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



May 10, 1900.


Your letters intoxicvate me with hope and joy. No sooner have I sipped the rich aroma than I am athirst for more nectar. Write often, dear friend; it is the only sollace of suspense. Do not worry about this end of the line. All is well. By stratagem I have at last procured the privilege of the yard. Only for a few minutes every morning, but I am judiciously extending my prescribed time and area. The prospects are bright here; every one talks of my application to the Superior Court, and peace reigns -- you understand.

A pity I cannot write directly to my dear, faithful comrades, your coworkers. You shall be the medium. Transmit to them my deepest appreciation. Tell "Yankee" and "Ibsen" and our Italian comrades what I feel -- I know I need not explain it further to you. No one realizes better than myself the terrible risks they are taking, the fearful toil in silence and darkness, almost within hearing of the guards. The danger the heroic self-sacrifice -- what money could buy such devotion? I grow faint with the thought of their peril. I could almost cry at the beautiful demonstration of solidarity and friendship. Dear comrades, I feel proud of you, and proud of the great truth of Anarchism that can produce such disciples, such spirit. I embrace you, my noble comrades, and may you speed the day that will make me happy with the sight of your faces, the touch of your hands.


June 5.


Your silence was unbearable. The suspense is terrible. Was it really necessary to halt operations for so long? I am surprised you did not foresee the shortage of air and the lack of light. You would have saved so much time. It is a great relief to know that the work is progressing again, and very fortunate indeed that "Yankee" understands electricity. It must be hellish work to pump air into shaft. Take precautions against the whir of machinery. The piano idea is great. Keep her playing and singing as much as possible, and be sure you have all windows open. The beasts on the wall will be soothed by the music, and it will drown the noises underground. Have an electric button connected from the piano to the shaft; when the player sees anything suspicious on the street or the guards on the wall, she can at once notify the comrades to stop work.

I am enclosing the wall and yard measurements you asked. But why do you need them? Don't bother with unnecessary things. From house beneath the street, directly toward the southwestern wall. For that you can procure measurements outside. On the inside you require none. Go under the wall, about 20-30 feet, till you strike wall of blind alley. Cut into it, and all will be complete. Write of progress without delay. Greetings to all.


June 20.


Your letters bewilder me. Why has the route changed? You were to go to southwest, yet you say now you are near the east wall. It's simply incredible, Tony. Your explanation is not convincing. If you found a gas main near the gate, you could have gone around it; besides, the gate is out of your way anyhow. Why did you take that direction at all? I wish, Tony, you would follow my instructions and the original plan. Your failure to report the change immediately, may prove fatal. I could have informed you -- once you were near the southeastern gate -- to go directly underneath; then you would have saved digging under the wall; there is no stone foundation, of course, beneath the gate. Now that you have turned the southeast corner, you will have to come under the wall there, and it is the worst possible place, because that particular part used to be a swamp, and I have learned that it was filled with extra masonry. Another point; an old abandoned natural gas well is somewhere under the east wall, about 300 feet from the gate. Tell our friends to be on the lookout for fumes; it s a very dangerous place; special precaution must be taken.

Do not mind my brusqueness, dear Tony. My nerves are on edge, the suspense is driving me mad. And I must mask my feelings and smile and look indifferent. But I haven't a moment's peace. I imagine the most terrible things when you fail to write. Please be more punctual. I know you have your hands full; but I fear I'll go insane before this thing is over. Tell me especially how far you intend going along the east wall, and where you'll come out. This complicates the matter. You have already gone a longer distance than would have been necessary per original plan. It was a grave mistake, and if you were not such devoted friend, I'd feel very cross with you. Write at once. I am arranging a new sub rosa route. They are building in the yard; many outside drivers, you understand.



I'm in great haste to send this. You know the shed the east wall. It has only a wooden floor and is not frequented much by officers. A few cons are there, from the stone pile. I'll attend to them. Make directly for that shed. It's a short distance from wall. I enclose measurements.



