The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist/Chapter 2
1917 – 1919
Ohio – Atlanta Prison
About this time we had a huge anti-war meeting addressed by the Rev. Edward Ellis Carr, a portly editor of a magazine along Christian Socialist lines. I introduced him. He told of the hundreds of Socialists in Cleveland who would refuse to register for the draft. He told of his disappointment with European Socialists who had turned pro-war, and that this was all the more reason why we of the U.S. should hold true to our ideals. A local Socialist lawyer, who was of the more conservative group, got up in the audience and opposed Rev. Carr, saying that the prospect of political victory for the party should not be damaged by our traitorous conduct, although he admitted that this war was a fraud the same as all others. Rev. Carr countered this disruption boldly by stating that he would die before he would support war in any way, and ended by calling upon all young men to refuse to register for the draft. As chairman I asked those of draft age to meet with me later, and the group was thus formed which actively put out anti-war and anti-draft propaganda.
I wrote up material for a leaflet and stickers to put on store fronts.
The sticker read:
DON'T REGISTER FOR WAR !
It is better to go to jail than
The poster said:
are you going to
REFUSE TO REGISTER
who have brought on this war
stay at home
and get richer by gambling in food stuffs?
WE WOULD RATHER DIE OR BE IMPRISONED
FOR THE SAKE OF JUSTICE, THAN KILL
OUR FELLOW MEN IN THIS UNJUST WAR
Signed...........................Young Men's Anti-Militarist League
The St. Louis program of the Socialist Party stoutly opposed the war. We had an unlimited supply and distributed them with our poster and sticker. While they did not definitely say that young men should refuse to register, the declaration read: "Support of all mass movements in opposition to conscription." So despite the fact that our presidential candidate, the Revolutionary Rev. Carr, and many other leaders were to turn pro-war, we youngsters knew that we had Debs, Ruthenberg, Wagenknecht and many others upholding us.
Everyone knew that the war was coming on soon. James Cannon, a Socialist speaker from New York City, had been listed to speak at Broad and High on the evening of April 5, 1977. I was to introduce him. By 8.30 there were thousands of people at the meeting and I could not see over their heads. A Jewish comrade came along with his junk wagon and I stepped on top and addressed the crowd. Cannon had not yet arrived; he never did come. The police told me there were too many people around and I would have to come down. I expect there were 10,000 by that time. I argued that I had a permit but they reached for me. I ran across the street to the State House steps and continued for half an hour. Here they had no authority. Finally the state police arrested me and an old man, a dishwasher who was a member of the Socialist Labor Party, who disobeyed his party line and got into trouble. We both spent the night in jail for disturbing the peace and were released on bail with a hearing for May 30.
By this time my father had a good job and my help was not needed. I was routed by the state office of the Party under Alfred Wagenknecht to distribute my own and other leaflets wholesale over the state, and a notice was put in the weekly Socialist paper to that effect. My method was to go to a town and look up a comrade whose name I was given or whom I knew from my previous soapboxing. Often the comrade had already turned pro-war and I had to leave in a hurry before he turned me in. I asked that the leaflets be not wasted and they were not to be distributed until I had been gone for several days. If they could pay for the leaflets that was fine, and if they could not I gave them as many as they wanted. My first town was Cleveland and I was introduced by Comrade Ruthenberg and then sped on my way with enough carfare to keep me going for several weeks. I had to jump across the state line into Pennsylvania to escape turncoat comrades. I took leaflets to my old comrade Ed Frieh in Huntington, West Virginia, and also went to the end of the spur railroad in notorious Cabin Creek, but the man whose name I had had moved away and the house was empty. I walked down the tracks carrying two suitcases full of leaflets.
Finally, around midnight I noticed a light in a house and knocked at the door. A middle-aged Negro came to the door and I explained the situation asking him if I could sleep there that night and offering to pay him. He said that there were no white folks within six miles and if I did not mind sleeping in the home of a colored person and would say nothing about it to white people the next day I could stay. I was glad to walk into the dimly lighted hall and to hear him say, "Here 'Liza, get out'a that there bed and let this white gentleman sleep." Whereupon a colored girl ran giggling down the hallway and into another room. The bed was warm and I was tired. The next morning I had the regular southern breakfast of grits, biscuits, sowbelly and coffee set before me. My hosts were cordial and found it difficult to understand why I refused their sowbelly. I needed to be strong to carry those heavy grips they said. Somehow they got the idea that it was "my religion" not to eat meat and all was well.
I wore a huge button marked PEACE, yet the dumb troopers, who entered the train the next day and said they were hunting for a score of radicals who were putting out seditious literature, opened my grips and seeing the books on top of the literature muttered something about my being a student returning from college and moved on.
Getting back to Columbus the night before I was to have my trial I routed my brothers Frank and Paul and my sisters Lola and Lida and their young friends with leaflets over the university section where we lived and where there were few cops. I took the dangerous downtown section. We would place leaflets and stickers for a few blocks and then skip a few blocks, and backtrack and zigzag. There were no squad cars and radio in those days, so a person did not have to be smart to outwit a cop. I put stickers on nearly all the downtown store fronts. Finally at 2.30 a.m. I was caught and put in solitary.
I asked to see a lawyer but was told I could not see one. Detective Wilson said that unless I registered for the draft by June 5th, which was registration day, I was to be shot, on orders from Washington. I was shown a copy of the local paper with headlines "Extreme Penalty for Traitors." I only saw it through the bars and was not allowed to read it. It was not until my release from prison in 1919 that I read this paper and discovered that there was nothing definite in the follow up about the death penalty. This was just a scare headline. However if men take you out to a cliff on a dark night, lower you at the end of a rope and tell you it is a hundred feet and when you get tired to drop-then when you drop it is only two feet; it might as well have been a hundred feet, for you thought it was.
Detective Wilson said that the young Socialists arrested with me for refusing to register had all given in and registered. (Later I found out that he had also told them that I had registered.) I felt that if they gave in some one had to stick, and I was that one. While I was in solitary a statement was given out that the patriotic prisoners had threatened to lynch me and that the sheriff was forced to keep me in solitary. Spike Moore, an I.W.W., sneaked me a note and also a clipping from the paper in which a reporter had asked my mother if she was not frightened because I was to be shot soon. Her reply was that the only thing she was afraid of was that they might scare me to give in. This gave me added courage. My mother never weighed more than 87 pounds and looks like a timid mouse, yet she is one of the four women I have known who have that greatest of virtues: courage.
During this six weeks awaiting trial I was not allowed to be shaved, the excuse being that the barber might cut my throat. I finally paid an outside barber to come in so I was presentable in court. June 5th passed and no move was made to shoot me. But at every step in the corridor I had expected to be called. I was taken out of the dark hole now. Detective Wilson said that the government had postponed my execution thinking that I would give the names of those who had distributed the leaflets. Outside of my folks the only people who came to see me were an old Irish washerwoman, Georgia Crooks, who was a Socialist and a Spiritualist, accompanied by a long-haired American Indian, Karakas Redwood, who was some kind of a Yogi. I had met them often and somehow had come to believe that reincarnation was the only explanation of the injustice in this life. I had a good fighting spirit and did not need religious opium to bolster me. However, if I was executed I had this hope of coming back in another life and raising hell.
