Starr Daily—Love Can Open Prison Doors

Love Versus Prison Door of Violence

CHAPTER IV

Whoever lives true life, will love true love.
Browning.

According to the law, to have guilty knowledge of a crime, before or after, makes you equally guilty, providing you fail to divulge that knowledge to the proper authorities. On the other hand, according to the unwritten law of the underworld, to divulge knowledge of a crime makes you guilty of informing, and the penalty for this is death.

I believe there is such a thing in the universe as the law of Personal Position; that there is a right and wrong place to be at any given time; that if you are in your right place you will have nothing to fear in the way of attracting adverse compensation; but that every time you put yourself in a place where you have no business to be, a penalty of some kind will be exacted.

It was through no intention to be nosey or curious that I found myself in the following predicament. But since law is no respecter of good or bad intentions, ignorance, or any other excusing circumstances, I was faced with a situation that looked anything but pleasing.

There was a stock room in the shop where I worked in which all the supplies were kept. If a machine operator happened to ruin one of his pieces, it was his business to call the supply man, apprise him of his need, and wait at his machine until he brought an extra piece to replace the ruined one.

On this occasion I had attempted to re-notch one of my collar bands and had cut too deeply into the cloth. I looked around and not seeing the supply man about the floor, I thought I might save time by going in search of him. I got up and strolled back to the stock room. Noticing the door partly ajar I went in with the intention of serving myself. While I was carrying out this notion, from the other side of the supply bins the subdued sound of three voices reached me. They were plotting an escape. I knew the owner of each voice. And before I could make a quiet departure, I learned that the plot involved the lives of two men, one a guard, the other a prisoner.

I got out of the room and back to my machine. But I had been seen by one of the plotters who had not been present at the session just described, but who was aware that such a session was in progress at the time I entered. This man’s suspicions were immediately aroused and he promptly labeled me a spy, hoping to gain information whereby I might feather my own nest, possibly gain my own freedom at their expense.

It was one of those situations in which many a prisoner has found himself and from which many a prisoner has died mysteriously without the prison authorities ever learning who did it or why it was done.

As soon as possible this fellow conveyed his knowledge and suspicions to the leader of the plot, a man with a tough reputation and a desperate desire for freedom. For obvious reasons, I cannot use the leader’s name here, but for convenience I shall refer to him vaguely as Muggs.

For some reason, a very fortunate reason, by the way, for me, Muggs decided upon a course of action difficult from that usually pursued in such cases. Instead of remaining silent and keeping me in ignorance of the fact that they were aware I had knowledge of their plans, Muggs called me to one side and said:

“I ain’t never knowed you to snitch; but I do know you’ve gone hay-wire since you done that last jolt in the hole (dungeon). We’re goin’ on through with this, an’ you’re goin’ with us—or else? You’ve declared yourself in, an’ now you’re gonna stay in.”

Without hesitation he informed me of the part I was to play. Also, if there occurred any hitch in their plans, he made it unmistakably clear that I would be held responsible.

During the noon hour one prisoner, a trusty, was allowed the privilege of remaining in the shop instead of having to return to his cell after lunch. Now that I was one of the plotters, there were five of us in all, one of them being the fellow in charge of supply room. Just before time to line up for the noon march to the mess hall, this man was to pass us into the stock room unobserved, where we would hide until the rest of the prisoners had filed out, and the guard had gone to the officers’ dining room for his lunch. Then when the trusty had returned from the mess hall and entered the shop, we were to capture him, perhaps kill him if it was later thought advisable. Likewise we were to follow the same procedure when the guard again put in his appearance.

The captured or killed guard was to be disarmed and stripped of his uniform, which I was to don. Then Muggs, with the guard’s gun in my back, followed by the other three plotters, was to march me in front of them to the back wall gate, where I would order the wall guard to throw down his gun and the gate key, it being presumed, of course, that he would mistake me for one of his fellow officers. In case the wall guard became stubborn he was to be shot from his perch with promptness and dispatch.

