The transfer from prison to prison is a most trying experience; manacled and chained, one is subject to the prying looks and embarrassing remarks of inquisitive spectators. My journey to Lewes was uneventful. I and a young private were escorted by a colour-sergeant and two men; they were jolly fellows, and had not been to South Africa. They could not understand how a man could be sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting Dutchmen. "Wasn't that what you went there for?" they asked; "it's terrible hard luck. Do you smoke, sir? These," handing me a packet of cigarettes, "are only common fags, but I'll get some better ones at the railway station." My sympathetic escort was true to his word, and when we entrained at Portsmouth Station he produced a packet of savoury "Egyptians."
We reached Brighton just as the London express arrived; its palatial cars and appearance of wealth and ease contrasted deeply with our war-worn uniforms and irons, and the gloomy destiny before us. We arrived at Lewes an hour earlier than we were expected, consequently, and luckily, there was no prison van to meet us. Hurrying off the platform, our escort requisitioned a "cabby," who drove us to the prison gate.
All main entrances are the same, and all prisoners are on an equality. First the massive outer gate is passed through into a gloomy, tunnel-like passage, with another and inner gate at the end, then across a portion of the prison yard to the reception cells. Here my committal warrant was carefully examined; the irons were then removed, and again a full description was taken, including my height and weight. I was then taken to the clothing department, and here I donned the degrading garb of the convict—a drab jacket and cap, and knee breeches, grey stockings, and leather shoes, freely stamped with the broad arrow. I was then taken to the main hall and placed in cell No. 35, which was similar to the one I had left at Gosport. I was here given a cloth badge, which buttoned on my left breast, and upon which was stamped A4/35, signifying the place and number of my location.
My dinner was then served, consisting of a small piece of boiled bacon and a quantity of haricot beans. In another small tin, which fitted into the one containing the beans and bacon, were a few black-looking potatoes, boiled in their jackets; on the top of these was a hard loaf of heavy brown bread. The only piece of cutlery was a wooden spoon. The meal did not present by any means a tempting appearance; the quantity was greater, but the quality was worse than the dietary at Gosport.
Dinner over, the schoolmaster' paid me a visit. After questioning me as to my religion, and tastes in regard to reading matter, he left me, and returned shortly after with a pile of books. Those I had asked for were not included, but he had brought a magazine, several educational works, and a slate. The titles and numbers of the books were entered on a library card which I kept in my cell.
Later on the chaplain came in; he was one of the exceptions in chaplains, and we had a long conversation. He expressed great astonishment at the severity of my sentence, and urged me not to worry too much about the future. He was my best friend during his short stay at Lewes; he visited me almost daily, and these visits were the only bright spots in that land of gloom and silence.
The outlook at Lewes was very far from cheering. I was put to picking oakum again, and was herded with the old offenders, or "old lags," as they are termed in the prisons. Being a first offender, I should have been placed in what is called the "star class," but I had first to furnish the Governor with the names of two persons who could vouch for my previous good character. As I knew no one in England sufficiently for the purpose, it was necessary to write to Australia, and three months elapsed before I was admitted to the "star class."
On the first morning after my arrival at Lewes, the crowning indignity of the prison service was enforced upon me. I had to submit to the operations of the barber. My hair was closely cropped all over with a pair of fine hair-clippers, and my face cleanly shaven; parting with my moustache seemed like parting with an old friend.
A copy of the rules and regulations of the prison service, to which a prisoner has to conform, is furnished to each, and is neatly printed on cardboard and kept in a small portfolio in the cell. These rules are so numerous and so lengthy that it is impossible to give them verbatim. The following is a short abstract:--
A prisoner shall at all times preserve unbroken silence.
He shall not communicate in any way with another prisoner except with the permission of one of the authorities.
He shall use no obscene language nor be guilty of any indecent act or gesture.
While in his cell or place of location he shall not make any unnecessary noise by singing, shouting, or whistling.
He shall not leave his cell or other place of location without permission.
He shall keep his cell and all prison property in his possession neat and clean.
He shall not have in his possession anything he ought not to have.
