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The office is, as yet, not duly appreciated. We trust that its true importance will soon be more deeply felt.
The next subject upon which we would speak is that of a Library and Sunday schools.
In many of the prisons, if not in all, each cell is supplied with a bible. In many of the prisons, also, tracts are occasionally distributed. But would it not be well, in addition to this, to have a permanent library of well selected religious books, which might be given out as a privilege to those whose conduct should have given satisfaction ? We allude not to books of amusement, but to books of a moral and religious character, and which might make an impression upon the reader. There are times when the prisoner may read; and it seems a dismal thought that he should pass year after year, without this means of improvement. If books are useful to persons in society, how much more so must they be to those who are cut off from all communion with others. One would think it but reasonable, that, from the large sums of money which are now accumulating from the labor of the convicts, a small portion might be annually set apart for the purpose of collecting books of devotion and religious instruction. We wish that all inspectors of prisons would call the attention of legislators to this point, that appropriations for this object may be made. We would also suggest that books are needed, adapted to the wants of the convict. Appropriate publications, Companions for the Prisoner, Manuals and Guides to those who have committed Crime. If some good books of this nature were written, they might be exceedingly beneficial. In the mean time there are many books, both of biography and religious counsel, which might be read with profit, and which would make a good beginning for a Prison Library.
Sunday schools in prisons are another important means of reformation. In all the prisons where there have been Sunday schools, the chaplains and wardens bear testimony to their value. The teachers who are engaged in this work volunteer their services, and meet their classes on the Sabbath in the prison chapel. Few scenes can be more interesting than the sight of these men seated around their instructers, and listening anxiously, and at times with tears, to the words they utter. The classes are instructed by persons of different religious opinions, who teach the general principles of religion and morality. The prisoners consider it a privilege to attend, and
it is, without doubt, one of the most important means of leading them to reform. " It will at once be perceived,” says the chaplain of the Massachusetts prison, “ how much the institution is indebted to the disinterested and benevolent labors of those who engage in this business of imparting instruction to those committed to their care.” The school at the Auburn prison also meets with great success, and the teachers labor with untiring zeal. We regret to learn, however, that, in some of our largest prisons, the school has been given up. The Report of the Sing-Sing prison says, “ Those who engaged as teachers became less interested, as the novelty wore away ; and classes of men were often brought out without any
teacher appearing to instruct them.” It would be of essential advantage, if the prisoners who attend the schools could always meet the same teachers; few persons, however, are willing to devote a portion of each Sabbath to this work, though in this way the good accomplished would be much greater.
Having been subjected to the discipline we have described, and having been surrounded by the influence of the officers of the prison, and the Sunday school teacher, the prisoner is finally to be released. The gates of the prison open, and the world is again before him.
The question then naturally presents itself, “What is done for the released convict ?”
The answer is not so satisfactory as might be wished. They generally receive a suit of clothes, and from two to five dollars ; this, with a word of advice, and they are turned upon society without employment, and without friends. The avenues of business are generally closed, and they are met with coldness and scorn. If wrong is committed, they are the first suspected; if laborers are wanted, they are the last employed. They seem to be stamped with infamy, and wherever they go the seal is known. The opposition they meet with is blasting to all their hopes. If they have ever so good resolutions at first, they are often crushed by the contempt with which they are surrounded. None meet them with sympathy except the abandoned, who seek again to entrap them and lead them to ruin.
This state of things is no doubt partly the result of the old prison discipline. In former times there was every reason to expect prisoners to come out worse than they went in. Thus the released prisoner was naturally looked upon with dread. By their imprisonment they were only confirmed in wickedness, and it could not but follow that confidence should be taken away, and that the eye of man should rest upon them with constant suspicion. But now that wise means are put in action for the reformation of the offender, now that the course of discipline is directed to the improvement of the mind, and conversion of the heart, to forming better habits, and implanting good principles, in as far as these means produce their object, ungenerous suspicions and prejudices should subside. Where prisoners give evidence of reformation, they should in some way be encouraged, and not driven back, as at the point of the bayonet, into their former vices.
Of course, no one expects that they can be received with entire confidence. This would be against the dictates of reason. They have done wrong, and have thus forfeited much; but in as far as they seem to be sincerely penitent, they should be met with Christian sympathy, aid, and counsel. If we could look back upon the past life of the prisoner, we should feel for him pity, rather than scorn. Perhaps in his very infancy he was placed in the midst of wickedness, and suffered to grow up without religious instruction ; or perhaps he was decoyed in maturer years by the many temptations which are allowed to exist in society; or it may be, in a moment of passionate impulse, or thoughtless folly, he was precipitated at once into some criminal action. And shall such unhappy and misguided beings, when they become conscious of their sins, and pray for
- when, with bitter anguish, they have wept over their miserable condition, and, with fear and trembling, wish to win their way into the paths of virtue, — shall they find every door, by which to return, closed, every countenance averted ?