Had there been within me a desire for freedom in the same degree as this desire actuated the plotters, I should have still deplored their methods in attempting to obtain it. Every item of their plot was based upon violence, and the crudest sort of violence in the bargain.

While I could plainly see a dozen different weaknesses in their scheme, any one of which, after murder had been committed, would have made their capture inevitable and their ultimate death in the electric chair an absolute certainty, they could not see these flaws, because they had permitted their objective to blind them to everything but the objective itself.

I was soon made to understand by Muggs that my advice was unsought and unwelcome. My position in the plot was not to reason why, but to do or die. Certainly I was on the spot, to use the vernacular. At this moment only one course was open to me, and that I promptly rejected, not because of fear, but because of principle. Of this principle there are grounds for a wide divergence of opinion. Some may think it lacked what a moral principle should have, the sense of duty toward others, and that it was my duty to inform the authorities that such a plot was being hatched and the lives of two men and possibly three were being threatened.

I wish to make plain my attitude, therefore, and to make clear the objection I previously mentioned regarding the use of violence.

Had I turned informer against my fellow prisoners, that act in itself would not have embraced violence, but it would have resulted in violence. Those against whom I informed would have been subjected to third degree methods in an effort to make them admit the plot, or to confirm my information. But this would not have been the end of violence. By and by I would have had to reckon with the men I had betrayed; either I would have to kill one or more of them in self-defense, or be killed by them. In the meantime my act of treachery would have brought down upon me the frightful curse of ostracism, and would have thus destroyed the influence I had begun to exercise for good among my fellows.

Luckily there was one man I could trust to share my secret in return for his advice, my old reliable cell-buddy, Dad Trueblood.

The old man admitted that I was in a ticklish place between two fires. “But,” he added, “there never was a problem that could not be solved by love, and this one is no exception.”

To this I agreed. But I could see no way to induce more love than I already felt for these men. Because I was able to see clearly what they could not see, my sympathy for them was vast. Yet they had not and apparently would not respond to it to the extent of allowing me an equal voice in the plot.

“You’ll have to get their confidence through the voice of action,” Dad said. “You’ll see, you’re no longer in their class. They look at you as one who has gone the reform route. You’ve got to make a sacrifice and make it appear that you’ve gone hard-boiled again. You’ve got to get yourself in trouble and go to the hole. I’ll fix it up with the warden.” “But I don’t want the warden to know of it,” I broke in quickly.

“Of course you don’t. Do you think I’d be that big a fool. I’ll tell him you have a different reason. He knows you’re using all kinds of schemes to help guys in here. I doubt if he’ll even want to know a reason.” Thus one day a short while later, I surprised the entire shop by refusing to work. The guard’s duty, of course, was clear. He told me three times to return to my machine. I argued with him in a loud angry voice that every one could hear. I thought for a minute I was in for a hard blow on the head, as the guard became angry himself at my display of insolence. He told me a fourth time to go to my place or he would send for the man (deputy warden), and I told him to go ahead.

While I waited for the deputy to show up, I strolled down the floor past Mugg’s machine. Out of the corner of his mouth he said:

“Don’t weaken. They can’t do any more than give you the works, an’ they ain’t gonna do that.” “Don’t worry,” I replied, “their hole don’t bluff me any. I’ve been in it plenty of times.”

“What’s the matter?” Muggs asked.

“I just ain’t feeling good today is all. And they want me to work any way. They can lead a horse to water but they can’t make him drink.”

I put in fifteen days on bread and water and was then sent back to work. The price I paid to gain a point was pretty stiff. But when you consider the fact that my gesture doubtlessly saved the lives of several men, the cost will appear small indeed. The point I gained was, of course, the mutual respect and confidence of Muggs and his fellow plotters. With this confidence and respect I was given a voice in their plot councils, and in this manner I had no difficulty in pointing out the weak spots in the whole scheme, the hazards involved, and the inevitable consequences incumbent upon failure. In other words, I was able to reduce the plot to glamourless realism, and after I had accomplished that the desire for freedom had lost about ninety per cent of its erstwhile appeal.

