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The close of the war found the South bankrupt no money and no credit. Before the war, penitentiaries were little needed in the South. I have heard that South Carolina had none. Every plantation was policed and controlled by its owner. When great numbers of ignorant slaves were suddenly freed from all restraints, many of them became at once vagrants and petty criminals. The number of these was soon so great that it became impossible for the bankrupt States to provide for them the actual necessaries of life — food, clothes, and shelter - of the plainest kind. They were for the most part young and able-bodied men, and it seemed an injustice to them to let them suffer when they were willing and able to work for their support. There were no public works upon which they could be employed, and the State was too poor to establish such works. Consequently, as a measure of necessity, they were hired to contractors, who agreed in return for the use of their labor to relieve the State of the burden of furnishing them clothes, food, and shelter. This was the only course possible at that time. The error was not in hiring them out, but in not protecting them against the avarice and cruelty of their hirers by proper safeguards. There followed a dark chapter in the history of Alabama; its leaves are stained with blood and tears, and I will leave them unturned.
The early years of this decade saw the dawn of a better day. State inspectors were appointed-men of character and position -- and rigid rules were adopted as to the manner in which the contractors should clothe, feed, and punish the prisoners. A great improvement was soon effected in the physical condition of the convicts. There was consequently a great diminution of the death-rate, which in 1882 had been so large that one of our most distinguished physicians had written in regard to the convicts who had died that
year: “The law condemned them to hard labor, but the State put them to death."
And now that I have told you of the origin of the lease system, I will tell you of the origin of our prison-schools.
It was just after the appointment of these inspectors that I paid my first visit to a mining-camp-a place where I was later to spend the happiest days of my life -- yes, the very happiest ; for what other joy can equal that of seeing the sum of human misery diminished? Six miles from the rising city of Birmingham, connected with it at that time only by a country road, are the Pratt coal mines, now putting out daily the largest amount of coal of any mines in the United States. One of the three inspectors to whom I had gone to make some inquiries in regard to sending books and papers to the convicts, kindly offered to take me in his buggy to see them. I shall never forget that visit; it made an epoch in my life; I had found my vocation: I had seen “my brother in stripes.” He had now nothing to complain of in regard to his physical condition; he was comfortably clothed, fed, and sheltered, and the senseless cruelties of a former day had been forbidden. But oh! the depth of dull, hopeless misery in the eyes that met mine-the more pitiable because it neither asked nor expected pity, but accepted its forlorn
fate as the inevitable. That look the look of the man-forsaken, God-forgotten went to my
soul. For several years I visited them as often as my time and means would allow, carrying them books, papers, magazines, and school-material, gifts begged from the kindly-hearted.
During this time I received a letter from the W. C. T. U. of Alabama, of which I was not at that time a member, telling me that they wished to have this branch of work represented in their State work, but had neither money nor an official for its prosecution; they therefore requested me to go on with the work, considering myself as their representative. I thought my requests and sugrestions might have more weight, coming from the representative of so many good women, and accepted the appointment. Since that time I have been Superintendent of Prison and Jail Work for the W. C. T. U. of Alabama, and have had the prayers and sympathy of the ladies of that association - few in number but zealous in heart.
One of the most distressing features about the mining-prisons is the extreme youth of some of the inmates, and the petty nature of the offenses for which they have been condemned to the constant companionship with burglars and murderers. At Pratt mines there were at one time seventeen boys under sixteen years of age. At another mining-camp I have found them as young as eleven, or even nine. Carrying a pocket pistol, playing cards or “craps" in a public place, killing partridges during the months forbidden by the gamelaw —such are some of the crimes for which a great State condemns little children to hard labor in the mines in the companionship of ruffians.