For mutiny or inciting to mutiny or personal violence on any officer or servant of the prison a prisoner will be liable to corporal punishment.
Should a prisoner have any complaint to make regarding his food, he must complain immediately it is issued to him. Repeated frivolous or unfounded complaints will be treated as breaches of prison discipline, and punished accordingly.
A prisoner must attend Divine service unless excused by the prison authorities.
No prisoner shall be compelled to worship in the form contrary to his religious convictions. In the case of Nonconformists a minister of the persuasion of the prisoner shall from time to time be permitted to visit him.
A prisoner should behave with reverence at Divine service.
He shall be employed on steady hard labour for a period of not less than ten hours per day, exclusive of the time allotted for meals.
A prisoner shall be permitted the use of a suitable library, educational and devotional books; if necessary, school instruction shall be administered.
He must conform to the rules of the prison regarding haircutting and bathing, as may be deemed expedient to health and cleanliness.
He may be allowed to interview the Governor to lodge complaints or make requests.
He may also be permitted to interview a director, inspector, or member of the board of visiting magistrates, or the board of magistrates, or any representative of the Home Office who may from time to time visit the prison. He may also be allowed to petition the Secretary of State.
Rules under the classification and remission system provide that:—
A prisoner’s sentence shall be a question of marks, at the rate of six marks a day. He may, however, earn seven or eight marks a day, according to his industry and good conduct.
He shall be allotted marks according to the degrees of industry, seven marks for a fair, but moderate day's work, eight marks for a day's steady hard labour and the full performance of his allotted task.
A prisoner can thus by good conduct shorten his sentence by one-fourth.
A prisoner under sentence for penal servitude for life must not expect his release until he has completed twenty years' imprisonment, nor will any number of marks be taken to represent his sentence. However, his marks earned will be recorded, and in due time considered by the Secretary of State.
A prisoner for ill-conduct or any breach of prison regulations may forfeit any number of marks or the whole of his remission.
A prisoner having earned the number of marks representing his sentence will be released on license for the remainder.
His period of incarceration will be divided into stages (or classes). In the first, or probationary, stage, he must pass one year or until he has earned 2920 marks. During the first six monhts of his sentence, or until he has earned 1460 marks, he will be kept in separate confinement and be employed not less than ten hours per day, exclusive of time allotted for meals. He may be permitted to write or receive a letter during the first week of his sentence, and for every 960 marks earned in this stage he will be accorded the privilege to write and receive one letter and receive a visit of twenty minutes duration, or write and receive a letter in lieu of a visit by not more than three friends or relatives. When he has earned 1460 marks in this stage he will be eligible to be transferred to a public works or convict prison.
During the second stage he will be allowed the same privilege regarding writing and receiving letters and visits. He is to receive a gratuity of one shilling for every 240 marks earned in this stage, and will be distinguished by a narrow black cloth band on his sleeve, at the wrist and on the collar.
In the third stage he is permitted to write and receive a letter and receive a visit for every 720 marks earned, with the option of 2 oz. additional bread, 1/2oz. margarine in place of porridge, and a half-hour additional exercise on Sundays. Lie is distinguished in this stage by yellow facings, and he may earn a gratuity of one shilling and sixpence for every' 240 marks, but not more than eighteen shillings while in this stage.
In the fourth stage he is permitted to write and receive a letter and a visit of thirty minutes' duration for every 480 marks earned, and to receive a gratuity of 2s. 6d. for every 240 marks, but not to exceed thirty shillings. He is distinguished by blue facings, and may be permitted to converse with a companion, selected by the Governor, during exercise on Sunday afternoon. In this stage a prisoner remains until the last year of his sentence. By continuous good conduct he is then eligible for the special class, the highest class of prisoners; its privileges are a blue uniform, a letter and visit every month, and the preference of any so-called privileged posts, such as infirmary or schoolmaster's orderly, also an extra gratuity of £3 should he join a prison aid society. He may be recommended for an extra remission not exceeding one week.
A prisoner serving a sentence of seven years or over can earn £6; he can earn no more if he undergoes a life sentence. This money is paid to him by the police under whose surveillance he is while on license or ticket-of-leave.