None of the Socialist lawyers would defend me and an old Quaker, an ex-judge by the name of Earnhardt, came and defended me free of charge. He was 83 years of age and spoke slowly for it was an effort for him to speak at all. I pled not guilty to the charge of "conspiracy to defraud the government of enforcement of the draft act" because I did not want to get Harry Townsley, the comrade who did the printing, into prison. Technically he was not guilty for he had not printed any of my leaflets after the draft law had been passed. I had written asking him to print some and told him to destroy the letter. He got scared and refused to print them but kept the letter and the government raided his place and saw the letter. No one would believe that he did not print the leaflets, as I had asked. I guilty for my refusal to register.
The District Attorney, Stuart Bolin, gave the summing up to the jury on July 3, 1917: a regular Fourth of July speech:
- "One hundred and forty-one years ago tomorrow the immortal words were written which were to fire our forefathers until they were free from the English tyrant. Today a greater tyrant threatens us. George the III did not cut off the hands of little children and bayonet the enemy alive to barn doors as the Beast of Berlin has done. In 1776 such men as Hennacy would be defending King George and in 1861 it was men like him who would have allowed the slaves to remain slaves. Judge Earnhardt would have you believe that this despicable coward, Hennacy, is a hero. He calls him by the resounding name of 'conscientious objector.' I tell you
- this man does not have a conscience. The money of our state has been spent to educate him in our university. He would bite the hand that feeds him and would repay the state by knifing her in the back.
- "If his ideals which are so glibly spoken of are true why has he not convinced others; why have the responsible Socialists of this city repudiated him and his disloyal actions? Why should he be praised for facing death when millions of men better than he are facing it in the trenches every day for their country? You have the evidence before you where he has ordered his co-defendant to print the treasonable leaflets calling this a Wall Street war and advising young men to refuse to register for the draft. I am only sorry that two years is the limit which can be given; he has said that he would go to jail rather than rot on a foreign battlefield; then give him the jail which he desires.
- "As I look over the faces of the jury: faces toil worn with efforts to make this, our great country, the home of freedom, I know that every one of you would not now be here if you were of military age, and you would enlist; you would not need to be drafted." (Several jurors were asleep during this speech.) "You have doubtless celebrated many a Fourth of July with fireworks and oratory. I say to you that you cannot celebrate this national holiday in a manner more patriotic than by giving the limit of the law to this traitor. The blood of those who have died for America rises up in protest and calls upon you to do your patriotic duty: convict this traitor!"
I was sentenced to two years in Atlanta and after this term was served I was to do nine months, for refusing to register, in the county jail at nearby Delaware, as the Columbus jail was always too crowded. I had never occupied a Pullman berth. The two guards who accompanied my partner and me chained us to our berths and gave us sandwiches prepared by their women folks, kidding us that they were marking up good meals on their expense account.
Friday, July 13, 1917 was the date of my arrival in Atlanta. My number was 7438. About fifteen others were in the line when I was admitted, so although my entrance into the Baptist fold was lonely, here I had company into what would prove a greater baptism. I was sent to the top floor of the old cell house, to a certain cell. This was occupied by some one else it seemed, for pictures of chorus girls were on the wall, and magazines and cigarette stubs on the floor. This cell was eight feet long, eight feet high, and four feet wide and was made of steel. In half an hour a large burly but good natured man of about forty-five came in. "Hello kid; my name's Brockman, Peter Brockman from Buffalo, doin' a six bit for writing my name on little pieces of paper. Got one to go yet. How do you like our little home? What's your name?"
I gave him my name and shyly shook hands with him. Soon we went down the corridors to the mess hall. Several prisoners spoke to Peter and nudged him and winked at me. I was hungry and the beans, coffee, plenty of bread and rice pudding proved a welcome meal. While Peter was reading the evening paper in our cell I picked up a book of prison rules. He saw me reading them and threw the book in the corner, saying, "Don't waste your time on that crap. There's just three rules in this joint; (1) Don't get caught; (2) If you do get caught have a good alibi ready; (3) If this fails, have a guard who will fix it up for you, either because you pay him, or because you have more on him than he has on you." I wondered what the harm could be in reading the rules and Peter said as he sidled over to me and stroked my hair: "You have lots to learn about prison life that's not in the rules, kid!" Just then a gong rang and Peter explained that in ten minutes the lights would be out. He said I was to have the lower bunk which was not so hot and easier to get into. We undressed and Peter came over and sat on the edge of my bunk. I edged away but could not get far. "Don't be afraid. I'm your friend," Peter said, "I've been here four years, kid, and I sure get lonesome. Several skirts write to me off and on but the one I planted my jack with has forgotten me long ago. The hell with women anyway! You can't trust 'em and a fellow is a fool to marry one." "I'm tired, Peter, I want to go to sleep," I said jerkily as he commenced to caress me. "No one goes to sleep so early in this hot jail; the bedbugs are worst this time of year. This is a man's joint and you'll have to learn what that means, kid. Anyway, when I did my first bit in Elmira I had a pal; I was soft and homesick then, and many a night Jimmy consoled me. Jimmy was more beautiful than any girl I ever met. Quiet! I hear the screw!" Peter had finished this last word and climbed into his bunk when a guard stopped before the cell and said: "No more talking there! What's this, your new punk?" he said pointing to me and winking at Brockman, I asked Peter what a punk was and he laughed and said he supposed it wasn't defined in Webster but I would learn soon enough about it.
The next morning after breakfast, Blackie, the runner in the block, brought me a note, saying that he knew the prisoner who had written the note, and had done time with him in Allegheny prison years ago. I read:
- "Blackie, who gave you this note is o.k. See me in the yard this afternoon if it does not rain; otherwise come to Catholic mass tomorrow and I will talk to you there. Your cell mate has paid $5 worth of tobacco to the screw in your cell block to get the first young prisoner coming in to be his cell mate. You are the 'lucky' one. Watch him, for he is one of the worst perverts in the prison. There is no use in making a fuss for you may 'accidentally' fall down four tiers. Get $5 worth of tobacco from the store and give it to Blackie and he will give it to the guard and pull strings to have you transferred out of the cell. This will take weeks; meantime get along the best you can. Good luck.
A note from Alexander Berkman, the great Anarchist! I read it over and over again and then destroyed it, per the first rule in prison: don't keep any unnecessary contraband. For the first time in my life when I had read a book I had sat down at once and written to the author. This was in Warren, Ohio, in 1916, when I had read Berkman's Memoirs. I did not get an answer, and now I was to meet him personally. Hundreds of workers had been killed by the Pinkertons at Homestead, Pa. by the order of Frick, manager of Carnegie Steel. Berkman, then a young Anarchist, had stabbed and shot Frick, and had done 14 years and ten months actual time in the terrible Allegheny prison, 3 1/2 years of this in a dark hole. He had been in prison before I was born and here he was again with a fighting spirit that jails could not kill. I had read his paper THE BLAST. The only thing that had saved him from being framed with Mooney and Billings was that he was in New York City when they were accused of dropping the bomb on the Preparedness parade, in San Francisco in 1916.