All of these men served out their terms in the slow but safe way. I had convinced them that, while freedom was a wonderful prize to win, violence was a dangerous method through which to gamble for it.

One of the strong arguments for institutional education is that it tends to eliminate prison plots of violence. Any plot entering the mind of an ignorant person fails to bring with it the fine points in execution that the same plot brings when it enters the mind of a person trained to reason and analyze. Most of the prison uprisings are conceived in the childish brain of one man whose original motive is an abnormal desire to gain notoriety and thus bask for awhile in the limelight and adulations of his equally ignorant and subnormal fellows. Occasionally an educated prisoner or criminal is forced, through the intervention of unexpected circumstances, to resort to violent methods; but such methods are seldom a part of his original plans.

When an educated prisoner plans an escape, he goes about it in a scientific manner. He works through a process of elimination, and the things he eliminates are all the possible features that might compel him into an act of violence. He plans intelligently for success; but in case of failure he doesn’t wish to be faced with the grim prospect of having to pay for a string of violent actions.

Prison officials fear the shrewdness of their educated charges; but they never fear for their lives in dealing with them.

By employing the love medium, I was able to save several men from such consequences as would have befallen Muggs and the rest of us had their ill-planned plot gone through. The following case will show how much easier it is to reach an educated person under similar circumstances. But again I must refrain from using the man’s name. Therefore we shall merely call him Frank.

In this case I was taken into Frank’s confidence without having to inveigle my way in through trickery or persuasion. Frank had been plotting his escape for several months. Finally he arrived at the place where he thought he had reduced the plot to its ultimate perfection. He could search through it from beginning to end and no flaw would appear.

And still—and here is the difference between an educated man’s plotting and the plotting of an ignorant or partly educated man—although Frank could pick out no flaw in his plot, the intuition that goes with intelligence, warned him against becoming to cocksure. He had been close to his plot for a long time. Perhaps he had been too close; so close that some apparently trifling detail had escaped his notice; and this very detail might be the one glaring flaw, if he could only get far enough away from his plot to see it.

So far Frank had planned alone, another characteristic of the educated prison plotter. Frank and I were the very best of friends. The reason he had failed to confide in me before was not because he feared to trust me, but because he feared I would attempt to dissuade him from carrying out his intention. He came to me now and laid his plans out, knowing full well that I would scrutinize them with a fresh mind and expose any weaknesses that he himself had been unable to expose.

He had obtained a small piece of an old file. With this and a knitting needle he had made a pick with which he could unlock the window to the shop machinist’s cage and thus reach through to a tray of hack-saws entrusted to the machinist’s care. His idea was to watch the machinist in the evening when he checked his tools in the presence of the keeper; after which he would wait for an opportunity to act unobserved, unlock the window and possess himself of one of the saws, and then relock the window. With the saw and a bolt of shirt cloth, which he intended to smuggle from the shop, his plan was to cut the bars on his cell, climb to the top of the cell block, cut a padlock on one of the big ventilating cupolas, and through this make his way to the roof, where he would make fast one end of his cloth rope and slide to the ground.

“Your plan is all right, Frank,” I told him. “But suppose it doesn’t work. There’s always an element of chance in the most perfectly planned getaway, you know. What if you fail?”

“Well,” he said, “I’ll just go to the hole for a few days. I don’t expect to injure anybody; so if I do get caught it won’t amount to much.”

“You haven’t considered the machinist,” I replied. “He’s in here for murder, and if I were you I wouldn’t want to take much of a chance on his temper.” “Why, I wouldn’t be hurting him any.”

“No. Maybe not. But he’s responsible for those saws. And if you took one in the way you planned to, he would have a hard time explaining what became of it. As a matter of fact he would be accused of aiding you. Of course if you succeeded in getting away he would have to take his punishment without the possibility of getting revenge on you for doing this dirty trick to him. But if you didn’t get away I’m afraid it would be too bad for you.”

“I could tell them I stole the saw.”