The greatest of all privileges is the red collar, usually given to a special class prisoner (very rarely to one in any other stage) when employed on any special work, such as painting or charging the furnace at the foundry. Then he is allowed to go about the prison unaccompanied by a warder. Greater trust is placed in these men, as they have so much to lose, and a breach of confidence is not so likely to occur.
I had now commenced on the probationary stages of my sentence and for three long, heart-breaking, soul-killing days I picked oakum. The master-tailor then came to my cell, and I asked for other work. "I do not care how laborious it might be," I told him, "I will do anything but pick oakum." "Can you sew?" he inquired. "Yes!" I eagerly replied, though the art of needlework as far as I knew it was sewing on a button.
I was brought a pair of scissors, two needles, a thimble, and the pieces of a prison jacket; after being shown how to place them together, I commenced work. I put the thimble on the wrong finger, but notwithstanding this, and the drawback of continually stitching my finger to the material, I made very good progress, and was kept at this work during my sojourn at Lewes.
The routine became more and more monotonous as time dragged slowly on. My constitution was practically run down with the two years on active service; then came the close confinement, the foul and fetid atmosphere, and the disgusting sanitary arrangements. It is little wonder that I left Lewes in broken health.
About a month after my arrival at Lewes I petitioned through the Secretary of State to Lord Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, stating my case, and asking for a remission of the sentence. In course of time a reply came, which was brought to me by the Governor. It was to the effect that the Commander-in-Chief declined to make any remission of my sentence. This was a great blow to me, and seemed almost brutal in its significance. However, I hoped that the approaching Coronation would bring relief.
Coronation day came at last, and instead of the long-looked-for freedom, every prisoner was given a special treat, and made the recipient of the King's bounty in the shape of a slice of plum pudding.
I was then told by a warder that the Coronation had been suddenly postponed owing to the serious illness of His Majesty. I was also told that the war had terminated, and peace had been declared, and that the Boer Generals were visiting England as guests of the nation; also of the doings of the Australian cricketers.
These items of news came like a ray of sunshine into my gloomy cell, raised my spirits, and tended to make life bearable, though it was very far from being worth living. Towards the end of June the necessary references as to character were forthcoming, and I was now transferred to the "star class," the division in which first offenders are kept apart from ordinary prisoners, and distinguished by a red star on each arm between the elbow and shoulder, and another on the front of the cap.
The "star" receives no privilege other than those granted to the old offenders, and is subject to a more rigid discipline. This step brought with it no change of work; I was still kept at the same sedentary labour in my cell. I had expected much as the result of the change—a relaxation of discipline, more humane treatment, better food, outdoor labour, and other advantages; but I hoped in vain.
I found great pleasure in reading, and I read as I worked anything and everything that was brought to me. At other times I would have put a lot of it aside as "dry," which I now simply devoured. Carlyle's works and essays fascinated me, causing me to forget my anxiety and troubles for the time being. Towards the end of my "separate," as this part of a prisoner's sentence is termed, I became morose and low-spirited. Nearly six months had passed, and my release seemed as far off as ever. Changes had taken place in the prison; a new Governor and chief warder had superseded the old ones, so I interviewed the new Governor for permission to petition again. My request was refused, and I was informed that, as I was a court-martial prisoner, I could only petition at intervals of not less than three months. This I considered hard and unfair, as it actually meant that I was not entitled to the same privileges as ordinary offenders.
I was determined not to let the matter rest. I interviewed every Home Office official that visited the prison—prison inspectors, directors, and boards of visiting magistrates. To all I pleaded to be allowed to petition direct to His Majesty the King, but I was informed that such a procedure was impossible, that the Home Secretary was the highest power on earth a prisoner could appeal to. I must wait a little longer, and petition again.
One day, about the end of July, just at the time when I was hopefully expecting to hear something regarding my release, two warders came to my cell, and threw open my door. One of them requested me in a cheery kind of way to bring out my clothes and bedding. What could it mean? Had my release come at last? Gathering up the things, I carried them out on to the landing, where they were carefully examined. I then had to gather them up and take them back to the cell again; here everything had been overhauled and thrown about. I was next requested to take off what I was wearing; these things also were carefully examined, and handed back to me. "That will do, get into them again," said the warder, as he walked out and closed the door. To my dismay, I found this was my first experience of the system of searching, or "having the bailiffs in," as it was called in the prison.