I had but a faint idea of the word pervert; and I wondered how and why I could talk to Berkman in a Catholic chapel. I remembered in 1915 at Ohio State University when an intelligent sociology professor had assigned me to debate in class against Socialism, and asked the daughter of conservative parents to speak for Socialism. I surprised myself and the class by giving the argument that the trouble with Socialism was that it was not radical enough, and I gave anarchism as the ideal. As an illustration I gave the story of the wind which sought to compel by force to blow the coat from the back of the traveler. The sun shone gentle rays which made the traveler voluntarily doff the garment. Anarchism was thus the gentle way. However, I said that I was not an anarchist because they stood no chance of winning, and it would not be long until the Socialists had gained the revolution. Now I was to meet the only living anarchist, other than Emma Goldman, Malatesta and Kropotkin, whom I wished to know.
The sun shone brightly that afternoon on the packed ground of the prison yard. In the shadow along one prison wall Blackie had pointed out Berkman to me. I hastened to meet him. His kindly smile made me feel that I had a friend. He told me of a means of getting out letters, sub rosa, and explained how to talk in your throat without moving your lips. He said that on rainy Saturdays, when we could not meet, we could see each other at the Catholic chapel, as the chaplain was an ex-prizefighter who was sympathetic to workers and did not mind those who came to visit each other. He gave me four things to remember. "(1) Don't tell a lie. (2) Don't tell on another prisoner; it's the job of the screws to find out what is going on, not yours. (3) Draw your line to what you will do and will not do and don't budge, for if you begin to weaken they will beat you. (4) Don't curse the guards. They will try to get you to strike them and then they will have the excuse to beat you up; and if one can't, two can; and if two can't, ten can. They are no good or they wouldn't take such a job. Just smile. Obey them in unimportant details but never budge an inch on principle. Don't be seen talking to me very often, for the guards are watching and will make trouble. Write to me by way of Blackie and I will do the same."
That night Peter again became more aggressive. For about six weeks I slept but a few hours each night until I was transferred to another cell. Meanwhile my good natured passive resistance had persuaded Peter that he had better leave me alone. I got him interested in English lessons in the prison school. When I left his cell, he said he would pass the word around that I was nobody's punk, and none of the other wolves would bother me.
I was transferred to the new cell house, with four in a cell. Boston Dave and John were counterfeiters and Johnny Spanish had done ten years in Sing Sing with Gyp the Blood, and was doing five years in Atlanta. He spoke well of Warden Osborne. Later I was to read Frank Tannenbaum's Osborne of Sing Sing, and corroborate what Johnny had told me.
A red-headed kid who had a radio without a license was doing time as a spy. He was not a radical or subversive, only interested in radio and did not know he had to get a license. He celled a few cells from me. One noon he slipped me a saw made from a knife, as we were in line going to dinner. It seems that he had cut several bars of a window in the basement which faced outside and was preparing to escape. Some dumb guard had leaned against them and they gave, so the whole cell block was being searched for a saw. The kid had enough sense not to be caught with it. Why he gave it to me I do not know, but now I had it. I stopped and tied my shoe string and secured the saw up my sleeve, and thus got out of my regular place in line and at the table. Here I stuck the saw underneath the table, and it may be there yet for all I know. As we left the mess hall, all of the guards in the prison lined us up and searched for that saw. If they had searched us coming in I would have been found with it, and of course would not have told on the kid.
John, in my cell, was boss of the paint gang and was from Columbus, Ohio. He had not known me, but all prisoners like someone who has put up a good fight and faced death and has not weakened. So he had me transferred to his gang, and when he left in about 6 months I was made the boss of the gang. I had a pass to go anywhere I wanted inside the walls.
The editor of the prison paper, GOOD WORDS, asked me to give him something to print. I told him that was what I got in for, printing things in papers, and that my ideas were too radical for him. He insisted so I gave him this quote which, believe it or not, appeared in a box underneath the editorial caption of the Department of Justice on April 1, 1918:
- "A prison is the only house in a slave state where a free man can abide with honor," Thoreau.
This had the o.k. of the warden and was not sneaked in. The ignorant official thought it praised prisons. The CONSERVATOR, edited by the radical Horace Traubel, literary executor of Walt Whitman, was allowed in because they thought it was conservative. The IRISH WORLD which was much against the war came to the Catholic chaplain and he got copies to us radicals through John Dunn, a conscientious objector and Catholic, from Providence, R. I., who was boss of the plumbing gang.
The conscientious objectors were scattered in different gangs and cell houses over the prison. The warden told me that the orders from Washington were to put us all in one place, but he knew better and scattered us out, for if we were in one place we would plot. This reminded me of the farmer who caught the ground mole and said, "Hanging's too good; burning's too good; I'll bury you alive." So we conscientious objectors were scattered around where we could do propaganda instead of being segregated where we would argue among ourselves. John Dunn and I were good friends. His number was 7979 and he got 20 years. When I was sentenced, the Espionage Law had not yet been passed. After his release he studied for the priesthood and is now a priest in Portsmouth, Ohio, and a reader of the CATHOLIC WORKER. Paul was a young, Russian-born Socialist who had quit a good job to come to prison, Morris was a quiet, very short Russian Jewish anarchist, whom I met often at the vegetarian diet table. (You could get all the good toast bread and milk you could devour if you signed up for any certain length of time at the diet table, but you were not allowed to eat anything from the regular table, at the same time.) Louis was just the opposite; an erratic boisterous Nietzschean who felt that everything that you had was his and what he had was his own. Morris was deported at the same time as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, after the war. Louis very recently has come to an appreciation of God, if not of orthodox Christianity. Tony was a Russian who did not speak English, but whose quiet manner marked him as some kind of a religious sectarian. Walter was a college man who came from an old anarchist family who had reviled his father's ideas until the crisis of war brought him to prison. His partner was John, a seaman who belonged to the I.W.W. maritime branch. He had been banished from Australia as a radical, and had refused to register for the draft.
Theodore and Adolph were young Socialists from Rhode Island who were enthusiastic and helpful in any prison rebellion. Gilbert was an Italian I.W.W. who spoke little English. He worked in the stone gang. I never met him personally; we just smiled from a distance. Al and Fred were two older comrades who had unwittingly been sent to prison. They were not left wingers, but were in official position in the Socialist Party, where the extreme conservatism of their communities made them martyrs. They were not active in any plans that we younger rebels formed. Francisco was the only local comrade from Atlanta in prison against the war; he was a Holiness sect in the Carolinas would not mix with us. I sent candy and other trinkets to them but they did not respond. We were not religious and I supposed we shocked them. My especial friend was William McCoy, of the McCoy–Hatfield feudists in Kentucky. He claimed to have killed six Hatfields. He could not write and I wrote his letters home for him. He had started out with Phillips, a friend, to shoot up the government when he heard that a war was on. The warden was afraid of him, he told me.and had the advantage of his family coming to see him often. The young Hollander from Vermont was now a radical in the accepted sense of the term; he simply refused to fight against relatives who were in the German army. Fritz was a young Russian Socialist who was also quiet, but who went along with us in any of our plans. The Russellites came in later while I was in solitary and I never met any of them. There were about 20 of them including their leader, Judge Rutherford. Nicholas, the Mexican, was dying of tuberculosis. I only saw him from a distance for he lived by himself in a tent the year around. He was a Mexican revolutionist. Two Negro objectors who belonged to some
Before the transfer had come through for my work on the paint gang I had worked with hundreds of others on the construction gang, wheeling "Georgia buggies," a slang for wheelbarrows, full of concrete mixture and pouring it into the foundation walls for a mill to make duck for mail sacks. There were about 80 of us in a line. The platforms had been built in such a way that we had to make a mighty run to get to the top. So John, the wob from Australia and I took turns slowing up the line; stopping to tie a shoelace, to look intently at the wheel as if something was wrong with it, etc. About the time one of us would have the whole line waiting he would behave and the other one would take up the sabotage action. One afternoon of this and the boss took the hint and made the runways like they should have been in the first place.