But,” say some, “ this shows the good sense of the community; this is the righteous indignation that follows wrong doing; this is that retributive justice which the wicked meet, even in this world.” In answer to this, it may be said, that there is no justice in concentrating all our indignation upon the wrong doer who has been in prison, and forgetting the wrong doer who has not been. Are there not those in society, who are well received, who move in circles of wealth and fashion, yet who, in transactions of business, have been known to defraud? Are there not many without the walls of the prison, some of whose past doings might justly entitle them to a place within ? And does the same indignation follow them? The
indignation which we should feel, should be against sin, - in high or low, rich or poor. If there is excuse anywhere, it is where there has been poverty and neglect. And when a man endeavors to overcome his sins, he should be put in a way of strengthening and establishing his character. Direct him to the right path ; put him in the way of gaining an honest livelihood; and let him feel that he may, in the course of time, be looked upon with respect.
Individuals worthy of this assistance are yearly released from prison, and as the discipline improves, and more is done for moral and religious improvement, the number will no doubt increase. The chaplain of the Charlestown prison gives a detailed account of more than twenty who have been “ confined and discharged since 1831," who have proved themselves worthy of confidence, many of them having been for years members of churches, and all having been temperate, industrious, and of good character; and this, in the face of those obstacles which often threatened to crush and overwhelm them.
The inspectors and chaplains of prisons have long felt the importance of doing something for such persons. The inspectors of the Massachusetts State prison say,
“ It is a subject deserving the most serious attention of the friends of humanity, to ascertain what can be done for the convict when he quits the penitentiary. Perhaps, at the present time, legislation cannot effect much ; but the wise and good men, who have successfully labored to improve the places of confinement for the insane, for the poor debtor, and for the criminal, have here a field open for their exertions, in which, we believe, a harvest may be gathered, of praise to themselves and happiness for the wretched.” — Report for 1835, pp. 4, 5.
Again, in the Report of 1837, they urge the importance of doing something, in still stronger language. The inspectors of the new penitentiary in Philadelphia, say, “the situation and sufferings of discharged convicts have excited our attention and sympathy, and we feel that we shall be excused in presenting the subject to the consideration of the legislature and our fellow citizens generally.” The Annual Report of the inspectors of Sing-Sing says, in speaking of released convicts, “it would contribute much to their future reformation, if some systematical effort could be made, by the benevolent, to encourage them in VOL. XXVI. 30 s. VOL. VIII. NO. 1.
I ask not,
rectitude after their liberation. Many of them, on their discharge, are friendless and penniless, and, however disposed to return to honest industry, they know not to whom to go."
Dr. Tuckerman, in his valuable book “on the Ministry at Large,” has some important remarks on the subject. In speaking of the newly discharged convict, he says, “ Here is a call and a claim for sympathy, for which I should be most grateful to obtain attention. There are men capable of labor, and disposed to labor; but who is he, that, knowing that a man is a recently discharged convict, will trust him, and give him employment? I think that I have only once been able to obtain permament employment for such an one. he adds, " for the discharged convict, however penitent he may seem, that he should be at once confided in, as if he had never swerved from uprightness. But I ask for sympathy with a fellow-being in the circumstances in which he would be, and is resolved to be, honest; but in which, unless so far aided as to be trusted, he cannot honestly obtain the means of subsistence. I ask for sympathy with him in the circumstances in which he must either be enabled to earn his bread by an honest employment, or starve, or steal.” — pp. 317, 319.
Some little attention has been given to this subject abroad. Mr. Crawford, the secretary of the London Society, stated, when he was here, that there were two institutions in London, called Refuges for the Destitute ; one for males, and the other for females, containing, together, two hundred and thirty inmates. They are for the reception and encouragement of those who are discharged from prison; and he stated that a very large proportion of all who had been thus received, employed for a time, encouraged, recommended, and assisted, had rewarded their benefactors with a life of usefulness.
Dr. Julius, the commissioner from the Prussian government to examine our prisons, stated, when here, that there was a gentleman of large landed property in Germany, living in a district which contains a population of two hundred thousand souls, who gave notice to the keepers of prisons within that district, that he would receive any discharged convicts, clothe, feed, lodge, and employ them, three or six months; and if, during that time, they proved themselves honest and faithful men, he would give them a written testimony of good character. This gentleman, Dr. Julius stated, had, in this way, saved great numbers from relapsing into crime.