“They wouldn’t believe it. And even if they were inclined to give the machinist the benefit of the doubt set up in your confession, he would lose his job, although he escaped the other punishment. They would not trust a man in his job to whom the slightest suspicion can be attached.”

Frank pursued his plans no further. While his plot appeared to him free of violence in so far as its execution was concerned, he had failed to see the violence inherent in its results. Even though he had successfully escaped, the machinist, innocent though he was, would have had to pay bitter for his success.

Personally I cannot believe that any success that is gained at the misfortune of another, can have a permanent value. For many years I tried to make violence pay: but always violence made me pay.

It is true that men appear to succeed at the expense of their fellowmen. Whether or not that success gives them the pleasure it is thought to give them, is another question. One thing is certain, there is no spiritual gratification possible where violence enters in. And, speaking from my own experience, if there is any pleasure in life where moral and spiritual gratification is absent I have failed to find it.

During the past six years I’ve gained a spiritual inch or so. I would not barter that inch for all the gold, all the fame, and all the worldly honor in existence. I’ve had gold, quantities of it, crooked gold, and I’ve paid in a million different ways for every tainted ounce of it.

One of the penalties of success achieved by violence is that it must be constantly guarded by violence. It was no pleasure for me to ride in a high-priced car and be always on the alert for a spattering of machine gun bullets from the guns of my rivals in crime. When you so live that in every man you see an enemy, there is small feeling of security in the touch of a pistol at your side. You may put a pistol under your pillow at night, but the action proves of little value in the way of inducing sleep. Nor may it give you much satisfaction to know that every penitentiary is waiting to receive you; that every electric chair has a claim on your patronage; that every noose hangs in readiness to twine itself around your neck.

I have found nothing more lastingly pleasurable than that which I possess today. I have nothing that selfish greed might envy. Therefore I need no gun to protect it. After an honest day’s work, I can sit down in my home and with my family around me enjoy the quiet simple life of mutual love and spiritual harmony. If some one drops in, and this frequently occurs, bearing with him or her the weight of a troubled heart, we look upon such a visitor, not as an unwelcome guest, but as welcome opportunity to serve the one cause in the world that gives permanent gratification. In the atmosphere of our home, troubles and worries are soon dissolved, clear thinking re-established, and those who seek us with their problems usually leave with those problems solved. We preach to no one; but we have a philosophy that is creative, and in that philosophy there is no room for fear and worry. We try to make people see that fear and worry are not always constructive; that these qualities create problems and troubles; that love and clear thinking turns problems into experiences, and experiences into the gold of knowledge; that where there is knowledge there is security, and where there is security there is livingness in its highest sense of satisfaction.

And when the last symphony has died away in our radio; when our books have been put aside; when our evening meditation has been stamped upon the subjective ether, and we have retired to our pillows, the sweetest blessing in life comes stealing over us, perfect slumber.

To be able to lie down in positive security with unlocked doors, and never turn over until another day has dawned, that is one of the gains I wouldn’t exchange for all the kingdoms that have been built upon the leaping flames of violence.

There are two forms of violence, the passive and the active. Both are destructive, but not in the same degree. While active violence invariably reaches out to destroy other people and things, the passive form remains at home to destroy the person alone who harbors it. Of the two forms the latter is the most deadly to its subject, because it finds no relief in action or active expression, but remains suppressed within the individual, poisoning his nervous system, unbalancing his emotional life, arresting his powers of rational thought—all of which set up dangerous reflexes in his physical organism, which often result in grave nervous and mental disorders, while these in turn condition the body for numerous diseases, both real and hysterical, which very frequently prove fatal.

The unfortunate victim of passive violence is a physical, moral and mental coward. His cowardice furnishes the driving motive for his cruel instincts. He seeks escape from the condemnation his own mind tortures him with through the vicarious method of imagination. Deploring his own weakness, he envies the courage in others. He lacks the intestinal stamina to kill an insect, but in his imagination he visualizes himself ruthlessly crushing every one who opposes the things he would like to do. He is a killer who never kills; he is a tyrant whose tyranny touches no one but himself. He is a pathetic creature in a world that offers him no honor, no self-respect, no social adjustment, no privilege of advancement.

