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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 10/89 -
He shut with violence the street door, and re-entered the court. The rain had ceased, but the wind continued to blow with violence, chasing the heavy laden clouds, which veiled, without concealing, the light of the moon.
Slightly calmed by the brisk and cold air of the night, Ferrand, hoping to combat his internal agitation by the rapidity of his walk, plunged into the obscure walks of his garden, marching with rapid strides, and from time to time striking his forehead with his clinched fists.
Walking thus at hazard, he reached the end of a walk near a greenhouse in ruins. Suddenly he stumbled violently over a mound of earth newly raised. He stooped, and looked mechanically on some linen stained with blood.
He was near the grave where Louise Morel buried her dead child. Her child--also the child of Jacques Ferrand! Notwithstanding his obduracy, notwithstanding the frightful fears which agitated him, Jacques Ferrand shuddered with alarm.
There was something supernatural in this stumbling-block. Pursued by the avenging punishment of his _vice_, chance carried him to the grave of his child--unhappy fruit of his violence. Under any other circumstances, Jacques Ferrand would have trampled on this sepulcher with atrocious indifference; but having exhausted his savage energy in the scene we have related, he was seized with a weakness and sudden alarm. His face was covered with an icy sweat, his trembling knees shook under him, and he fell lifeless across this open grave.
The interior of a prison is a frightful pandemonium--a sad _thermometer_ of the state of society, and an instructive study.
In a word, the varied physiognomies of all classes of prisoners, the relations of family or affection which connects them still to the world, from which the prison walls separate them, have appeared to us worthy of regard.
The reader will, then, excuse us for having grouped around several of the prisoners personages to be known in this tale, and other secondary figures, destined to place in active relief certain critical events necessary to complete this initiation into prison life. Let us enter La Force.
There is nothing gloomy, nothing sinister in the aspect of this house of detention.
In the middle of one of the first courts are to be seen some mounds of earth, planted with shrubbery, at the foot of which are already shooting forth some precocious cowslips and snowdrops; a trellised doorway leads to one of the seven or eight exercise-grounds destined for the prisoners.
The vast buildings surrounding this court resemble much a barrack or manufactory, kept with extreme neatness. They are built of limestone, with lofty windows, in order to allow a free circulation of air. The steps and pavement of the yard are of scrupulous cleanliness. On the ground-floor, vast halls, heated during winter, and well aired during summer, serve during the day as a place for conversation, workshops, or refectories. The upper stories are used as immense sleeping apartments, ten or twelve feet in height, with shining floors; they are furnished with two rows of iron bedsteads, excellent beds, composed of a soft thick mattress, a bolster, sheets of white linen, and a warm woolen covering.
At the sight of these accommodations, uniting all the requisites of comfort and salubrity, a stranger is much surprised, accustomed as he is to suppose all prisons as sorrowful, dirty, unhealthy, and gloomy. He is mistaken.
Sad, dirty, and gloomy are the holes where so many poor and honest workmen languish exhausted, forced to abandon their beds to their infirm wives, and to leave with powerless despair their half-starving, naked children, struggling with the cold, in the infectious straw.
There is some contrast between the physiognomies of the inhabitants of these two dwellings. Incessantly occupied with the wants of his family, to whom the day is hardly long enough, seeing a mad perversity reducing his salary, the artisan will be cast down and worn out; the hour of repose will not be sound to him; a kind of sleep like lassitude alone interrupts his daily toil. Then, on awaking from this mournful drowsiness, he will find himself overwhelmed with the same racking thoughts of the present, with the same inquietudes for the morrow.
But if, hardened by vice, indifferent to the past, happy with the present, certain of the future (he can assure himself of it by an offense or crime), regretting his liberty without doubt, but finding large compensation in the personal well-being he enjoys, certain to carry away with him on his release a good sum of money, gained by moderate and easy labor, esteemed, or, may be, feared by his companions, either for his impudence or perversity, the convict, on the contrary, will be almost always careless and gay. Once more; what does he want?
Does he not find in prison good shelter, good bed, good food, good pay, easy labor, and above all and before all, _a society to his taste_, a society, let us repeat, which measures his merit by the magnitude of his offenses?