Oklahoma Red had been in Atlanta doing a five year bit and was wanted for a murder rap that he felt he couldn't beat. In a few months now he would be released and turned over to the authorities for trial for murder. One day he saw an old fashioned flat coal car come in full of coal. It was made of wood and in the place where modern cars had a steel brace this wooden car had a nice little hiding place for such a skinny fellow as Oklahoma Red. He was working on the construction gang and said that the next time that car came he was going out with it in this cubby hole at the end where the brakes were. It is an unwritten law in some prisons that if a prisoner can make anything contraband and not get caught making it or taking it to his cell he can have it and no questions asked. Oklahoma Red had outgoing shoes, hat, suit, etc., made in the different prison departments, paying for them in tobacco, and hid this precious bundle of outgoing clothing in the rafters of the cement shed. Several weeks later that car came in. Red found out from the fellows at the power house that it would be switched out at 11.15 that morning. Some of us watched the toilet so no guard or stool pigeon could see Red changing his clothes; others of us kept the guard busy in conversation with head turned the other way. A preacher was watchman at the gate (in for violation of the Mann Act). This preacher trusty was reading his Bible and did not peer closely as the car went out with Red in the hiding place. About a quarter to twelve, guards were scurrying around making another count to see if they had made a mistake, or, if there was a man missing, who he might be. Finally the whistles blew and the guards and the trusties looked in every corner for Red. As far as I know they never got him.
A white man and a Negro had been killed by guards and I was incensed about it. My cell mates laughed and said I should worry about the living, for the dead were dead and no one could do anything about it. That if I wanted anything to do I should raise a fuss about the poor fish served on Fridays by the new mess guard, DeMoss, who had been heard to say that he would make his rakeoff by charging for good food and giving us junk. Accordingly I got cardboard from John Dunn and painted signs which I put up in all of the toilets around the place telling the prisoners to work on Fridays, but to stay in their cells and refuse to go to dinner or to eat the rotten fish. The guards and stool pigeons tore the signs down, but I made others and put them up. The first Friday 20 of us stayed in our cells. The guards came around and asked us if we were sick. We said we were sick of that damn fish. The next Friday 200 stayed in their cells; and the next Friday 600. That was too many people thinking alike, so on the next Thursday the warden came to the second mess and said that those who did not come to dinner the next day would be put in the hole. Some kid squeaked out in a shrill voice: "You can't do it warden; there's only 40 solitary cells and there's a thousand of us." The next day 900 out of the 1100 who ate at this shift stayed in their cells.
The next Monday I was called to the office and was told that I had been seen plotting to blow up the prison with dynamite, and was promptly sent to the dark hole. This was on June 21, 1918. I was left in my underwear, and lying in the small, three-cornered, very dark hole. I got a slice of cornbread and a cup of water each day. I kept a count of the days, as I heard the men marching to work, and at the end of ten days I was put in the light hole. White bread, which I got then, tasted like cake. This cell was on the ground floor, back of the deputy's office. It was about 18 feet long, 15 feet high, and 6 feet wide. A small dirty window near the top to the east faced a tall building, which kept sunlight from coming in, except on very bright days. A bunk was attached to the wall to the right; a plain chair and a small table, with a spoon, plate, and cup on it. There was a toilet; and a wash basin attached to the wall. A small 20 watt light was screwed in the high ceiling and was turned off and on from the outside. There was a door of bars and an extra wooden door with a funnel shaped peephole through which guards could watch me at any time. I walked around examining my new home. The cell was exactly 8 1/2 steps from corner to corner. The walls were dirty, and initials and home-made calendars which days crossed off had been left by former inmates.
After the dark hole this cell was a relief. A Negro lifer brought in meals, three times a day, and ladled grits, beans, raisins, etc. out of a large bucket onto my plate, while Johnson, the fat guard, stood at the door. The Negro found out that I did not eat meat and he always grabbed my portion. Perhaps this helped him in his favorable attitude toward me, for he gave me notes and candy from Berkman and Dunn, and took my notes in return. The first morning I said "Hello" to the guard, but he did not answer me; after a few days of silence on his part I ceased to bother him with a greeting.
When I had first come to prison I had met the Protestant Chaplain. My red-headed cousin Georgia, who was his daughter-in-law, had told him about me. He wanted to know what church I belonged to, and when I told him I was an atheist he would have nothing to do with me, even when I was in solitary. Catholics were taken care of by the priest and the Protestant had all the rest, so I sent a note to him asking for a Bible to read in solitary, for I was not allowed anything else, or to send or receive mail. After a few weeks a Bible with good print and maps and references in the back was sent to me. After a few days this was taken away, and one with very small print and no maps was given to me in its place. I asked Johnson, the guard, why I was given a Bible with small print, as this was more difficult to read with the small light 15 feet above me, and he simply grunted. The colored trusty later spoke, down in his throat without moving his lips, in the manner we all learn, and told me that anything was done which would make it more difficult for those in solitary. I do not think that the chaplain had anything to do with this; probably the deputy or the guard took this means of teasing one of their caged animals. Outsiders, such as reporters and prison reformers, at times get themselves locked in solitary to get the feeling. But they know they will be out in a day or two. This would then be a vacation, at its best, and a temporary misery, at its worst. When, however, you hear groans of fellow prisoners, when you do not know how many months you may remain in solitary, you have a weight hanging over you that precludes any joyfulness of spirit.
I hear the six o'clock gong ring for the early mess. I know at 7.20 I will get my mush. I am not sleepy, but I stretch out and relax. In a minute I wash and pull on my few articles of clothing. I pick up my chair and swing it thirty times—up—right—left—down; up—right—left—down. Then I walk 100 steps back and forth in my cell—arms—up—arms—out—arms—clenched—arms—down, as I walk back and forth. This I repeat several times. It is now 7 o'clock. I make my bed and then wash my face and hands again. Then I hear the clanging of the door and I know that breakfast is on the way. I hear the doors open and shut and the jangling of the keys and the rattling of utensils. I sit and watch the door like a cat watching a mouse. The shadows of the guard and the Negro trusty lengthen under my door; the key turns in the lock; the wooden door opens and Johnson, the fat guard, stands back after he has opened the iron barred door. The Negro steps in and ladles out my oatmeal, hands me a couple slices of bread, and pours out a large cup of coffee. Today he has no note for me; tomorrow he may have one. He smiles to me as he turns his back to Johnson and I smile in return. I look up at Johnson but he scowls; no fraternizing it seems. The trusty leaves and the doors are locked. I am not very hungry, and I prolong the breakfast as much as possible to take up my time. At last the food is gone. I leisurely wash the dishes and dry them. Perhaps I spin my plate a dozen times, and see how long I can count before it falls to the floor off the table. I lean back in my chair and think of Selma and of my folks at home. Then I realize that I am within these four walls; a jail in a jail. I walk back and forth for five or ten minutes and then throw myself on my bunk; take off my shoes and hunch up on my bunk.
