Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.
MY FIRST LETTER
DIRECT To Box A 7,
ALLEGHENY CITY, PA.,
OCTOBER 19TH, 1892.
It is just a month, a month to-day, since my coming here. I keep wondering, can such a world of misery and torture be compressed into one short month? ... How I have longed for this opportunity! You will understand: a month's stay is required before we are permitted to write. But many, many long letters I have written to you-in my mind, dear Sonya. Where shall I begin now? My space is very limited, and I have so much to say to you and to the Twin.-I received your letters. You need not wait till you hear from me: keep on writing. I am allowed to receive all mail sent, "of moral contents," in the phraseology of the rules. And I shall write whenever I may.
Dear Sonya, I sense bitterness and disappointment in your letter. Why do you speak of failure? You, at least, you and Fedya, should not have your judgment obscured by the mere accident of physical results. Your lines pained and grieved me beyond words. Not because you should write thus; but that you, even you, should think thus. Need I enlarge? True morality deals with motives, not consequences. I cannot believe that we differ on this point.
I fully understand what a terrible blow the apostasy of Wurst must have been to you. But however it may minimize the effect, it cannot possibly alter the fact, or its character. This you seem to have lost sight of. In spite of Wurst, a great deal could have been accomplished. I don't know whether it has been done: your letter is very meager on this point. Yet it is of supreme interest to me. But I know, Sonya,-of this one thing, at least, I am sure-you will do all that is in your power. Perhaps it is not much-but the Twin and part of Orchard Street' will be with you.
Why that note of disappointment, almost of resentment, as to Tolstogub's relation to the Darwinian theory?' You must consider that the layman cannot judge of the intricacies of scientific hypotheses. The scientist would justly object to such presumption.
I embrace you both. The future is dark; but, then, who knows? ... Write often. Tell me about the movement, yourself and friends. It will help to keep me in touch with the outside world, which daily seems to recede further. I clutch desperately at the thread that still binds me to the living-it seems to unravel in my hands, the thin skeins are breaking, one by one. My hold is slackening. But the Sonya thread, I know, will remain taut and strong. I have always called you the Immutable.
I posted the letter in the prisoners' mail-box when the line formed for work this morning. But the moment the missive left my hands, I was seized with a great longing. Oh, if some occult means would transform me into that slip of paper! I should now be hidden in that green box-with bated breath I'd flatten myself in the darkest recess, and wait for the Chaplain to collect the mail....
My heart beats tumultuously as the wild fancy flutters in my brain. I am oblivious of the forming lines, the sharp commands, the heavy tread. Automatically I turn the hosiery, counting one, two, one pair; three, four, two pair. Whose voice is it I hear? I surely know the man-there is something familiar about him. He bends over the looping machines and gathers the stockings. Now he is counting: one, two, one pair; three, four, two pair. just like myself. Why, he looks like myself! And the men all seem to think it is I. Ha, ha, ha! the officer, also. I just heard him say, "Aleck, work a little faster, can't you? See the piles there, you're falling behind." He thinks it's 1. What a clever substitution! And all the while the real "me" is snugly lying here in the green box, peeping through the keyhole, on the watch for the postman. S-sh! I hear a footstep. Perhaps it is the Chaplain: he will open the box with his quick, nervous hands, seize a handful of letters, and thrust them into the large pocket of his black serge coat. There are so many letters hereI'll slip among them into the large pockct-the Chaplain will not notice me. He'll think it's just a letter, ha, ha! He'll scrutinize every word, for it's the letter of a long-timer; his first one, too. But I am safe, I'm invisible; and when they call the roll, they will take that man there for me. He is counting nineteen, twenty, ten pair; twenty-one, twenty-two ... What was that? Twenty-two-oh, yes, twenty-two, that's my sentence. The imbeciles, they think I am going to serve it. I'd kill myself first. But it will not be necessary, thank goodness! It was such a lucky thought, this going out in my letter. But what has become of the Chaplain? if he'd only come- why is he so long? They might miss me in the shop. No, no! that man is therehe is turning the stockings-they don't know I am here in the box. The Chaplain won't know it, either: I am invisible; he'll think it's a letter when he puts me in his pocket, and then he'll seal me in an envelope and address-I must flatten myself so his hand shouldn't feel-and he'll address me to Sonya. He'll not know whom he is sending to her-he doesn't know who she is, either-the Deckadresse is splendid- we must keep it up. Keep it up? Why? It will not be necessary: after he mails me, we don't need to write any more-it is well, too-I have so much to tell Sonya-and it wouldn't pass the censor. But it's all right now-they'll throw the letters into the mail-carrier's bag-there'll be many of them-this is general letter day. I'll hide in the pile, and they'll pass me through the post-office, on to New York. Dear, dear New York! I have been away so long. Only a month? Well, I must be patient-and not breathe so loud. When I get to New York, I shall not go at once into the houseSonya might get frightened. I'll first peep in through the window-I wonder what she'll be doing-and who will be at home? Yes, Fedya will be there, and perhaps Claus and Sep. How surprised they'll all be! Sonya will embrace me-she'll throw her arms around my neck-they'll feel so soft and warm
"Hey, there! Are you deaf? Fall in line!"
Dazed, bewildered, I see the angry face of the guard before me. The striped men pass me, enveloped in a mist. I grasp the "turner."' The iron feels cold. Chills shake my frame, and the bundle of hosiery drops from my hand.
"Fall in line, I tell you!"
"Sucker!" some one hisses behind me. "Workin' after whistle. Fraid you won't get 'nough in yer twenty-two spot, eh? You sucker, you!"