal the [pennies off a dead man’s eyes.”

I ATE ONE SATURDAY afternoon I I was waiting in my cell for the bell to call us out for the ¡parade to the kitchen for

supper. Beyond tho gate of my cell and through the black bars of a tall window, a mysterious glory bunuxl and pulsated on the wall of an adjoining building. Golds and scarlets, rich purples, ruby reds and brilliant yellows were gleaming in a silent symphony.

For ¡perhaps half an hour 1 studied the wonder, trying to hear, to understand the music which, I felt, the vision was singing for the inmates of Kingston Penitentiary.

No. I could not decide what the real message was. Indeed, I felt 1 never would know. But I did know that the message was kindly and full of hope. I knew it was some voiceless wisdom, singing to me in a language I could but partially understand; some purity blossoming in this degradation of sin and steel; some all-compassionate spirit "Speaking comfortably to Jerusalem."

That was Saturday night. I found out about it next day, Sunday, when I was marched grimly to divine service.

Religion in Kingston Penitentiary is a faith of compulsion. It is a case of devotion by regulation, and sanctity by official edict. You are not asked if you want to go; you are paraded and marched to church. Salvation is forcibly fed, and the meals are frequent. All creeds are strait jacketed into two definite channels Protestant and Catholic. Whether you like it or not. you must be one or the other.

If you choose to be a Catholic, they seem to leave you to yourself. But if you are a Hindu or a Jew or anything else except a Catholic, you’re classed as a Protestant.

So, six or seven hundred compulsory Protestants, all in prison blue, crowd 111«' chapel, and khaki-dad guards parade the aisles. The convict choir sings, the organ ¡plays its voluntary, and an empty ritualism feeds us stones when we are hungry for bread. You can take your choice of {Praying or swearing.

Occasionally, in apparent lapses from its rigid rule, some of the spirit of the religion that convicts need manages to get into the chajxJ. This is when some of the old-time hymns are sung.

I lave you ever heard men sing hymns in a lumber camp? 1 lave you attended church on some far flung frontier, where the artificialities of regulated society are flung aside by the stark drama of stinging reality? Then it is that creeris and rituals are vain. Men in such ¡places sing simple hymns, robust hymns; prayers that have "guts" in them; music into which they can sink the strong teeth of {primitive emotion. When this happens in “K. P.” it is worth listening to. It will tell you clearly what "K. P." needs in the way of religion. It will show you the faith for which tin* men are soul hungry.

Listen t«) the «leep basses Ixxpming the phrase “Rock of Ages.” Stone! Yes, g«x>d, hard stone, standing resolute to shield and ¡protect, not confine and debase them. Gi*xi old “Rock of Ages !"

Listen to the amateur tenors leap up to the words "Cleft for me.” They need it these men, need something to hide in, something that will glorify their ¡pain and hallow their fear

Do you want emotion? Emotion dripping with the blanched bkxxi of soul-starved anguish? Then listen to (p(X) convicts sing "Tell me the old. old story.” You can’t make them tired of it. Over and over again, Sunday after Sunday, for weeks and months, they will sing it gladly. Men in ¡prison do not, get tirer! of the hymns of simple, primitive faith.

Thieves, bandits, burglars aye, murderers though they be. the crystal magic of that hymn transmutes their hopelessness into peace. Home and mother, purity and simplicity, faith and love these, for a few moments, are our thoughts. Yes. these and tears.

"Huh!" ejaculated a stranger, sitting beside me at my first "divine service......They

calls this religion. Hell! Give me a busted piano and a Moody and Sankey hymnbook

and I’ll put more of the blessed spirit, of Jesus Christ into these men than a whole college of cardinals.”

Cheap? Tawdry? Ignorant sentimentalism? Maybe. But prison is no place for cathedral jx<mp.

It was one of the few church services I ever attended where there was no collection. Tobacco prison currency is not normally used as an offering. Yet I am sure that had a request been made for a gift of mir one luxury, there would have been a ready contribution. Be a convict ever so mean as a citizen, most of them are glad and willing to share their limited supply of "weed” with a needy comrade.

AS THE SERVICE wound its monoto^ nous and ritualistic way, the regular passing of notes took place. Church service is the one occasion when all the inmates are together. The place becomes an unofficial post-office. Address a note and start it off, and it will travel from hand to hand till, though you be seated in the back row, your message will reach your friend in the front

pew. You can borrow a “makings” of tobacco, or swap institutional gossip, or perhaps get a torn piece of old newspaper smuggled in somehow. The praying or preaching value of the services may be doubtful, but, viewed from its angle of social intercourse, chapel is definitely useful.

While some of the tales of the various parsons that have served in “K. P.” are not pleasant, the difficulties under which these ministers work are well known. Of course it is hard to deliver a sermon when your congregation insist on tapping their feet. But, why a sermon? Why drench a bunch of convicts with a series of sel religious phrases and pettifogging platitudes? Is it satire, or just a total lack of humor, for a penitentiary parson to preach to convicts the sweet virtue of “living a Christian life” in jail? Do they really believe that when they preach of the “love of God,” “the fellowship of men,” or of “the truth that makes us free,” we can hear them without a sneer for the Christianity that permits Kingston Penitentiary to exist?

Perhaps we should not sneer, but we do.

Perhaps we ought to kiss the hand that confines and beats us. Perhaps that is Christianity. But the spirit of repression we live under is not the Christianity we were taught at our mothers’ knees. No. Keep the soft stuff for places where people don’t suffer. Men in a penitentiary want their religion and preaching in solid chunks that bring satisfaction to hearts that are rough, and strength to souls that are sore.

So, repeatedly from all parts of that big room comes the irritating tap. lap of hardsoled shoes pounding against the wooden benches. Let’s admit that it does annoy the speaker. It is intended to do so. The men feel that his words are just ground out as a duty; they are being offered the chaff of emasculated sanctity.

The guards cannot stop the tapping. They cannot see who does it. They rush about the room, but wherever they go silence falls and impassive faces mock them, as from the other side of the chapel the tapping rises afresh. Even priestly patience is strained and ecclesiastical decorum upset.

Such must have been the speaker’s emo-

tions on the Sunday morning when he broke off his sermon, deserted his pulpit, and strode down angrily among his flock.

“You’re a miserable bunch to make that noise,” the irate parson is reported to have said. “If you made that noise in other places, you’d go out on a shutter. I’m here to preach this sendee and I’m going to preach it if it takes all morning, and you’ve got to listen!”

Not thus was made the promise: “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” No. But then He who made that promise to a thief was Himself a convicted prisoner on a Cross, not a parson in a penitentiary. There was forgiveness, redemption, salvation and understanding for that thief. Of course, that was long ago. Civilization has progressed far since then. It has built Kingston Penitentiary.

Still, for all that, sometimes one sees a glowing message of forgiveness and hope, of peace, love and understanding told by the sunset light on the stained glass windows of the prison chapel.

To be Continued