In a few minutes I am restless and turn on my side. I hear the men marching to work and stand near the outer wall hoping to hear a word or two but I only hear mumbled voices and the shout of the guards. I hear the whistle of the train in the distance. I kneel by the door and strain my eyes seeking to discern someone in the tailor shop on the second floor next door, but everything is a blur. I walk around the walls reading the poetry I have written and all the inscriptions others have engraved. I am not a poet but my feeling about the Chaplain goes as follows:
- THE CHAPLAIN
- The Chaplain said that Christ had risen
- And that He died to set men free;
- But we all knew, who lay in prison,
- The lying lips, the mockery;
- That He who helped the sore oppressed,
- Who scorned the Scribe and Pharisee,
- Would never have His children blest
- By one who winked at misery.
I try to figure out what the possible history of this or that initial may mean, but soon give it up as waste time. I hear the voice of the deputy in the hall meeting the guard in charge. It is now 9 a.m. and according to my schedule, time to read the Bible. I lie on my bunk for half an hour reading the chapter for that morning. Then I sit on the toilet and take my pencil which I found the first day hidden in a small crack in the plaster, back of the toilet. A pencil is precious. You either have one or you don't. The toilet is near the door and the only place in the cell where a full view of the occupant cannot be gained through the peephole. I do not want to be caught with my precious pencil. I place the toilet paper on which I have written my notes in the Bible and sit on my chair and study what I have written. Then I return to the toilet seat and write some conclusions. Then I lie on my bunk and with my eyes closed think over what I have read.
I then try sleep for half an hour but become restless and walk back and forth in my cell for a mile and a half and take my exercises. I spin my plate again. I look up to the dirty window many times but can see nothing. For fifteen minutes I look steadily, after I have noticed a bird flying near the window, hoping that it may return. But why should a bird stop by my dusty window? It is now 11.15 and the guards are outside watching the men enter for the first mess. I feel that this is the opportune time to write a few words, which I have not finished, on the wall. I sharpen my spoon on the floor and stealthily carve two letters when I hear a step in the hall and cease my carving.
I walk aimlessly around my cell for fifteen minutes and then sit and wait for the door to open for my dinner. Beans, oleo, bread and coffee. I eat the beans carefully, for often I break my teeth from biting against the stones which are included in the beans. I again wash my dishes leisurely, rest on my bunk for half an hour, then become restless again and walk to and fro for a mile or two. I read for an hour as the afternoon passes slowly. Then make notes and think about the subject matter for a time. I hear the train at 2 p.m. I am tired of thinking and tired of exercising. I again walk aimlessly about my cell, examining the walls. Perhaps I take some toilet paper, wet it, and wash a section of the wall to see if there is a message written underneath the grime; perhaps I figure out a calendar six months ahead to discover on what day of the week Selma's birthday occurs.
I think again of those on the outside and of the radical movement. An hour passes by in this manner and I try to sleep for half an hour but turn from one side to the other. I hear Popoff rattle his chains and groan in the next cell. He is a Bulgarian, a counterfeiter. He invented some kind of a gun and offered the plans to the war department but they never answered him. He does not speak English and did not explain his sickness to the Doctor so it could be understood at once, and was put into solitary for faking. He had sent a poem to the prison paper and this was sent back. He sassed the guards and was beaten up. What with all this he thought if he knocked the deputy warden down, someone would come from Washington and then he could tell them about his invention. He struck harder than he thought and the deputy died. He got life imprisonment, but it was not supposed to be hanging by his wrists from the bars. He was not a pacifist or a radical and when he called the guards names they strung him up.
I take strenuous exercises punching an imaginary punching bag; I try walking on my hands; I sing a song or recite some poetry for another hour. Finally a break in my day comes with the first mess marching by at 4.30. Supper comes and is soon over. I walk aimlessly around my cell. The guards change for the night shift. Now the other fellows in jail, outside of solitary, are getting their evening papers and mail; visiting with each other; playing games on the sly and having a good time. It is dark and the night guard, Dean, turns on the light. Again I read the Bible for an hour and take notes on what I have read. I rest on my bunk; sing some songs; perhaps curse a little if I feel like it; walk back and forth.
Finally it is 8:30 p.m. and my light is turned out. I undress and go to bed. The lonesome whistle of the train howls in the distance. I lie on my back; then on one side; then on the other. Sometimes I cry; sometimes I curse; sometimes I pray to whatever kind of God listens to those in solitary. I think it must be night when the door opens and Dean flashes the light on to see if I am in my cell and shouts to the other guard, "o.k.; all in at 10 p.m." I toss about, am nearly asleep when the bedbugs commence. I finally pass a night of fitful sleeping and dreaming. Again it is 6 a.m. and I cross off another day on my calendar.
I had read the Bible once when I belonged to the Baptist church, and now that it was all that I had to read, I commenced with Genesis and read at least twenty chapters a day. I also walked what I figured was four and a half miles a day. Berkman sent me a copy of Edwin Markham's "The Man with the Hoe," and I learned it by heart and recited it aloud several times a day. For the first few weeks the time did not go so slowly, as I was busy planning a routine. I found that on one day, perhaps a Thursday or a Friday, I would suddenly be called by the guard to go across the hall and get a bath. Meanwhile my cell would be searched for contraband. For three minutes at some other odd time in the week I would be taken across the hall to be shaved. It was summer time and I asked to have my hair shaved off to make my head cooler. I could not see myself and whatever the trusty or Johnson thought of my appearance did not make any difference to me.
Once when I was going to get a shave I saw Popoff entering his cell with his head bandaged. This must have been the result of the blows which I had heard faintly the day before. He was mistreated for a year or more until he went insane. Selma and I visited him in 1921 at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. He did not recognize me until I said "Johnson, the guard." I sent notes to my sister Lola for the newspapers about the treatment of Popoff. I heard the chains fall which bound him to the bars and then the thump of his body to the floor I would curse the damned capitalist system and the guards and everyone connected with the government and the prison.
Once in a while I would crouch by the door of my cell, on bright sunny mornings, and see the top of Berkman's bald head as he worked at his regular table by the west window of the tailor shop on the second floor of the building next to my solitary. I thought that if he did 3 1/2, years in solitary, in Allegheny prison, in a cell with slimy walls, I could do the balance of my time in this comparatively clean dry cell.
It was now nearly three months that I had been in solitary. Fred Zerbst, the warden, came in and asked me to sign a paper. It was registration for the second war-draft. I told him I had not changed my mind about the war. He said I wouldn't get anything around here acting that way. I told him that I wasn't asking for anything around here; I was just doing time. He said I would get another year back in the hole for this second refusal to register. I told him that was o.k.