In 1887 a great effort was made to remedy this crying evil by proposing a bill for a boys' reformatory, the annual expense of such an institution being estimated at ten thousand dollars. The economical legislators thought it a cheaper plan to let the boys grow up to swell the class of professional criminals, than to expend this amount for their redemption. Two days before the close of the legislative session I learned that the bill had been adversely reporteil upon by a committee, after having passed one house. I was told that it was too late to do anything else, as there was no time to give a new bill the necessary number of readings, even if there were time to prepare one. But the thought of those poor boys unaided for two more long years (our legislative sessions are biennial ) weighed so heavily on my heart that I felt that God would work a miracle rather than leave them longer so forlorn; and He did, my dear friends, He did. I am here to testify that He did for His poor prodigal sons what all human counsel had declared to be impossible. I took a midnight train for the capital city. I was delayed eight hours on the road, and reached it late on the morning of the last day but one of the legislative session. As the reformatory bill had been tabled on the ground that it asked too much, I proposed the plan of attaching a teacher for every fifty inmates to every prison, and allowing night schools of two hours. “Too late! too late!” was the answer, even from those who are friends to every humane movement. “We have only one day more, and the law requires a bill to be read on consecutive days." A sudden thought came to me, an inspiraation, for I know nothing of legislative details. “Could we not call the nightschool bill an amendment to the lost reformatory bill, and thus dispense with some of the preliminary readings?” Heaven be thanked! this could be done, and was done, even in the midst of the hurry and pressure which attend the last hour of the last night. The amendment was scribbled on the margin of the lost reformatory bill as I sat in the gallery, and then committed to the care of the kind-hearted member who had promised to make law for once as elastic in a good cause as it has often been for bad. I detail these circumstances attending the passage of the law, in order to show you that the plan of our prison-schools must not be judged as though it were the result of long and careful thought, well digested. On the contrary, it must be considered as the hasty makeshift of the last moment, a dernier resort, and julged accordingly.
Now I will give you the details of the work.
At 6 o'clock in the afternoon, earlier if they have finished their tasks, the convicts leave the mine and come back to daylight through an opening which leads straight into the stockade, or into a “man-way," as the inclosed overground passage from the mouth of the mine to the prison is called. They are made to change the wet and blackened clothes which they have worn in the mine, and bathe. Then they go to supper. After they have eaten, the names are read out, of all who have failed to dig the required amount of coal — four tons for a first-class man also the names of those who have violated any rule of the prison. These remain to receive the number of lashes which the law allows. The others formerly went at once into the long dormitories where from fifty to a hundred men sleep on bunks that almost touch each other. They have still several waking-hours. These used to be spent in gambling, fiddling, indecent conversations, the older convicts relating with embellishments their past exploits in order to excite the admiration of the younger criminals. If a man wished to be quiet, and think, read, or pray, it was impossible in this pandemonium. Now since we have the night school all the men who desire better things go from the supper-room to a large, clean, airy school-room, where for two hours Christian teachers give them instruction in the elements of an English education, and undenominational Christianity.
We have now three of these prison-schools -- one at each of the three large mining-camps where the county and State prisoners are hired. The teachers also conduct Sunday schools, and supervise the Prison Christian Association. In the morning they meet for two hours the men who have been in the night shift, from twelve to twenty in number, and give instruction to all who desire it. They also visit the hospitals daily and hold service there, and do something to cheer the ill and convalescent, leaving illustrated papers for those who cannot read, and books and papers for those who can. One teacher care simple lessons to the convalescents. This was a plan which I saw carried out in Germany in a hospital under the care of the Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth,
with whom I lived for a year. It struck me as worthy of imitation in every hospital. The convalescent often suffers as much from emptiness of mind as from weakness of body, and recovery is hastened by exciting an intelligent interest in some subject not beyond his powers. Of course, great discretion must be exercised in giving these lessons to convalescents. Before we had these mission teachers, when men died in the hospital their mothers and wives often remained ignorant of the fact for months, sometimes for years. The county officials were informed, but somehow the poor womenkind were often uncertain for years whether Sam or Joe was dead, discharged, or made an escape. This is partly due to the commonness of some names, and partly to the fact that the colored people, not having owned surnames until the present generation, seem to change them as fancy dictates. I tried for months to find out for my cook whether she was the wife or widow of John Jones. I don't think we ever reached certainty on the subject, for my zeal slackened when I found that her anxiety was not due to wifely affection, but to the desire to marry again. I am sorry to spoil my story with this fact; but truth is truth, and must be told.
