« AnteriorContinuar »
with the human mind, to understand how the whole aspect of external objects will be controlled by the emotions which reign in the heart. W. concluded his narration in these words.
And ever since that, Master, this place, where I have been confined, has been to me more like a palace than a prison: every thing goes agreeably. I find I have a deceitful heart; but Jesus tells me, if I lack knowledge, He will always give it, if I cast my care on Jesus, and do not forget to pray. It is my prayer, morning and evening, that I may hold out. If I die here, let me die, Lord, in Thine arms! I have great reason to bless this Institution, and every stone in it."
Now, although it is not very common to obtain, in writing, accounts of changes of character among convicts so full and minute as this, yet the cases themselves are very common; so common, that where a prison is regulated in such a manner that the prisoners are not exposed to evil influence from each other, and the Bible has the opportunity to try its power, the whole aspect of the prison is often changed. After I had written the above, I was conversing upon the subject of this chapter with a gentleman much interested in the improvement of prisons; and he asked me if I had ever visited the prison at Charlestown, Massachusetts. I told him I had not.
If you will go over with me, on the Sabbath morning," said he, "and visit the Sabbath School formed there, you will see the moral power of the Bible far more distinctly than you can by any such single descriptions as these."
I, of course, gladly availed myself of the opportunity to accompany him. We walked accordingly on Sabbath morning, at the appointed hour, over one of those long bridges which connect the Peninsula of Boston with the
main land. The prison is situated in Charlestown, on a point of land near the Charles River. The yard extends to the water's edge, to afford facilities for lading and unlading the boats which transport stone: hammering granite, for building, being the principal business at which the convicts are employed.
When we reached the outer gate of the prison-yard, we pushed it open; and, on closing itself after we had entered, it struck a bell, which gave notice to the keeper of the inner gate that some one was coming. This inner gate, made of strong iron bars, was opened for us; and we passed up the steps of a large stone building, through which lay our passage to the yard beyond. This building consists of one large central edifice, occupied by the family of the Warden and by some of the keepers, and two extensive wings. In these wings the prisoners were formerly confined, in rooms of moderate size; many convicts, however, being lodged in one room. This was the old system of prison discipline, of which I have already spoken; and the prisoners almost invariably grew worse, instead of better, under it. A young man, perhaps, just beginning a career of vice, or overcome for the first time by some strong temptation, was placed, during the long hours of the night, in one of these crowded rooms. course, he grew worse by such an exposure. Those who had grown old in sin instructed him in all their wicked He became familiarised to infamy; and even while under sentence for one crime, often formed plans for others, to be executed as soon as he should escape into society again. The consequence was, that these night rooms, in the wings of this great building, were, as they 1 were often called, schools of vice and crime.
The first room we entered in this edifice seemed to be a sort of an office; and a row of swords and guns, which were arranged there, ready to be used at a moment's
notice, proclaimed the intention of the keepers to resort to the most decided measures, if the prisoners should make any attempt to escape. We passed through this room, and one or two others; every narrow passage being guarded by a formidable door of iron, which a turnkey opened and shut for us as we passed.
We entered a spacious and beautiful yard, in the rear of this building. I say it was beautiful, because it struck the eye most pleasantly, by its expression of neatness and industry. It was spacious; and extensive shops were arranged around it, in which the convicts were accustomed to work and upon the smooth and level floor, I had almost said, of the area inclosed, were many large and beautiful blocks of hammered granite, the fruits of the prisoners' industry.
We walked across the yard; and came to a long stone building one story high, behind which rose another spacious edifice of stone. In this last were the prisoners' cells. I am not certain that I shall be able to convey to my young readers a very accurate idea' of the arrangement and of the interior of these buildings; but I am very desirous of doing so, as it will give them clearer ideas of what I intend to present, in regard to the moral aspects of such an Institution as this. Will you not, then, make an effort to picture distinctly to your minds what I am describing?
The long low building which I have mentioned had a strong iron door in the centre; and from that door a passage-way extended across, to the great new prison beyond. On one side of this passage-way was a large room appropriated to preparing food for the prisoners; and on the other side was the chapel. When we came up to the iron door in the front of the building, we found several gentlemen, who had come over from Boston to act as teachers in the Sabbath School, waiting there for
admission. They were waiting until the prisoners themselves should have passed into the chapel; for, when we arrived, they were coming, in a long procession, from their cells in the rear, into this building; each one bringing the tin vessel from which he had eaten his breakfast, and laying it upon a sort of counter as he passed on into the chapel. We could see this, by looking through an opening in the iron door.
When all the prisoners had gone into the chapel, the outer door was opened by a keeper, and we all passed in: the heavy door was swung-to behind us, and its strong bolt secured. We turned, from the entry, into that end of the building which was used as a chapel. There was an aisle passing up the centre, on each side of which were seats half filled with the convicts. The chaplain stood in a pulpit at the further end; and on each side of him were the teachers, gentlemen from Boston, who had come to assist these unhappy men to read and to understand the word of God.
It was a most delightful May morning; and the whole aspect of the room, as I looked over it from my stand near the chaplain, was that of cheerfulness and happiness, not of gloom. The sun beamed in brightly at the windows; and the walls of the room, of the purest white, the neat benches, and the nicely sanded floor, gave a most pleasant aspect to the whole.
The congregation presented a singular and striking appearance. Had it not been for their dress, I might have forgotten that I was in a prison. But they were all dressed in coarse clothes of two colours; one side of the body being red, and the other of some different hue. This is the uniform of crime. The object of it is, I suppose, not to mortify them with a perpetual badge of disgrace, but to expose any one, who should by any means escape, to immediate detection by the inhabitants of the country around.
"Is it possible," thought I," as I looked over this most interesting assembly, that all these men have come voluntarily this morning to read and study the word of God? Yes; that was the fact. This exercise was entirely voluntary; and out of two or three hundred who had been condemned for crime, about one half were accustomed to come voluntarily on the Sabbath morning to study the Book which proclaims from Heaven free forgiveness of every sin, to the penitent offender.
The chaplain opened the school with prayer. He then explained to the teachers, that the plan to be pursued was simply to hear the prisoners read the Bible, and explain its contents to them. He desired them to confine their conversation strictly to the business in hand; and requested the prisoners not to ask, and the teachers not to answer, any questions relating to other subjects. He then distributed the teachers around the room, giving each one a small class. Three convicts fell to my charge.
I opened, almost at random, in the New Testament, and let them read in rotation; and more apparently humble and docile students of the Bible I never saw. They read slowly and with hesitation, and, I thought at first, with a little embarrassment: this, however, soon passed away; and it was most interesting to watch the eager expression upon their countenances, as the various truths, which were glad tidings to them, came to view. We came almost accidentally to the parables of the one sheep and the one piece of money which was lost (Luke xv.); and it seemed as if the whole chapter was written expressly for prisoners.
One of the convicts, after expressing a strong interest in these parables, said that the Bible appeared like a very different book to him now, from what it did in former times.
"How did it formerly appear to you?" I asked.