My Own Story
IN PREVIOUS chapters I have presented the stories of Fritz, George, Tim, Boggs, Pedro and Douglass as types of ex-prisoners who would best explain how I came to realize that many prisoners were in some ways different from ourselves.
Jack Black does not belong to that class. He is in a class by himself. That is why he is so interesting. I first met him when he was a prisoner at the Ingleside Jail. Before the fire Jack had been convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to twenty-five years in the penitentiary. He had appealed his case to the appellate court. The fire came in 1906, and all record of his case was burned. After the fire there were so many things to be done more important than restoring the records of prisoners' cases that were on appeal that it was neglected. As a result, Black lay buried and forgotten in Ingleside Jail. When I met him he had been there seven years. He had no hope at all. He hadn't sufficient faith in the ultimate result of his appeal to take much interest in having the record restored. He knew if the appellate court denied him a new trial there was nothing left for him but the rock pile at Folsom for twenty-five years.
In my first talk with him he told me frankly that his case was hopeless, and that he did not believe it possible for me or any one else to help him. He had been sentenced by Judge Dunne. I told Black that I knew Dunne very well, and that it was barely possible I might persuade him to let him go on probation. I was willing to try. Black did not discourage me, but I could see by his manner that he had no faith whatever.
I went direct from the jail to Judge Dunne's chambers. In fact, I hadn't much more faith than Black had, but I thought I ought try.
When I suggested to Dunne in a tone of voice as casual as I could make it, that I thought he ought to let Black go on probation, he stared at me as if he thought I had gone suddenly insane. I have forgotten the exact language used by the judge in making his reply, but I haven't forgotten that it was very forceful, emphatic, and in spots, picturesque.
I argued the matter for an hour, I told him I was sure that Black would make good if given a chance. Mrs. Older and I would take him to the country and look after him until he regained his health and strength. Then we would get him a job and I was sure he would go straight. He didn't give me much encouragement, merely saying that he would look into the matter, which I thought was a polite way of closing the discussion.
I telephoned the dismal news to Black at the jail, and he at once began preparations for his escape. With the help of outside friends he succeeded and made his way to British Columbia. He eluded the police for some months, but was finally caught and brought back to San Francisco heavily ironed. He was placed in the city prison en route to Folsom, where he was to serve his sentence of twenty-five years.
Before he left, Maxwell McNutt, then a deputy district attorney in Judge Dunne's court, called on me and said that Judge Dunne had decided that Jack Black had done about time enough, and if he would agree to withdraw his appeal, and plead guilty in his court, he would let him off with a year or two.
I hurried down to the jail to tell the good news to Black.
"That's great," said Black, joyously. "If I had known that, I would have come voluntarily from Canada, and paid my own fare. A year or two! Why, I can do that standing on my head."
We then had a long talk about crime and criminals, and I was so struck with Black's original observations and insight into human nature that I asked him if he wouldn't make a speech in the dock after he had received his sentence. I could use it effectively in the Bulletin, which was at that time trying to modify the severity of the penal system. Black replied that he would be glad to do so if I wished it.
"Write it this afternoon," I said, "and I'll call this evening and read it."
When I saw him that evening he had written only about three hundred words. I read it. "Isn't it rather stilted, Jack?" I asked.
"Yes; I know it is," he replied. "If you don't mind, I'd rather not write it. Just let me get up and ramble. I am sure I can do better that way."
Accompanied by a stenographer, Mr. Barry and I went to court to hear the speech. The judge sentenced Black to serve one year in San Quentin. After the judge finished, Black arose in the dock with all the ease and grace of an experienced speaker, and talked quietly, most interestingly, for about ten minutes. It was by far the best short speech I had ever heard. It was published in the Bulletin that afternoon, and Black went to San Quentin. He said he would gladly take the commitment and go over alone and give himself up. Surely no happier man ever entered a penitentiary.
His speech had interested many people. Congratulatory letters poured in on him from all over California. Among those who wrote him was a well known San Francisco physician, whose home has ever since been Black's home whenever he was in the city.
