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The Ex. Question
by [?]

We may have to restrain men for the good of themselves and the good of society, but we do not punish. The restraint is punishment enough; we believe men are punished by their sins, not for them.

When men are sent to reform schools now, the endeavor and the hope is to give back to society a better man than we took.

Judge Lindsey sends boys to the reform school without officer or guard. The boys go of their own accord, carrying their own commitment papers. They pound on the gate demanding admittance in the name of the law. The boy believes that Judge Lindsey is his friend, and that the reason he is sent to the reform school is that he may reap a betterment which his full freedom cannot possibly offer. When he takes his commitment papers he is no longer at war with society and the keepers of the law. He believes that what is being done for him is done for the best, and so he goes to prison, which is really not a prison at the last, for it is a school where the lad is taught to economize both time and money and to make himself useful.

Other people work for us, and we must work for them. This is the supreme lesson that the boy learns. You can only help yourself by helping others.

Now here is a proposition: If a boy or a man takes his commitment papers, goes to prison alone and unattended, is it necessary that he should be there locked up, enclosed in a corral and be looked after by guards armed with death-dealing implements?

Superintendent Whittaker, of the institution at Jeffersonville, Indiana, says, “No.” He believes that within ten years’ time we will do away with the high wall, and will keep our loaded guns out of sight; to a great degree also we will take the bars from the windows of the prisons, just as we have taken them away from the windows of the hospitals for the insane.

At the reform school it may be necessary to have a guard-house for some years to come, but the high wall must go, just as we have sent the lock-step and the silent system and the striped suit of disgrace into the ragbag of time–lost in the memory of things that were.

Four men out of five in the reformatory at Jeffersonville need no coercion, they would not run away if the walls were razed and the doors left unlocked. One young man I saw there refused the offered parole–he wanted to stay until he learned his trade. He was not the only one with a like mental attitude.

The quality of men in the average prison is about the same as that of the men who are in the United States Army. The man who enlists is a prisoner; for him to run away is a very serious offense, and yet he is not locked up at night, nor is he surrounded by a high wall.

The George Junior Republic is simply a farm, unfenced and unpatroled, excepting by the boys who are in the Republic, and yet it is a penal institution. The prison of the future will not be unlike a young ladies’ boarding school, where even yet the practice prevails of taking the inmates out all together, with a guard, and allowing no one to leave without a written permit.

As society changes, so changes the so-called criminal. In any event, I know this–that Max Nordau did not make out his case.

There is no criminal class.

Or for that matter we are all criminals. “I have in me the capacity for every crime,” said Emerson.

The man or woman who goes wrong is a victim of unkind environment. Booker Washington says that when the negro has something that we want, or can perform a task that we want done, we waive the color line, and the race problem then ceases to be a problem. So it is with the Ex. Question. When the ex-convict is able to show that he is useful to the world, the world will cease to shun him. When Superintendent Whittaker graduates a man it is pretty good evidence that the man is able and willing to render a service to society.

The only places where the ex-convicts get the icy mitt are pink teas and prayer meetings. An ex-convict should work all day and then spend his evenings at the library, feeding his mind–then he is safe.

If I were an ex-convict I would fight shy of all “Refuges,” “Sheltering Arms,” “Saint Andrew’s Societies” and the philanthropic “College Settlements.” I would never go to those good professional people, or professional good people, who patronize the poor and spit upon the alleged wrongdoer, and who draw sharp lines of demarcation in distinguishing between the “good” and the “bad.” If you can work and are willing to work, business men will not draw the line on you. Get a job, and then hold it down hard by making yourself necessary. Employers of labor and the ex-convicts themselves are fast settling this Ex. Question, with the help of the advanced type of the Reform School where the inmates are being taught to be useful and are not punished nor patronized, but are simply given a chance. My heart goes out in sympathy to the man who gives a poor devil a chance. I myself am a poor devil!