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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
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  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.

Chapter 28

For Safety

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 the "full size" jacket that winds all around you, the arms folded. They laid me, tied in the canvas, on the bed, bound me to it feet and chest, with straps provided with padlocks. I was suffocating in the hot ward; could hardly breathe. In the morning they unbound me. My legs were paralyzed, and I could not stand up. The doctor ordered some medicine for me. The head nurse (he's in for murder, and he's rotten) taunted me with the "black bottle." Every time he passed my bed, he'd say: "You still alive! Wait till I fix something up for you." I refused the medicine, and then they took me down to the dispensary, lashed me to a chair, and used the pump on me. You can imagine how I felt. That went on for a week; every night in the straitjacket, every morning the pump. Now I am back in the block, in 6 A. A peculiar coincidence -- it's the same cell I occupied when I first came here.

Don't trust Bill Say. The Warden told me he knew about the note I sent you just before I trashed up. If you got it, Bill must have read it and told Sandy. Only dear old Horsethief can be relied upon.

How near the boundary of joy is misery! I shall never forget the first morning in the jacket. I passed a restless night, but just as it began to dawn I must have lost consciousness. Suddenly I awoke to the most exquisite music in my ears. It seemed to me as if the heavens had opened up in a burst of ecstasy...It was only a little sparrow, but never before in my life did I hear such a sweet melody. I felt murder in my heart when the convict nurse drove the poor birdie from the window ledge.


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