In ten months Jack was released. Two months were forgiven for good behavior. That was five years ago last October.
From the prison he came to our ranch. He had spent a great many years in prison, and had been severely punished, had endured the agony of the strait jacket, and other harsh methods employed by prison officials. The life had left him pretty nearly a physical wreck. His body was emaciated, his face thin and heavily lined. But his sense of humor lived through it all. His wit was keen and his humor delightful. He soon became a favorite at the ranch. We all liked him immensely. He was one of the few ex-prisoners I had that would joke about his past.
We were building our house on the hill while Jack was with us. He took the keenest interest in it and was busy every minute of his time in work that he could do. After the floors had been laid, Mrs. Older said to him laughingly, "Mr. Black, I want you as an expert burglar to walk over the new floors and find the squeaks."
"In order to do that properly," Jack replied, "I'll have to take a lantern and walk on them in the night in my stocking feet. You know there are squeaks in floors at two in the morning that you can't hear at any other time."
After the house was finished and we had moved in, we invited a couple of our city women friends to visit us. The night they came a mighty storm blew across the hills from the southeast. It was the worst we had ever experienced. It was made more terrifying because the new house had not been tested by storm and wind.
Jack, who had been dining with us, was about to leave for his room in the farm house, when Mrs. Older, fearing that the storm might blow the roof off or pitch the house down into the gulch, asked him to sleep in one of the spare rooms.
We all went to bed filled with fear. At about 11, just after we had fallen asleep, we heard a startling crash.
"There goes a window," I said. "I rushed out into the storm. The women were shrieking for Black. It was their window that had blown away. Black jumped through the open window into the court.
"Get a hammer and nails and a ladder, Jack," I said. "And perhaps we can nail the window back in place."
He got the hammer and nails.
"I don't need a ladder." He went up on top of a pergola fifteen feet high like a circus acrobat. From there he walked out on the narrow window ledge, balancing himself while I handed him the window. He nailed it on while the women looked on admiringly.
The wind was blowing seventy miles an hour and in another minute it might have torn through the open window and destroyed that portion of the house.
While Jack was putting the hammer back in its place in the basement, I joined Mrs. Older in the living room. We were both laughing. "Isn't it great to have a porch climber about at a time like this?"
"I was just thinking the same thing," she replied.
The women were enthusiastic over Jack's skill and complimented him when he came in.
"You people all go to bed," said Jack. "I'll keep watch until morning."
The next day Mrs. Older said to Jack, "You were a hero last night, Mr. Black."
"Was I?" Jack replied. "The night time is my time, you know."
Christmas morning, Marie, a French maid, and little Mary wanted to go to Saratoga, four miles away, to Christmas mass. I said I would motor them over. They both liked Jack very much. They did not know he had been in prison.
"You come along, too, Jack," said Marie. "You were born a Catholic."
"No," said Jack. "I won't go. A church is no place for a sinner."
"Oh, come on, Jack," the girl pleaded. "It will be a sin on your soul if you don't go."
Jack finally compromised by agreeing to go along and sit in the machine with me, outside the church, while the girls attended mass.
It was raining a little, but we put up the top of the machine and talked and smoked comfortably.
I had been very much interested in the underworld story that had been running in the Bulletin, and I turned the conversation to that subject.
"I don't like women of that kind," said Jack. "None of them are any good."
"I wouldn't say that, Jack. They are a mixture of good and bad, like the rest of us, aren't they?"
"Perhaps I am prejudiced," said Jack. "Years ago, I knew one quite well and liked her. I called on her one evening and found her sick in bed without food, money or medical attention.
"I had only a couple of dollars in my pocket, but I knew where I could get more.
"`I'll be back in an hour,' I said, and left her. I got some money in the only way I could in those days, hurried back to the girl's room, and dumped it on the table. There were $60 or $70 in the pile. She knew it was a burglary.
"`I'll cut this even with you,' I said, `and we'll get some food and a doctor.'
"`I think I ought to have more than half,' she said.
"I looked at her in amazement.
"`If you don't give it all to me,' she went on, `I'll call the police.'"
Just at this moment, Marie and little Mary came running from the church toward the machine.