About the middle of August my hopes were again raised, and as suddenly shattered. On this occasion the Governor sent for me; I was required at his office. On entering, I noticed two footmarks painted on the floor in front of his desk, and pointing in the prescribed military angle of 45 degrees. These I was requested to stand upon, and was then asked by the Governor to give my register number and name. "Your six months' separate confinement is completed on Monday next," he said, "and you will be transferred to Portland Convict Prison." Then he added: "There are a number of letters for you accumulated here, which you are not entitled by prison regulations to receive. What am I to do with them?" No mention of freedom, and, what I prized next, my letters were denied me. "Do with them?" I said. "Considering they are letters from Australia, most of them written before I was convicted, and forwarded from South Africa, can you not do the same as your predecessor? Let me read them and return them to you to be destroyed." I urged and entreated to be allowed to receive them; I had had no news from the homeland for over two months; but no, the new Governor was inexorable; I must abide by the rules of the prison. So, after requesting that the letters be sent with my clothes to my friends, I went back to my cell more depressed than ever. The following day I was photographed for future identification, front and profile being taken. On Monday morning I and three other prisoners were manacled and chained together; two warders took charge of us, and in the prison brake we were taken to the station and entrained for Portland. I had heard glowing accounts of the prison there; it was the next best place to Parkhurst, the convalescent station in the Isle of Wight. The discipline was less stringent, there was better food and more of it, and mostly outdoor labour. Our escort officers were fairly lenient and good fellows. Portland was reached about six o'clock in the evening.
Arriving at the prison we were admitted and the irons removed. We were taken to the reception cells, where we changed our clothes. Supper was then served, a pint of fatty cocoa and a 12-Oz. loaf of coarse brown bread; then to bed. I slept very little during the night, and was awake when the bell rang out at 5.30 in the morning. For breakfast the liquid refreshment was alleged tea, a black, vile-looking concoction, sweetened with molasses, which robbed it of any flavour it may have possessed, and a 10-oz. loaf.
A warder then came and conducted me to the bathroom, afterwards to the tailor's shop, where I was fitted with new clothes. The shoemaker was then visited, and I was provided with a pair of heavy iron-shod boots for outdoor wear, and a pair of light shoes for Sunday. Afterwards came the visit to the medical officer at the infirmary, where I was examined, sounded, and weighed. It was now almost dinner time, the bell had rung, and parties of prisoners were being marched on to the parade ground from all directions. I was hurried back to the reception cells and taken before the Governor, Major Briscoe, who spoke kindly to me, and gave me a few words of very sound advice.
Returning to my cell, I found my dinner waiting for me-a lump of fat, tough "Dorset tup" mutton, with half a pint of the liquor it had been boiled in, a few potatoes, and an 8-oz. loaf of bread. I had my dinner, and waited, wondering what would be the next item on the programme. After a little time I was again conducted below and stripped. A most minute description was then made for future identification; every small scar and mark was recorded. Having now got through all the preliminaries, I was ready to be "located." During the evening I was taken to the "star" ward, F North Hall. Here I was placed in a cell which would not make a decent dog kennel; its dimensions were 3 ft. wide, 7 ft. long, 7 ft. high. A small window of opaque glass beside the door admitted light from a gas jet outside. A canvas hammock slung from end to end of the cell monopolised more than half its space; a small drop table, 12X15 in., which hung from the wail, and a wooden stool, with the usual cell utensils, completed the furniture. This, then, I mused, was my new home, in which I was practically to pass my lifetime; the outlook was anything but cheering. The chaplain came to see me, took down a few notes regarding my case, and prevailed upon me to join the choir.
