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THE CHURCH ARMY
AND THE RECLAMATION OF CRIMINALS
DURING every twelve months some 200,000 persons are discharged from the various convict establishments and prisons of England and Wales. Without going into exact figures, or attempting to classify the offences committed by this great army, equal in number to the population of a considerable town, according to their several degrees of moral obliquity, I venture to think it incontestable that the proportion of criminals to population is far too high. Any well-directed effort to decrease the proportion claims the earnest attention of all who are interested in social reform.
The society with which I am connected has been attempting for years to carry out the work of reclamation of ex-prisoners, both inside the prisons and without, on a fairly large scale, and on a system not recognised, or at all events not fully practised, by any other organisation ; with what measure of success it is for others to pronounce rather than myself. In this article I propose to give a short statement of the principles on which the Church Army works in reclaiming prisoners, of the methods by which those principles are put in force, and of the results.
The only possible foundation for building up a remedial system is the recognition of the fact that the criminal is a man of like passions with ourselves, moved by much the same motives (perverted though they may be), and with much the same capacity for good and evil. It is impossible to draw a sharp line, and to call those on the one side sheep and those on the other goats. Any scheme which regards the criminal as belonging to a class apart, which refuses to treat him as a brother, albeit a weak and erring one, is foredoomed to failure, for the reason that it refuses to acknowledge facts. To adopt towards the criminal an attitude which says in effect 'Stand aside, for I am holier than thou,' is fatal to any prospect of success. I am the more inclined to insist on this point because I believe that disregard of it is the cause of many failures. Quite without intention to offend, and with the most earnest wish to do good, many excellent people make the error of falling into this Pharisaical spirit towards prisoners, and of continually reminding them of their faults, in season and out of season. Any man would resent such treatment as this; and I do not know any reason why an ex-convict should be supposed to be more thick-skinned than the rest of us.
The habitual criminal often comes out of prison with an intention, more or less fully formed, of living honestly in future, if only for the reason that he prefers the outside of a gaol to its interior. He would just as soon earn his living honestly as otherwise if he could see his way to it; but at the same time he has no prejudice in favour of honesty, and if in order to live he finds that he must steal, steal he will.
Many things go against the ex-prisoner in his attempt to lead an honest life. On leaving prison he naturally goes to whatever he may regard in the light of a home, and there he is certain to meet with old associates. In their company he quickly squanders whatever gratuity he received on leaving prison, and he is faced by the problem of maintaining life. He falls into old ways, with the old ending of the police and another term of imprisonment. If, in execution of his good intentions, he avoids old haunts and old associates, and seeks for work, he quickly discovers that every man's hand is against him. The only reference that he can give as to character is. to the governor of his last prison. Who will give employment to such a man? As soon as he mentions his last address he is shown the nearest way to the street with more celerity than politeness. If he should get safely through this ordeal and obtain work, he will speedily find that other men refuse to work alongside of a gaol-bird, and the employer has perforce to send him away. What wonder if he become an Esau ? He must live; and if society will not afford him an honest livelihood he must seek a dishonest one. It is necessity, not any special sinfulness on his part, that says to him, “Make a living, honestly if you can, but make it somehow.' This may be an imperfect view to take of the everlasting obligations of morality; but when we admit that the habitual criminal is a being strangely compounded of imperfections, we say no more than that he is like other men. It would show finer morality to prefer starvation to theft; yet I think that the majority of men have good reason to pray that they may not be led into that temptation.
No one in particular is to blame for this state of things. Selfpreservation requires that we should not admit into our houses, or entrust with our goods, a man with the prison taint still warm upon him; and if he makes great profession of repentance, sad experience warns us to guard our belongings with still more jealous care. In many instances it would be of no benefit to the man himself to put him in any position of trust. He is fresh from prison discipline, from having every hour and minute of the day mapped out for him, from habitually looking to others to tell him what to do and what to
leave undone, down to small details. If he ever had backbone or moral principle to enable him to resist temptation, his sojourn within four walls has for the time sapped his powers, and they must be built up again. To receive such a man as if he had an unimpeachable character would be in many cases simply to offer him the oppor. tunity of a quick return to the place whence he came. He wants a moral convalescent hospital, where he may recover his strength of will.
When I say that the criminal is to be treated as a brother, I do not mean that towards him is to be shown that sentimental tenderness which would transfer the burthen of his faults to the shoulders of his ancestors, or attribute the blame of them to his bringing-up or his surroundings. Heredity, education, environment, each of these has had its share in making the man what he is; but for all that he is himself responsible for his own faults and must bear their burthen himself. With all the help that can be given it will be a heavy one to carry. All men are more or less handicapped in this way in the race of life, and the ex-prisoner carries a heavier weight than most of his fellows. If he be worth anything at all he will struggle on in spite of the weight; but there it is, and he will carry it to the grave. Not before that can he lay it down, and meanwhile let us help him to bear it bravely and hopefully. Let him see that it is not every man's hand that is against him, and that there are honest men who are not ashamed to take him by the hand and call him friend, and who are ready to stand at his side and aid him as he tries to climb painfully out of the slough into which he has fallen.