A hardened criminal, then, knows neither poverty, hunger, nor cold. What matters to him the horror he inspires in honest men? He does not see them--he knows none.
His crimes are his glory, influence, and strength with the bandits among whom he will henceforth pass his life. How can he fear shame?
Instead of grave and charitable remonstrances, which might force him to blush and to repent, he hears savage plaudits, which encourage him to robbery and murder, Scarcely imprisoned, he meditates new misdeeds. What is more logical?
If he is discovered, arrested anew, he will find repose, the personal care of the prison, and his joyous and bold companions in crime and debauchery.
Is his corruption less great than that of the others? does he manifest, on the contrary, the slightest remorse that he is exposed to atrocious railings, infernal shouts, terrible threats?
In fine--a thing so rare that it has become an exception to the rule--should a condemned man come out of this frightful pandemonium with a firm resolution to reform by prodigies of labor, courage, patience, and honesty, and be able to conceal his past offenses, a meeting with one of his old prison companions would be sufficient to overturn his plan of reformation so carefully designed. In this way:
A hardened ticket-of-leave proposes a job to a repentant one; the latter, in spite of dangerous threats, refuses the criminal association; immediately an anonymous communication strips the veil from the past life of this unfortunate, who wishes, at any sacrifice, to conceal and expiate a first fault by honorable conduct.
Then, exposed to the contempt, or, at least, the suspicion of those whose interest he had obtained by force of industry and probity, reduced to distress, soured by injustice, carried away by want, yielding, in fine, to these fatal derelictions, this man, almost restored, falls back again, and forever, to the bottom of the abyss from whence he had with so much difficulty escaped.
In the following scenes we shall endeavor, then, to show the monstrous and inevitable consequences of promiscuous confinement.
After ages of barbarous proofs and pernicious doubts, it begins to be understood how unreasonable it is to plunge into an atmosphere abominably vitiated, people whom a pure and salubrious air might have saved.
How much time shall be required to find out that, to associate gangrened beings is to redouble the intensity of their corruption, which thus becomes incurable?
How long to find out that there is but one remedy to this growing leprosy, which threatens the body social, Solitary confinement?
We should esteem ourselves happy if our feeble voice could be, if not counted, at least heard, among all those which, more imposing, more eloquent than ours, demand, with so just and so impatient an importunity, the complete, absolute adoption of the _solitary system_.
Some day, also, perhaps, society will know that evil is an accidental, not organic malady; that criminals are almost always good in substance, but false and wicked through ignorance, selfishness, or negligence of those governing; and that the health of the soul, like that of the body, is invincibly subordinate to the laws of a "hygiene" at once salubrious and preservative.
God gives to all, along with healthy organs, energetic appetites, and the desire of comfort; it is for society to modify and satisfy these wants.
The man who only has as his share strength, good-will, and health, has the _right_, sovereign _right_ to a labor justly remunerated, which will assure him, not the superfluities, but the necessaries of life, the means to be healthy and robust, active and industrious, therefore honest and virtuous, because his condition will be happy.
The dismal regions of misery and ignorance are peopled with beings of sorrowful hearts. Cleanse these sewers, spread there the inclination to labor, equitable salaries, just rewards, and soon these sickly faces, these broken hearts, will be brought back to virtue, which is the life and health of the soul.
We will conduct the reader to the visitors' room of the prison. It is an obscure apartment, separated down its whole length into two equal parts by a narrow, railed passage. One part communicates with the interior, destined for the prisoners.
The other communicates with the office, destined for strangers admitted to visit the prisoners.
These interviews and conversations take place through the double grating of iron, in presence of a warder, who remains inside, at the extremity of the passage. The appearance of the prisoners assembled in the visiting room on this day offered numerous contrasts: some were covered with wretched vestments; some seemed to belong to the working class; others, again, to the well-to-do class.
The same contrast of condition was observable among the persons who came to see the prisoners; they were almost all of them women. Generally the prisoners appear less sad than the visitors; for, strange as it may appear, it is proved by experience, there are few sorrows and little shame which resist three or four days of imprisonment passed in company.
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