I slept badly that night, and in the morning my head ached; I had no appetite; I just ate a little of the crust of my loaf. At seven o'clock my door was thrown open; standing in the doorway and glancing along the hail, I recognised many faces I had seen at Lewes, also my three companions of the trip down. We then fell in, in double file, and marched to chapel for morning prayers, for which about fifteen minutes was allowed. The General Confession or the Litany was intoned on these occasions. After chapel we were marched back to the parade ground, and as I had not yet been posted to any party, I was called out by the principal warder and afterwards conducted to No. 3 party, where I was engaged in tinsmithing and foundry work.
The pronounced opinion of the general public is, I believe, in favour of reforming the present English prison system. Thinkers who do not especially class themselves as philanthropists affirm the necessity of classifying prisoners so as to conserve any good that remains part of a man's character at the time of his committal to prison.
The object of imprisonment is so to punish a criminal that the punishment will act as a deterrent on him in the future, and check others who might be disposed to menace society.
From observations made while in prison I am of the opinion that many of the present methods of dealing with prisoners are calculated to increase crime, rather than to repress it.
Criminals should be divided into three classes-Habitual, Ordinary, and First Offenders. Each class should be kept apart, but this cannot be accomplished by confinement in one common prison. In England those belonging to the first offenders, or "star class," are placed in the same prison as the old offenders, but are not supposed to come in contact with them. Yet they work together in the same yard, though in different parties, and at times prisoners move about indiscriminately, and talk to each other. Warders differ much in disposition, and some, less strict than others, allow the contact that the arrangements are designed to prevent.
Less supervision would be needed if prisoners were graded and confined in separate prisons.
On one occasion, with a party of the "star class," I was returning from labour. Turning a corner, we came suddenly upon a party of "old lags" working on a tram line. Our warder peremptorily ordered us to turn "right about," in which position we still faced the remnant of another party of a similar class. The warder, taking in the serious nature of the situation, facetiously gave us the order, "Shut your eyes!" The undesirables were then quickly mustered and hustled out of our way.
The treatment of first offenders is of the utmost importance. Great discrimination should be used in dealing with men convicted for a first offence; these should be systematically sorted and graded, and kept at work in separate parties.
Among the first offenders, with whom I had the most experience, I was brought in contact with some of the most depraved specimens of humanity that could be found inside or outside of any prison. I also met men with refined feelings and instincts, to whom a sentence of a few months would be a more severe expiation than a long term to those before-mentioned.
If a man of previous good character be awarded a long term of imprisonment, he should be allowed to serve the greater part of it on license, under police surveillance, on recognisances of such a nature as would act as a check on his predatory instincts, at the same time giving him the opportunity of regaining his position as a useful and respectable citizen.
Ordinary prisoners, or those serving a second or third sentence, while kept in confinement should be allowed to earn a remission of a part of their sentence by industry and good conduct; this would also be an inducement for a rebellious prisoner to conform to prison discipline.
Habitual offenders, or those who make crime an occupation when at liberty, should be kept confined on an indeterminate sentence in an institution specially provided for them. The discipline should not be too rigid; they should be kept at some kind of reproductive work, and in return receive a small gratuity per month, which they might be allowed to spend on any extras in food or whatever they wished for themselves. These men should only be allowed at large when a tribunal that has based its opinions on scientific principles is satisfied that the prisoner's reformation is accomplished.
There are many classes of work on which prisoners could be employed, such as making bricks and other building material, also smelting and moulding iron, thus providing, the first essentials for an extension of a railway system.
The labour of prisoners made use of in such reproductive work should be supervised by artisan warders.
The "silent system," or the suppression of speech, is undoubtedly as a punishment an unqualified success. Suppression of speech, together with the gloomy surroundings, the petty and trivial annoyances to which prisoners are subjected from officious warders, and the enforced daily attendance at religious instruction, which usually terminates with a dirge-like hymn, is the cause of many prisoners developing symptoms of mental weakness.
A long sentence under the silent system is more inhuman than the brutal treatment awarded to prisoners in early Australian convict days. Some natures it will brutalise and train in crime; others it will wreck physically and mentally. The result in the former case means a return to crime and prison; in the latter a committal to an asylum or workhouse. In either case the victims become a burden on their country for the remainder of their days.
The "silent system" should be reserved and applied only as a punishment to refractory prisoners.