A lesson which the ex-criminal must learn is that of the advantages of a steady ordered course of life, and the value not only of the rewards of work, but of steady and regular work itself. In many cases it will be an entirely new idea to the man that work is anything but a hateful necessity, and in this he does not differ from millions of people who ought to be better informed. Most probably the only notion of work which has presented itself to him is as a disagreeable process which must be gone through in order to acquire the means of self-indulgence; and the idea of work as the chief, I will not say object, but occupation, of a man's life will be quite new to him, and he will want educating up to it before he is able to understand its merits. To assist him in reaching this point he must receive regular wages at the fair market worth of his services, and must be made to understand that nothing is given to him as a gift, but as the due and lawful reward of his toil. To this end also he must pay for whatever is supplied to him in the way of bed and board. Nothing will so tend to raise him in his own estimation, and to give him self-respect and self-confidence, as the knowledge that he is supporting himself by the work of his own hands, that he is paying his way and even saving money. To subsist on charity will never give him moral power, but if he be treated as I have suggested he will insensibly lose the tone and manner of the gaol-bird, and will acquire the aspect of the free and honest man who can look the whole world in the face without shame. He will lose the habit of expecting things to come to him without toil; he will become self-reliant and able to struggle against the force of circumstance and of temptation without and within ; so that when his time of probation is over he will be able to play the man in the heat of the battle of life.
He must be well fed, so that his bodily powers may be maintained at their full strength, and (if it exists) the craving for strong drink kept under; and the process of instilling self-respect imperatively requires that he shall be decently housed and that his surroundings shall be such as to show him the pleasures of decency and cleanliness.
There must be some one, not indeed always at his elbow, but always within reach, who will take the trouble to learn his character, who will encourage him when he does well, and will check any tendency to ill-doing, and to whom he knows that he can turn as to a friend with the certainty of sympathy and help.
Although I have the habitual criminal chiefly in mind, yet the principles I have endeavoured to lay down apply also to the exprisoner who is not yet confirmed in his wrong-doing; and in his case they can be put into practice with great hope of saving him from sinking into the ranks of the criminal class. The first offender and the casual prisoner are naturally more hopeful subjects than the habitual criminal, the man whose whole life has been spent in going into and coming out of gaol.
These principles seem to me to contain not truth alone, but truism; and I should hardly have ventured to set them forth at large were it not that experience teaches me that they are not practically put into force by any organisation other than the Church Army."
To what the Church Army does inside prisons I shall refer in the briefest possible manner, this branch of our operations coming rather under the head of evangelistic effort than of the social work with which I am here concerned. Agents of the Church Army visit all the convict establishments and the great majority of the local prisons at regular intervals to hold missions, extending as a rule over eight days. In addition to preaching in the chapels, our missioners visit each prisoner who desires it (and a great many do desire it) in his cell. It so chances that I have before me, as I write, a letter from a discharged convict for whom we found employment after a time of probation, and this letter is an illustration of this branch of the subject too apt to be passed by After referring to his being steadily
To prevent possible misapprehension, I may say that our operations, so far as prisons are concerned, are practically limited to England and Wales. Questions of religion would probably make our ministrations unwelcome in Scotland or Ireland.
at work, and intending to continue in an honest course of life, the
D. (one of the Church Army missioners) visited me in Dartmoor Prison, and he gave me good advice, and he told me to come to you when I was discharged. He used to make me cry the way be used to speak to me about my children when I was in my lonely cell. I have only got you to thank for the way I am placed now.
The writer of this letter belonged to the class of habitual criminals, having suffered three terms of penal servitude, as well as minor sentences. The letter may speak for itself. It is no doubt possible to criticise its tone and method of expression, but it will serve to show that preaching, even to convicts, is not quite barren of result. It is but one instance out of many which I could quote to the like effect; so that the visits of our missioners, although they are primarily directed towards religious matters, are a not unimportant factor in our work of social reclamation.
I may say in passing that prison governors and chaplains—indeed, all classes of prison authorities from the Prison Commissioners downwards—have welcomed our assistance, and given us valuable co-operation in carrying out whatever work we wish to undertake, both within the prisons and among prisoners after their discharge ; indeed, it is self-evident that without their support no such systematic work as we have accomplished would have been possible.
To return to our strictly social work, my colleague, Mr. Colin F. Campbell, the Honorary Social Secretary of the Church Army, visits each of the convict establishments at regular intervals, and has a separate interview with every man who is to be discharged during the few months following. He puts before him the opportunity of being discharged direct to one of the society's homes, and explains the advantages which he may obtain by accepting the offer. To many a man during the time immediately preceding his discharge, it is a godsend to know of some place whither he can go when he first leaves prison. The prospect of the shock of first facing the world is a terrible. one to a man still possessing any feeling of shame or delicacy; and the knowledge that he can go straight to people who know all about him, and who are, nevertheless, ready to receive him, is to such a man like lifting a heavy burthen from his shoulders. Arrangements are so made that a man who agrees to enter a labour home passes direct from the custody of the prison officers to the care of the Church Army, without any interval during which his good resolutions might perhaps be scattered to the winds.
Our labour homes are brought to the notice of men in the London and other local prisons in a variety of ways: some learn of them from the chaplain or prison officers, others from a Church Army evangelist during a mission, others again are attracted by hearing