It was September 21, 1918. The warden came in again and said this was all the longer they kept prisoners in solitary and that he would let me out the next day; that I would not plot to blow up any more prisons.
"You know I didn't do that," I said.
"I know you didn't," he replied, "but what do you suppose I am warden for? If I had told the prisoners that you were put in solitary for leading in that food sit-down, all of them would be your friends. When you are accused of planning to blow up the prison they are all afraid to know you. Why didn't you come and tell me about the food?
"Why didn't you come into the kitchen and find out; no one but stoolies go to your office," I answered. He left hurriedly.
In about five minutes he returned, saying: "I forgot to ask you something, Hennacy. I'll leave you out tomorrow just the same."
"What is on your mind?" I asked.
"Have you been sneaking any letters out of this prison?" he asked in an angry tone.
"Sure," I replied, smiling.
"Who is doing it for you?" he demanded.
"A friend of mine," I answered.
"What is his name?" was the query. "That is for you and your guards and stool pigeons to find out. I won't tell you, for I want to get some more letters out concerning the evil things that go on," I replied good naturedly.
He stormed around my cell, somewhat taken back by the fact that I had not lied or given in.
"You'll stay in here all your good time and get another year, you stubborn fool," he said as he left.
It was not for many years that I knew I had used the method of moral jiu jitsu as advised by Ghandi. If you don't give your enemy a hold he can't throw you. Never be on the defensive; always answer quickly and keep the enemy on the run. He is used to trickery and is put off his guard by an honest and courageous opponent whom he cannot scare or bribe.
I picked up the Bible and threw it in a corner, pacing back and forth, thinking and mumbling to myself: the liars, the double-crossers, tempting me with freedom and then telling me the only way to obtain it was by being a rat. This was bad enough, but to talk the Golden Rule and religion, as they did whenever outsiders came around. Love your enemies, turn the other cheek; fine stuff, after they frame you and admit it.
The world needs a Samson to pull down their whole structure of lies. Debs is arrested near my home town in Ohio for defending my comrades Ruthenberg, Wagenknecht and Baker who were doing time in Canton jail and he will come to Atlanta soon. He did time when he was a young man. Now he's not so bitter; but then, he's older, and won't allow the capitalist class to tramp on him either.
That night I was nervous and tore off the buttons from my clothing in order to have something to do to sew them on again. I paced my eight and a half steps back and forth for hours and finally flung myself on the bunk. It must have been the middle of the night when I awoke. I had not had a note from anyone for a month. Were my friends forgetting me? I felt weak, lonesome and alone in the world. Here I had been singing defiance at the whole capitalistic world but a few hours before, and had boasted to the warden how I would bravely do my time; now I wondered if anyone really cared. Perhaps by this time Selma might be married to some one else with a real future ahead of him instead of being lost in a jail. The last letter I had received from her was rather formal. Would she understand why I did not write; and could I be sure that some of the letters I had sent her had been received, with the officials opening the mail I had sent to my sister Lola? How could one end it all? The sharp spoon with which I had carved poems and my calendar on the wall could cut my wrist and I could bleed to death before a guard arrived. But then that would be such a messy death. Then the warden would be sorry for the lies he had told me and the tricks he had tried to play. The last thing I could remember before falling asleep was the long wailing whistle of the freight train as it echoed in the woods nearby.
The next day the deputy came in my cell and said that I was looking very pale; that number 7440, a man just two numbers from me who had come in the same day with me, had died of the flu, and that thirty others were buried that week. If I did not get out and breathe the fresh air it was likely that I would die sooner than the others, he said. Why should I not tell what I knew and get out? In reply I asked the deputy to talk about the weather, as I was not interested in achieving the reputation of a rat. He asked me if it was a prisoner or a guard who had sent out my letters. I walked up to him closely and in a confidential tone said, "It was a prisoner or a guard."
I did not know the nature of the flu but thought that this might be a good way to die if I could only get it. Fate seemed to seal me up in a place where I could not get any germs. (Now that I think of it my "Celestial Bulldozer," guardian angel, or whatever the name may be, must have been in charge of events. In those days I believed in germs and doctors and out in the prison I might have absorbed their fears and succumbed. I was saved until I could emancipate my mind from medical as well as all other kinds of slavery.) Late that afternoon I was called across the hall to take a bath. The guard accidentally left my wooden door open when he was called to answer a telephone. I could not see anywhere except across the hall to the solid door of another cell, but I could hear Popoff in the next cell moaning and calling for water. He was still hanging from his hands for the eight hours a day as he had been for months. As the guard came down the hall he opened Popoff's door, dipping his tin cup in the toilet and threw the dirty water in Popoff's face. Then he came and slammed my door shut and locked it. How soon would I be strung to the bars? How long could a fellow stand such treatment?
As soon as it was dark I sharpened my spoon again and tried it gently on my wrist. The skin seemed to be quite tough, but then I could press harder. If I cut my wrist at midnight I could be dead by morning. I thought I ought to write a note to Selma and to my mother and I couldn't see to do it until morning. Well, I had waited that long, I could wait a day longer. That night my dreams were a mixture of Victor Hugo's stories of men hiding in the sewers of Paris; I.W.W. songs; blood flowing from the pigs that had been butchered on the farm when I was a boy; and the groans of Popoff.
The sun shone brightly in my cell the next morning for the first time in weeks. I crouched again by the door and saw Berkman's bald head. Tears came into my eyes and I felt ashamed of myself for my cowardly idea of suicide just because I had a few reverses. Here was Berkman who had passed through much more than I would ever have to endure if I stayed two more years in solitary. How was the world to know more about the continued torture of Popoff and others if I gave up? The last two verses of the I.W.W. Prison Song now had a real meaning to me as I sang them again. I was through with despair. I wanted to live to make the world better. Just because most prisoners, and for all that, most people on the outside, did not understand and know what solitary meant was all the more reason why I should be strong. I sang cheerfully:
- "By all the graves of Labor's dead,
- By Labor's deathless flag of red,
- We make a solemn vow to you,
- We'll keep the faith, we will be true.
- For freedom laughs at prison bars,
- Her voice reechoes from the stars;
- Proclaiming with the tempest's breath
- A Cause beyond the reach of death."
Two months later I heard the whistles blow and shouts resound throughout the prison. The war was over. The Armistice had been signed. It was not until then that I was informed in a note from Berkman that November 11 was also an anarchist anniversary: the date of the hanging of the Chicago anarchists of the Haymarket in 1887. I had ceased by this time my nervous running back and forth like a squirrel in my cell and was now taking steady walks in my cell each day, and also hours of physical exercise. I was going to build myself up and not get sick and die. I would show my persecutors that I would be a credit to my ideals.
