Another prisoner who had been a small tradesman, married and the father of eight children, also broke into a freight car. It was his first offence. He got five years. He showed me a letter from his wife saying there was no food in the house and no shoes for the children. The landlord had threatened them with eviction. That man was thirsting for revenge. Society had robbed his family of the breadwinner. The mother had too many children to leave them and work herself. If society deprives a family of their provider should it not provide for the family? It would have been more humane to have sent the whole family to prison.
Another young man, aged 25, showed me a letter from his wife. He was married a little while before he was convicted. His wife was pregnant and was living with the prisoner's invalid mother. She had written to him saying that unless she got relief from somewhere both herself and his mother had made up their minds to commit suicide. They were destitute. They had been refused further credit. They could endure the misery no longer.
Many men attempt suicide in prison. One of the most damaging influences in prison life is the long sentence. It produces a reaction in the heart and mind of the man who receives it that defeats its intended purpose.
Every prison of which I have any knowledge is a breeding place for evil, an incubator for crime. This is especially true about the influence of the prison upon the youth and young man.
It may or may not, according to the point of view, be an enviable distinction to be nominated for the high office of President of the United States while in the garb of a felon and serving a term as such in one of its penitentiaries.
I am reminded of an editorial paragraph appearing in one of the eastern dailies at the time of my imprisonment at Moundsville which read something like this: "Debs started for the White House, but he only got as far as the federal prison." I was not the least perturbed by this comment for I knew in advance that my course led, not to the presidential mansion, but through the prison____________________