The plan of our night school is very simple. We cannot teach more than the most elementary branches, and must confine ourselves mostly to the three R's. It Pratt mines, where there are two large mining-prisons, we have three teachers to each school. We consider the schools as divided into three grades, representing roughly the four primary grades, and perhaps the first two intermediate of public schools. It is impossible to make the grading very strict and accurate; my desire is that each grade shall represent two grades in the public school, and that we shall try to do the work of the six lowest grades. We have four half-hours. One is divided between the opening and closing exercises. During the first half-hour after opening, the pupils are divided into three classes for reading, each teacher taking one. During the second half-hour the same arrangement is made for the arithmetic classes. During the third and last half-hour all who need practice in writing sit at the tables and write, under the care of one teacher, while the other two teachers give lessons in geography and the history of the United States. We open with a brief reading from the Bible, and singing, and close with the Lord's Praver.
Of course this is doing very, very little compared with the Chantanqua Circles and literary papers of Northern prisons; but if you knew the state of things under the lease system a few years ago, you would see that it is a tremendous advance. Our Governor, a noble, Christian man, said to me in reference to the bill before it passed, that he could not hope that the bill would do much good. I told him I did not hope to do more than just to have an auger-hole in the roof of the darkest cavern in hell, and let in one ray of heavenly light. I think we have done this. You must consider two difficulties -- the material with which we have to work, and the tremendous prejudice that exists against our work. A farmer-citizen went through the prison not long ago
a good man, perhaps a Christian man. • Who pays for all this?" he exclaimed with indignation when he saw the school-rooms, and book-cases. “This is an outrageous wrong to the children of honest farmers of the State, for whom this money ought to be spent, and I will be one to see that the next Legislature puts a stop to such foolishness.” He expressed the opinion of all but a small minority. Fortunately, the company now leasing the State prisoners is bound by a contract of ten years to continue the schools. The county prisoners are not so happily situated, and I should tremble for them, at each meeting of the Legislature, had I not learned by experience the truth of that grand saying that God and one make a majority.
Attendance is voluntary; if it were compulsory, as has been proposed, the schools would be worthless; for what could three teachers accomplish in one long narrow school-room with five hundred unwilling pupils of all grades of knowledge and character ? The white men form about one-fifth of the prison population. We tried for more than a year the plan of having colored and white attend school together; but practically, although in the same room, they formed two schools, as they would never go into classes together. So we had six grades instead of three, and found it impossible to do justice to any class in fifteen minutes. We were therefore compelled to adopt the plan of having the white and the colored men on alternate nights ; this gives each only three school sessions per week, and gives besides occasions of backsliding into the old habit of gambling and idling on the alternate nights. But it is the best that we can do at present, with only one school-room and a limited number of teachers.
I have often wished that some one of the noble organizations of the North and West, which are doing so much mission-work in the United States, would take an interest in this work, build us an additional school-room, and give us nine teachers. Dear friends, I will confess to you that I have taken this long journey at a time when, for many reasons, it is most inconvenient for me to do so, in the hope that some such help might be found in the generous hearts and liberal hands of the West. The work needs so much besides what little the State gives with grudging hand, and what the company does to fulfill its contract; although this company has done much to disprove the old adaye that corporations have no soul, by doing more than its contract required. But we need so many more books for the library, pictures for the hospital, and comforts for the teachers, whose small salaries – $25 per month and board — make the work one of self-denial.
Now what of the pupils? The majority of the colored are ignorant beyond the conception of this more favored section. Many do not know their own ages; of moral and religious training they have had absolutely none. I have often asked them to tell the number of the Commandments, and they rarely know this, mueh less their import. I promised to have the names of all who