Writings and Speeches of Eugene V. Debs

By Eugene V. Debs | Go to book overview
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From "WALLS AND BARS":


THE RELATION OF SOCIETY TO THE CONVICT1

A prison is a cross-section of society in which every human strain is clearly revealed. An average prison, and its inmates, in point of character, intelligence and habits, will compare favorably with any similar number of persons outside of prison walls.

I believe that my enemies, as well as my friends, will concede to me the right to arrive at some conclusions with respect to prisons and prisoners by virtue of my personal experience, for I have been an inmate of three county jails, one state prison and one federal penitentiary. A total of almost four years of my life has been spent behind the bars as a common prisoner; but an experience of such a nature cannot be measured in point of years. It is measured by the capacity to see, to feel and to comprehend the social significance and the human import of the prison in its relation to society.

In the very beginning I desire to stress the point that I have no personal grievance to air as a result of my imprisonment. I was never personally mistreated, and no man was ever brutal to me. On the other hand, during my prison years I was treated uniformly with a peculiar personal kindliness by my fellow-prisoners, and not infrequently by officials. I do not mean to imply that any special favors were ever accorded me. I never requested nor would I accept anything that could not be obtained on the same basis by the humblest prisoner. I realized that I was a convict, and as such I chose to share the lot of those around me on the same rigorous terms that were imposed upon all.

It is true that I have taken an active part in public affairs for the past forty years. In a consecutive period of that length a man is bound to acquire a reputation of one kind or another. My adversaries and I are alike perfectly satisfied with the sort of reputation they have given me. A man should take to himself no discomfort from an opinion expressed or implied by his adversary, but it is difficult, and often-times humiliating to attempt to justify the kindness of one's friends. When my enemies do not indulge in

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1
This, the only full-length book written by Debs, was published by the Socialist Party, Chicago, Ill., 1927. The following excerpt is from Chap. I.

-456-

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