The prisons are full of such victims. They are usually confined for moral crimes, because they lack necessary courage to commit crimes that involve physical danger. And since the nature of their crimes is such as it is, they are detested by their fellows; because, strange as it may seem, one criminal will appear to sicken at a certain type of crime committed by another.

These victims, however, are quickly responsive to love and understanding. Because of this I was able to help a few of them toward a more mature emotional life.

For instance, the case of Emmett Edwards comes speedily to mind. Emmett knew but one penalty to mete out to those with whom he disagreed. They should be shot, or hung, or broken on some medieval instrument of torture. He was the shyest person I’ve ever seen, and the most colossal coward.

If the fellow with whom he happened to be celling made life miserable for him, he endured the condition rather than face the deputy warden with a request for a change of cells. He simply could not screw up enough courage to face an official. And when he could not avoid such a calamity, the ordeal would leave him limp for a week to follow. He shrank from the boisterous crudeness of his comrades. He was afraid of crowds. He always agreed verbally for fear of being drawn into an argument. He shrank from entering the general shower bath; or of being exposed to a medical examination; or to the examination conducted in the prison bureau of criminal identification. He feared the possibility of being reported for violating prison rules, or of being called upon to perform some task exposing him to the scrutiny and possible criticism of others. He feared both life and death. And he sought escape from all his fears by nursing a secret violence against anything and everything. Although this false escape channel was sufficient in itself to destroy him in time, when he added physical self-abuse to it he was in possession of an annihilating combination that would be satisfied with nothing short of complete wreckage.

At the time I singled him out for laboratory experimentation, his face was drawn and sallow, his eyes were hollow with black circles around them. The skin on his neck had begun to crease, it was thick and oily. His head was becoming pinched at the temples, the brow was tightening, his lips were drawing back from his teeth, giving his features the appearance of an eternal grin, or silly grimace. His hands had a sickly yellowish color, and the nails had the bloodless blue of heavy or sluggish circulation. He was emaciated and his mind was already touched by feebleness.

Summing him up briefly, I classified him, first, as a victim of passive violence, and second, as a victim of both passive and active violence, the latter being aimed at himself. At first I scarcely knew which one of these types of violence to attack first.

Dad Trueblood suggested that the elimination of the one would have a strong tendency to eliminate the other along with it. Obviously, however, the violence he was expressing actively against himself was the most urgent consideration, since it was doing the greatest amount of physical and mental harm at the moment.

Emmett had reached the place on his march to destruction where the line between sanity and insanity is very thin. One of the peculiar features of these borderline cases is that they become supersensitive at this point to an almost unbelievable degree. They can tell in an instant whether they are being watched covertly, and thoughts, especially if they are adverse, directed toward them are picked up with the ease and accuracy of a radio receiving set.

For about a week I treated Emmett silently with the constructive thoughts of love. At first he showed every indication of being greatly disturbed by them. He would fidget and strive to locate their source by trying to catch their sender in the act of looking at him. His reaction to the influence was different. That much he could feel. He had become more or less inured to the critical thoughts his fellows had been holding for him; but these thoughts of love—there was something foreign about them that set him to reacting involuntarily in a most uncomfortable way.

By and by, however, the influence of love acting upon creative principle, began to have the desired effect, that of soothing and calming its object. He came to recognize this influence as being pleasant. He could sense that others had the power to disturb it when they came near him to speak, and he resented this, and would avoid it whenever possible. But finally when I approached him to carry out my campaign of suggestion, he found that I did not disturb him; that instead of feeling a sense of repulsion he experienced a feeling of attraction. And this was the ground work I had been wanting to lay.

In this boy’s case and my connection with it, I learned what friendship is and what a friend really means to one who all his life had starved for the things only a friend has power to give. A friend, I discovered, is one with whom you can share yourself completely: your secrets, your sins, your weaknesses, your hopes and disappointments—all your faults, your failures and your triumphs. A friend is one with whom you can be the real you. A friend is one in whom you can place the last full measure of trust and know it will never be misplaced.

