« PreviousContinue »
made fiddle: happily we did not hear its utterings. In another a flute, and something between a guitar and a banjo. This cell was highly decorated with bright pictures, some of them with explanatory mottos of capital wit, and nothing so unbecoming as to make us turn away. The inmate was a young, lively, coloured man, whose prospect was a residence in that cell of several years. He had half covered in his airing yard, and got a small stove erected to help him in some ingenious work. I asked why he had not covered the whole yard. He said he could see and feel the sun in this corner, and at night he liked to come out and look at the stars. I observed my friend asked him gently about the trespass that had occasioned his being there, and remembering that the settled form of question at home on such subjects is not, “What did you do ?” but “What did they say you did ?” I listened with curiosity for his reply. He owned he had been engaged in a robbery; that it was very wrong; and then hinted at the circumstances of distress which led him to it. He was urged to read the Scriptures and some tracts which were in his cell, to learn all he could from the Instructor—to pray—and, by all means, to keep himself busy; and as he clearly had a turn for drawing, my kind friend promised him some designs to copy. His frank confiding look seemed as though he could pour out all his mind to her; and it required one to look around to be reminded that, in spite of his pleasant countenance, he was shut up
within these walls, and that this was a convict cell. We found ingenious implements and machines in some of the yards, which the turnkeys took pleasure in shewing us. And in the hothouse of the spacious garden we found a smart gardener who politely regretted that he could only offer us poor flowers : February was not a favourable month, and some other ladies had been there yesterday. He had turned sickly at some house occupation, and been sent to his own employment in the garden. It required a determined belief that my informant told truth, to enable me to accept the conviction that this polite amiable man was a convict.
It is true that a polished exterior may be but as a whited sepulchre, yet I am persuaded that a criminal is more likely to return from his evil ways when he is not driven to sinister and sullen looks by the impression that no eye is turned kindly on him, and that every hand is against him.
The Tombs in New York is more like a policeoffice or bridewell in England, as no one remains there, after trial, for a sentence of more than a few days. The countenances in that dismal place are dark enough, though even there some excited strong sympathy. One respectable German woman had the misfortune to witness a crime, and was shut up with the worthless lest she should be out of the way when wanted to give her testimony. She was a stranger, and had none to give bail for her. How she wept and beseeched, when spoken to in her native tongue, and how degrading she felt her present position! We found the white women generally shut up in pairs, but one cell was unlocked for us, rather larger than the others, where eight or ten blacks were huddled together in so small a space that it shocked me very much. Poor things! they were willing to listen, and two, who could read promised to read aloud to the rest some tracts which we left. Nearly all the white women owned that their being in that place arose from drinking.
Strange it is to go through another nation and find resemblances so strong in everything between it and one's own. Virtue for virtue-invention for invention-enterprise for enterprise-principle for principle—daring for daring -crime for crime, 0 England! () America! you are indeed parent and child. Would that your similarities may draw you to help, and to love, and to correct each other!
There is much work carried on in the prisons. The hewing and sawing of marble is one very productive employment, and much to be prized for its healthful effects in preference to tailoring and boot and shoe making. There, however, though work is more plentiful than workmen, complaints are made, as in Britain, that such state manufactures have the effect of injuring the private mechanic. The beautiful City Hall of Brooklyn is built of white marble, every column and cornice of which came down ready for its place in the edifice from the state prison at Auburn, while the masons, who had a personal interest in the City Hall, felt that they could have hewn all the marble without convict help. To compare small things with great, a poor sempstress in our own country told me the other day that she had no more shirts to make from the linen warehouse that used to employ her, for the people at the “Shelter” not only sewed the linen, but, being expert laundresses, sent it home ready done up, fit for the counter.
It is difficult to do good in one branch of a crowded society without injuring another, or to feel at liberty to rejoice over the prosperity of an institution which opens its door to reclaim the wanderer, if thereby you impoverish and increase the hardships of the honest and industrious.
The prison of New York State is a huge factory, where enough is earned annually to clear its expenditure, and something over. Society is cleansed by its means of the profligate, and they who would form nuisances to themselves and others are rendered productive to the state, while their own happiness is promoted.
JUVENILE DELINQUENTS AND BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES.
It has been well inquired whether it be cheaper to allow youths to become criminals, and then support them at public charge, or to control the early causes of criminality, and thereby rear up honest and useful members of society. During the formation of the character, the law-court is an idle lookeron, it is not till that formed character exhibits itself in trespass and disturbance that law can restrain it. "Follow the embryo convict a few years, during childhood and youth. Behold the circumstances that made him what he is—circumstances (in one sense) beyond his control-circumstances which the community might and ought to have controlled. There are hundreds of children growing up in our state, in conditions, and surrounded by circumstances, that render it morally certain they will become candidates for the prison or the gallows. It is in our power to change these circumstances. Shall we do it? Yes; it is in our power to change those circumstances by placing such children in a House of