I had painted the ceiling of the Catholic chapel in flat work before I got in solitary, and had left no brush marks. The priest appreciated my good work. He knew I was an Irishman who was not a Catholic, but he never tried to convert me. Now, as I studied the Bible, I was not thinking of any church but just wanted to see what might be worthwhile in it. I had now read it through four times and had read the New Testament many times and the Sermon on the Mount scores of times. I had made up games with pages and chapters and names of characters in the Bible to pass away the time. I had memorized certain chapters that I liked. As I read of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah and other of the prophets and or Jesus, I could see that they had opposed tyranny. I had also spent many days reviewing all of the historical knowledge that I could remember and in trying to think through a philosophy of life. I had passed through the idea of killing myself. This was an escape, not any solution to life. The remainder of my two years in solitary must result in a clear-cut plan whereby I could go forth and be a force in the world. I could not take any halfway measures.
If assassination, violence and revolution was the better way, then military tactics must be studied and a group of fearless rebels organized. I remembered again what Slim, the sort of Robin Hood Wobblie who was in on some larceny charge had told me once to the effect that one could not be a good rebel unless he became angry and vengeful. Then I heard Popoff curse the guards and I heard them beat him. I remembered the Negro who had sworn at the guard in the tailor shop and was killed. I had read of riots in prison over food and I remembered the peaceful victory which we had in our strike against the spoiled fish. I also remembered what Berkman had said about being firm, but quiet. He had cried violence but did not believe in it as a wholesale method. I read of the wars and hatred in the Old Testament. I also read of the courage of Daniel and the Hebrew children who would not worship the golden image; of Peter who chose to obey God rather than the properly constituted authorities who placed him in jail; and of the victory of these men by courage and peaceful methods. I read of Jesus, who was confronted with a whole world empire of tyranny and chose not to overturn the tyrant and make Himself king, but to change the hatred in the hearts of men to love and understanding-to overcome evil with goodwill.
I had called loudly for the sword and mentally listed those whom I desired to kill when I was free. Was this really the universal method which should be used? I would read the Sermon on the Mount again. When a child I had been frightened by hell fire into proclaiming a change of life. Now I spent months making a decision; there was no sudden change. I had all the time in the world and no one could talk to me or influence me. I was deciding this idea for myself. Gradually I came too gain a glimpse of what Jesus meant when He said, "The Kingdom of God is Within You." In my heart now after six months I could love everybody in the world but the warden, but if I did not love him then the Sermon on the Mount meant nothing at all. I really saw this and felt it in my heart but I was too stubborn to admit it in my mind. One day I was walking back and forth in my cell when, in turning, my head hit the wall. Then the thought came to me: "Here I am locked up in a cell. The warden was never locked up in any cell and he never had a chance to know what Jesus meant. Neither did I until yesterday. So I must not blame him. I must love him." Now the whole thing was clear. This Kingdom of God must be in everyone: in the deputy, the warden, in the rat and the pervert—and now I came to know it—in myself. I read and reread the Sermon on the Mount: the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew thus became a living thing to me. I tried to take every sentence and apply it to my present problems. The warden had said that he did not understand political prisoners. He and the deputy, in plain words, did not know any better; they had put on the false face of sternness and tyranny because this was the only method which they knew. It was my job to teach them another method; that of goodwill overcoming their evil intentions, or rather habits. The opposite of the Sermon on the Mount was what the whole world had been practicing, in prison and out of prison; and hate piled on hate had brought hate and revenge. It was plain that this system did not work. I would never have a better opportunity than to try out the Sermon on the Mount right now in my cell. Here was deceit, hatred, lust, murder, and every kind of evil in this prison. I reread slowly and pondered each verse: "Ye have heard that it hath been said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth... whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also... take therefore no thought for the morrow... therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
I fancied what my radical friends in and out of prison would say when I spoke of the above teachings of Jesus. I knew that I would have to bear their displeasure, just as I had borne the hysteria of the patriots and the silence of my friends when I was sent to prison. This did not mean that I was going to "squeal" and give in to the officials, but in my heart I would try to see the good in them and not hate them. Jesus did not give in to His persecutors. He used strong words against the evil doers of His time, but He had mercy for the sinner. I now was not alone fighting the world for I had Him as my helper. I saw that if I held this philosophy for myself I could not engage in violence for a revolution—a good war, as some might call it—but would have to renounce violence even in my thought. Would I be ready to go the whole way? At that time I had not heard of Tolstoy and his application of Christ's teachings to society, Berkman had just mentioned his name along with other anarchists and he might have told me more if I had had a lengthy conversation with him; but I never saw him again. I could see the warden's honesty in admitting that he had "framed" me. I could even see that the deputy had only been used to violence in his years of supervising the chain gang. I did not know much about the outside world and it was up to me now day by day to solve this problem of repressed hatred, and when I was finally released to see in what manner I could apply my new ideals to conditions as I found them. The most difficult animosity for me to overcome was a dislike of hypocrites and church people who had so long withheld the real teachings of Jesus. I could see no connection between Jesus and the church.
I continued my study of the Bible. Popoff was still being manhandled. My teeth ached much of the time in solitary and I asked the deputy to allow the prison dentist to fix my teeth. The prison doctor gave one pint of dreadful tasting salts for whatever ailed a prisoner. Very few men would fake a sick call with this dose in view. However, the dentist could not give me a pint of physic for my toothache, and neither could he bring his dental chair to solitary. The deputy replied that I knew how I could get my teeth fixed; that was to tell what I knew; otherwise I could ache for all he cared. So loving my enemies was not altogether a theoretical matter.
It was now early in February of 1919 and I had been in solitary for seven and a half months. Mr. Duehay, Superintendent of Federal Prisons from Washington, and his secretary, and Warden Zerbst came to my cell. Duehay wanted to know why I was being held so long here. I told him I was telling the world of evil conditions in the prison and would not divulge the source or my outlet for contraband mail. He felt that I was an intelligent and educated man who was foolish to endanger my health in solitary by trying to better the conditions for a lot of bums in prison who would sell me for a dime. I told him I was learning to take it.
I had read a poem in the APPEAL TO REASON years before and had remembered it and written it on the wall. He and the warden read it and laughed.
- SURPLUS VALUE
- The Merchant calls it Profit and winks the other eye;
- The Banker calls it Interest and heaves a cheerful sigh;
- The Landlord calls it Rent as he tucks it in his bag;
- But the honest old Burglar he simply calls it Swag.
Duehay changed his tactics and began to swing his arms and berate me as a fool and a coward. The warden had called me names often but he disliked to hear an outsider do so. "If he's a fool or a coward he must be a different kind, for no one ever stood more than three months in the hole without giving in. He must be a God's fool or a God's coward."
Years later I was to write an account of my prison life and call it "God's Coward." Portions of it were printed in the November and December CATHOLIC WORKER in 1941. It must have seemed especial advice for those about to oppose World War II.
I did not lose my temper or fight back to the warden and Mr. Duehay; just smiled and held my ground. Suddenly Duehay turned to the warden saying, "Let's make out parole papers for this stubborn fellow. Half of the time I can't trust my own men. This Hennacy is honest and can't be bribed. I will give him a job in the secret service."
The warden nodded and smiled. I shook my head saying I wanted no job hunting down radicals and criminals for I was on their side and not that of the oppressor .... The secretary of Duehay was taking this all down in shorthand. Finally in desperation they left.
The next morning a runner came down from the office to measure me for an outgoing suit, saying:
"The warden told us that damn Hennacy wouldn't tell anything in seven and a half months; he won't tell anything in seven and a half years. Get him the hell out of here; give him back his good time and let him go to his other jails. He is too much of a nuisance."