To Emmett I became that sort of friend. There wasn’t a secret that he didn’t divulge to me. He took me back into his childhood, and there he described for me one incident that gave me the cause for his life of cowardly misery.

It had happened on his first day at school and his first encounter with that species of cruelty that only school children can inflict upon their fellows. Emmett had been challenged to do battle, and although he gamely accepted the challenge and for awhile annoyed his larger opponent, the conflict grew too warm for him and he “hollered null” from his underneath position on the battleground.

The ridicule that followed branded him forever as a coward. He was never allowed to hear the end of it. He heard it from his own brothers and sisters and even his father, and he finally came to accept it as an inevitable part of him.

Since the cause of cowardice in his case had been the result of physical defeat, I promptly concluded that the reconditioning process should begin by establishing a sense of physical courage, while at the same time stimulating a desire in his mind for and pride in the possibilities of his body.

To this end I made arrangements for a magazine that dealt with physical culture. Then I began mild scuffling matches with him. These developed into boxing matches. And finally I induced him to don the gloves with me before an enthusiastic circle of fans.

By permitting him to give me a pretty rough pummeling on this occasion, his self-confidence rose to egotistical heights, and every day thereafter I found myself being invited to do a few rounds, which I of course accepted, but not always to his advantage. He proved to me, however, that he could take it on the chin and bore right in for more.

In three months’ time his interest in things athletic had become a passion. He came to admire his physique. And then one day the best boxer in the shop challenged him, he accepted, and gave the fellow one of the worst maulings he had ever had in his life.

With this accomplishment he had that respect physical inferiority always pays to physical superiority. And, having been a coward, his courage now was genuine, not of the false bully type that finds sadistic pleasure in preying on weakness, but the kind that defends weakness. He was later to organize the baseball team of our shop, and still later to become the captain of the first team, and later still Emmett Edwards became the director of all prison athletics, and was one of the first contestants to enter a real prison prize ring, a Fourth of July feature created by his efforts, while three thousand spectators looked on and rooted for their respective favorite on whom they had laid their bets of tobacco and other items of prison luxury.

From a craven coward and physical wreck, Emmett had climbed to the peak of courage in one year’s time. A mighty gap to span, but not a difficult one when love and creative law worked hand in hand behind the gap-jumper to bring the feat about.

It is sometimes claimed that creative progress is faster working on the down-grade than it is on the up-grade. But the little experience I have had disproves this theory.

The example just recounted, for instance, shows beyond doubt that when the creative principle is reversed from destruction to construction, the destructive achievement that required years to attain was equaled if not surpassed in the period of only one year, when its final measure had been attained in the opposite direction.

And again in my own case, in a period of only a few months I was able to sublimate habits that had taken twenty years to build into my life. Indeed, as I have also pointed out, in cases of disease with a hysterical background of long standing, the creative cure was brought about almost instantly once the cause for destructive creation was isolated and the creative law set to work in the constructive direction of health.

But after all, it is the arguing about definitions and theories that creates the confusion so prevalent today, and that results in so much limitation on the part of those who need the application of creative principle far more than they need the learned expositions of what that principle is, how it works, and what it is calculated to do. Actually and really, the only thing one needs to know about any law is that it exists, that it can be used for either good or bad, according to the love or desire motive of the individual, and that it always works, in the one direction or the other.

To waste valuable time quibbling about definitions and theories while all the time need pleads for application, is, in my humble opinion, the summed-up total of all that is unintelligent, unpractical, and certainly unproductive.

If a person suffering from illness went to a doctor and the doctor, instead of applying medical treatment, defined the science of medicine, told how it worked, and what it was calculated to achieve, such a patient would be no better off after leaving the doctor than he was before seeing him.

Application is the final test of any law, and to make that application it is not necessary to subject the law, an infallible principle, to the analysis of a fallible human mind.


1935 Edition Printed by DeVorss & Co., Publishers
No copyright shown. No copyright listed in Stanford Copyright Renewals



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