You distract me beyond words. What has become of your caution, your judgment? A hole in the grass will not do. I am absolutely opposed to it. There are a score men on the stone pile and several screws. It is sure to be discovered. And even if you leave the upper crust in tact for a foot or two, how am I to dive into the hole in the presence of so many? You don't seem to have considered that. There is only one way, the one I explained in my last. Go to the shed; it's only a little more work, 30-40 feet, no more. Tell the comrades the grass idea is impossible. A little more effort, friends, and all will be well. Answer at once.



Why do you insist on the hole in the ground? I tell you again it will not do. I won't consider it for a moment. I am on the inside -- you must let me decide what can or cannot be done here. I am prepared to risk everything for liberty, would risk my life a thousand times. I am too desperate now for any one to block my escape; I'd break through a wall of guards if necessary. But I still have a little judgment, though I am almost insane with the suspense and anxiety. If you insist on the hole, I'll make the break, though there is not one chance in a hundred for success. I beg of you, Tony, the thing must be dug to the shed; it's only a little way. After such a tremendous effort, can we jeopardize it all so lightly? I assure you the success of the hole plan is unthinkable. They'd all see me go down into it; I'd be followed at once -- what's the use talking.

Besides, you know I have no revolvers. Of course I'll have a weapon, but it will not help the escape. Another thing, your change of plans has forced me to get an assistant. The man is reliable, and I have only confided to him parts of the project. I need him to investigate around the shed, take measurements, etc. I am not permitted anywhere near the wall. But you need not trouble about this; I'll be responsible for my friend. But I tell you about it, so that you prepare two pair of overalls instead of one. Also, leave two revolvers in the house, money, and cipher directions for us where to go. None of our comrades is to wait for us. Let them all leave as soon as everything is ready. But be sure you don't stop at the hole. Go to the shed, absolutely.



The hole will not do. The more I think of it, the more impossible I find it. I am sending an urgent call for money to the Editor. You know whom I mean. Get in communication with him at once. Use the money to continue work to shed.


Direct to Box A 7,
Allegheny City, Pa.,
June 25, 1900.


The Chaplain was very kind to permit me an extra sheet of paper, on urgent business. I write to you in a very great extremity. You are aware of the efforts of my friends to appeal my case. Read carefully, please. I have lost faith in their attorneys. I have engaged my own "lawyers." Lawyers in quotation marks -- a prison joke, you see. I have utmost confidence in these lawyers. They will, absolutely, procure my release, even if it is not a pardon, you understand. I mean, we'll go to Superior Court, different from a Pardon Board -- another prison joke.

My friends are short of money. We need some at once. The work is started but cannot be finished for lack of funds. Mark well what I say: I'll not be responsible for anything -- the worst may happen -- unless money is procured at once. You have influence. I rely on you to understand and to act promptly.

Your comrade,


I can see how this thing has gone on your nerves. To think that you, you the cautious Tony, should be so reckless -- to send me a telegram. You could have ruined the whole thing. I had trouble explaining to the Chaplain, but it's all right now. Of course, it must be the hole, it can't be helped. I understood the meaning of your wire: from the seventh bar on the east wall, ten feet to west. We'll be there on the minute -- 3 P.M. But July 4th won't do. It's a holiday: no work; my friend will be locked up. Can't leave him in the lurch. It will have to be next day, July 5th. It's only three days more. I wish it was over; I can't bear the worry and the suspense any more. May it be my Independence Day!


July 6.


It's terrible. It's all over. Couldn't make it. Went there on time, but found a big pile of stone and brick right on top of the spot. Impossible to do anything. I warned you they were building near there. I was seen at the wall -- am now strictly forbidden to leave the cell-house. But my friend has been there a dozen times since -- the hole can't be reached: a mountain of stone hides it. It won't be discovered for a little while. Telegraph at once to New York for more money. You must continue to the shed. I can force my way there, if need be. It's the only hope. Don't lose a minute.


July 13.


A hundred dollars was sent to the office for me New York. I told Chaplain it is for my appeal. I am sending the money to you. Have work continued at once. There is still hope. Nothing suspected. But the wire that you pushed through the grass to indicate the spot was not found by my friend. Too much stone over it. Go to shed at once.


July 16.

Tunnel discovered. Lose no time. Leave the city immediately. I am locked up on suspicion.

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