The next month went very quickly. It was now March 19, 1919, and I was to be released the next day. That night the deputy came in and said, "Going out tomorrow, Hennacy?"
"That's what they say; sure a fine feeling," I replied.
"We give; we take. You tell who is getting out your contraband mail or you'll stay here another five and a half months and lose your good time and then another year for refusing to register. You don't think we will allow anyone to get by in bucking us, do you?"
Tears came to my eyes as I chokingly replied, "I can do it. Go away and don't bother me anymore." After he left I wept, but I was at the stage where I felt strong enough to take it.
The next morning after breakfast I wrote on the wall that I was beginning to do the "good time" that I had lost when the door opened suddenly and old Johnson smiled for once, saying, "Going out of this jail, Hennacy." I did not believe him; and even while the barber was shaving me I thought it was some trick to bedevil me. I was given my outgoing suit and an overcoat. It is customary for the warden to shake hands with those who leave and to admonish them to live a good life out in the world. A guard gave me my $10 outgoing money and a bundle of letters that had come to me while I was in solitary, but the warden never appeared. When I walked out of prison a plain clothes man met me saying that I was being arrested for refusing to register in August, 1918 and would be taken to the County Tower to await trial. We took a street car there, at the end of South Pryor street, and walked a few blocks downtown before we got to the Tower. A second-hand clothing merchant recognized my prison clothes and asked if I wanted to sell my overcoat. I was not handcuffed but I guess my white face from the months of solitary was sign enough to anyone as to my being an ex-convict.
I was ushered into a cell where Joe Webb, a mountain boy, also slept. He had been found guilty of murder, and was to be executed. Through influential friends I was able to get him a new trial, and he got life on the chain gang instead. I was now able to read and write as I pleased. Selma had received some of my contraband letters from my sister. She was cordial and not married to anyone else, so there was still hope. There was not the restriction on correspondents then that there is now, so I had letters from many people over the country. Mary Raoul Millis, a Socialist of an old southern family whom I had met in Cleveland in 1913, lived in Atlanta and visited me in the Federal Prison and also here in the Tower. (She is the mother of Walter Millis, the author of The Martial Spirit, the best book on the Spanish–American War farce.) Peggy Harwell, a pretty young woman who was a Socialist and a Theosophist, also visited me in both jails. They told me that my red-headed cousin Georgia had gone to the warden's office when I was in solitary and raised particular hell because she was not allowed to see me. I asked for radical books to read and among other books Tolstoy's Kingdom of God is Within You was brought. I felt that it must have been written especially for me, for here was the answer already written out to all the questions that I had tried to figure out for myself in solitary. To change the world by bullets or ballots was a useless procedure. If the workers ever did get a majority of either, they would have the envy and greed in their hearts and would be chained by these as much as by the chains of the master class. And the State which they would like to call a Cooperative Commonwealth would be based on power; the state would not wither away but would grow. Therefore the only revolution worthwhile was the one-man revolution within the heart. Each one could make this by himself and not need to wait on a majority. I had already started this revolution in solitary by becoming a Christian. Now I had completed it by becoming an Anarchist. Mrs. Millis was a Christian Scientist and she brought me Science and Health to read. I did so, but it did not appeal to me. Mr. Bazemore, the deputy sheriff, said that "the Federals" wanted him to watch my mail to see if I would divulge the name of the person who had sent my contraband letters out of prison, but he wasn't paid to stool pigeon for them and I could write what I liked for all he cared.
Debs had entered Moundsville, West Virginia prison to start his twenty years. He could not be allowed to receive letters from another convict so I wrote to his brother Theodore in Terre Haute expressing my admiration for one who in his old age was still a rebel. Sam Castleton, who was to be Deb's lawyer in Atlanta, was also my lawyer. My case came up for trial after seven weeks. Castleton told me that if I was not too radical he might get me off with six months.
When I was in court a Holiness preacher was being tried first. He had refused to register, he said, because the Bible said not to kill, and putting your name down on the list of killers was the first thing the government wanted you to do. The first thing for a Christian to do was to write his name in the Book of Life instead of the Book of Death, and refuse to register. He had announced this far and wide but on the night before the draft God came to him in a dream and said that "the powers that be are ordained of God" and he should not disobey them. So he made up his mind to register the next day; but then he took sick and couldn't. It was obvious that he was squeaking, and that if God was talking to him He might as well have kept him well so he could go and register. His wife and children asked the judge for clemency and the judge gave him 24 hours in jail.
My case came next. I was asked if I had really refused to register for the first and second drafts and if I had not changed my mind like the minister and would be ready to register for the third draft if and when it came along. I replied that I had entered prison an atheist and not a pacifist, but that my study of the Sermon on the Mount had made me an all-around pacifist, and the logic of Tolstoy had made me move to the extreme left and become an anarchist. I could see my lawyer wince and put his finger to his lips. I continued for about ten minutes to explain my new radical ideas. The District Attorney, Hooper Alexander, an old fashioned looking Southerner, came up to the judge and whispered and the judge said, "case dismissed." I looked around to see whose case it was and it was mine. My lawyer seemed bewildered and so was I. Mr. Alexander beckoned for me to come to his office and asked me how the hell I got that way. I explained some of my history to him. He had read letters that came to me and said he understood. The reason he had dismissed my case was the contrast between this preacher who was bellyaching out of it and myself who was willing to take more punishment. He liked a good fighter. He was not a pacifist nor in sympathy with anarchism he said, but he realized something was wrong with the world and those who supported the status quo surely did not have the answer. He wanted to know if I had enough money to pay my way to the Delaware, Ohio jail to do my nine months for refusing to register the first time. I told him I had because the Socialists of Columbus had sent me $2 a month to buy candy and I could not use it while in solitary. He said that if I had been penniless he would have given me the fare out of his own pocket. He was signing my papers ten days late to appear at the Federal Court in Columbus. He was supposed to send me with a guard and had no right to take the law into his own hands and allow me this ten days of freedom, but he was doing it, he said, because he liked a good fighter. I had approached the court this time with love for my enemy and had never thought that it would result in my freedom.
After a few joyous days with Selma and with my family, I was one of the few prisoners in the Delaware, Ohio county jail. After a few weeks I was eating dinner with the sheriff and his family. At times I was the only prisoner and would lock myself in at night, and in the daytime beat rugs and mow lawns for 40c an hour. Among my employers was Senator Willis nearby. The head of the Department of Sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University here had known me in Madison and sent students to interview the only political prisoner in town. Bishop Brown of Galion, Ohio, the "Bishop of the Bolsheviks and Infidels" came over to see me in his Episcopalian robes. That day my sisters Lola, Lida, Leah and Lorraine had come to see me and he bought ice cream for all of us. I had been reading books on health from the non-medical point of view and took ten days of fasting just to see what it was like. It was not as difficult as I had thought. Selma rented a room in town for two weeks and visited me most of the time. On December 5, 1919, on her birthday, I was released. I did not know whether I would be arrested again, for the Espionage Law was still in force by which one could get 20 years for saying "damn the President."