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Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.

Chapter 24

Thoughts That Stole Out of Prison

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 that he is remembered, actively, with that intimate interest which alone can support a regular correspondence. And then your letters are so vital, so palpitating with the throb of our common cause. I have greatly enjoyed your communications from Paris and Vienna, the accounts of the movement and of our European comrades. Your letters are so much part of yourself, they bring me nearer to you and to life.

The newspaper clippings you have referred to on various occasions, have been withheld from me. Nor are any radical publications permitted. I especially regret to miss Solidarity. I have not seen a copy since its resurrection two years ago. I have followed the activities of Chas. and the recent tour of John Turner, so far as the press accounts are concerned. I hope you'll write more about our English comrades.

I need not say much of the local life, dear. That you know from my official mail, and you can read between the lines. The action of the Pardon Board was a bitter disappointment to me. No less to you also, I suppose. Not that I was very enthusiastic as to a favorable decision. But that they should so cynically evade the issue, -- I was hardly prepared for that. I had hoped they would at least consider the case. But evidently they were averse to going on record, one way or another. The lawyers informed me that they were not even allowed an opportunity to present their arguments. The Board ruled that "the wrong complained of is not actual"; that is, that I am not yet serving the sentence we want remitted. A lawyer's quibble. It means that I must serve the first sentence of seven years, before applying for the remission of the other indictments. Discounting commutation time, I still have about a year to complete the first sentence. I doubt whether it is advisable to try again. Little justice can be expected from those quarters. But I want to submit another proposition to you; consult with our friends regarding it. It is this: there is a prisoner here who has just been pardoned by the Board, whose president, the Lieutenant-Governor, is indebted to the prisoner's lawyer for certain political services. The attorney's name is K -- D -- of Pittsburgh. He has intimated to his client that he will guarantee my release for $1000.00, the sum to be deposited in safe hands and to be paid only in case of success. Of course, we cannot afford such a large fee. And I cannot say whether the offer is worth considering; still, you know that almost anything can be bought from politicians. I leave the matter in your hands.

The question of my visits seems tacitly settled; I can procure no permit for my friends to see me. For some obscure reason, the Warden has conceived a great fear of an Anarchist plot against the prison. The local "trio" is under special surveillance and constantly discriminated against, though "K" and "G" are permitted to receive visits. You will smile at the infantile terror of the authorities: it is bruited about that a "certain Anarchist lady" (meaning you, I presume; in reality it was Henry's sweetheart, a devil-may-care girl) made a threat against the prison. The gossips have it that she visited Inspector Reed at his business place, and requested to see me. The Inspector refusing, she burst out: "We'll blow your dirty walls down." I could not determine whether there is any foundation for the story, but it is circulated here, and the prisoners firmly believe it explains my deprivation of visits.

That is a characteristic instance of local conditions. Involuntarily I smile at Kennan's naive indignation with the brutalities he thinks possible only in Russian and Siberian prisons. He would find it almost impossible to learn the true conditions in the American prisons: he would be conducted the rounds of the "show" cells, always neat and clean for the purpose; he would not see the basket cell, nor the bull rings in the dungeon, where men are chained for days; nor would he be permitted to converse for hours, or whole evenings, with the prisoners, as he did with the exiles in Siberia. Yet if he succeeded in learning even half the truth, he would be forced to revise his views of American penal institutions, as he did in regard to Russian politicals. He would be horrified to witness the brutality that is practiced here as a matter of routine, the abuse of the insane, the petty persecution. Inhumanity is the keynote of stupidity in power.

Your soul must have been harrowed by the reports of the terrible tortures in Montjuich. What is all indignation and lamenting, in the face of the revival of the Inquisition? Is there no Nemesis in Spain?

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