"To cut a long story short," said Jack, "I left it all."
A prominent superior judge came on Sunday to visit us. He had been there before, knew Jack quite well, believed in his reformation, and was at ease in his presence. After luncheon we all sat together in the living room discussing crimes and criminals and groping about for some remedy. Jack was giving us the benefit of his wealth of experience.
Suddenly the dogs began to bark. There was an automobile coming up the hill. Jack and I stepped out on the porch to welcome the visitors. I peered closely at the driver and the occupants of the car as it approached the house. I said to Jack, "They are strangers." Jack's practiced eye made out the driver.
"Oh, it's the doctor," he said, with a glad ring in his voice.
The "doctor" stepped out of the car. "Mr. Older, this is Dr. Mack," said Jack.
I quickly recalled the doctor. I had met him before in my office. He was an old prison pal of Jack's who had made good. His wife and young children were with him. He escorted them all into the house and introduced them to Mrs. Older and the judge.
The conversation about prisons and prisoners was not resumed. The talk became general, the judge showing the deference to the doctor that his title and honored profession deserved.
Finally the judge said: "Doctor, I don't want to put Mr. Older to any unnecessary trouble. Perhaps you wouldn't mind taking me in your machine and dropping me at the station."
"I'll drive you home," said the doctor, with great cordiality. "We're only out for a pleasure spin. Where do you live, judge?"
"San Jose," said the judge.
"I'll take you there with the greatest of pleasure," was the doctor's polite answer.
Jack looked at me, his eyes dancing with the humor of the situation.
The judge took a seat next the ex-burglar, and they drove away, chatting together pleasantly.
As the car disappeared down the hill I asked Jack to tell me the story of the doctor's change in occupation.
"Justice," said Jack, "is a word that resides in the dictionary. It occasionally makes its escape, but is promptly caught and put back where it belongs. It was while it was making one of its short flights that Mack made his getaway. He was a three-time loser, and was in again for burglary, and the cops had him right, with the goods on him. Apparently there was no escape. The district attorney told Mack that he didn't have a chance to beat the case, and advised him to plead guilty. `If you do that,' said the prosecutor, `you may get off with five years on daylight burglary, as you were arrested about sundown. If you fight the case the judge will be angry and he will construe it as night burglary and you will get fifteen years.'
"The difference between fifteen and five years appealed to Mack and he pleaded guilty.
"As soon as he had made his plea his lawyer hopped up and said:
"`Your honor, it was daylight burglary, and for that five years is the limit.' This angered the judge. He reached for an almanac, looked up the date of the crime and announced that Mack had been arrested five minutes after the sun had set. Therefore, it was night burglary.
"`But,' argued the attorney, `the crime had been committed prior to that time. He had to get out of the house he had burglarized and walk several blocks to the point where he was arrested.'
"This further angered the judge. He told the lawyer to sit down, and proceeded to sentence Mack to fifteen years in the penitentiary.
"The lawyer waited until the stenographer had taken down the court's language. When he had finished the lawyer said: `You can't alter that record now, your honor. You forgot to arraign him. It's a felony to alter the record.'
"The judge realized he was caught.
"`If you'll give him five years I'll let him go over, but if you insist on the fifteen I'll fight you.'
"The judge was too angry to relent, and Mack was sent back to the county jail, where he remained a year. Meanwhile the lawyer hunted up a decision which permitted the release of Mack if the judgment had not been entered for one year. The lawyer swore out a writ of habeas corpus in another court and Mack walked out a free man.
"`Jack,' said Mack to me, `that was a close call. The lightning never strikes twice in the same place. I'm through with stealing. I am going straight.'
"He went to work, educated himself, studied medicine, graduated, and now has a practice of $5000 or $6000 a year. I don't think he would have made it except for the help of the girl he married. She stood by him and her love and devotion held him up."
Jack finally left us to go to work in the city. He is still regarded as one of our family and he spends many of his weekends at our ranch. He loves the place and regards it as his home, which it is, and will be until the end.
Jack has been reading my story and feels that my readers may get a wrong impression of ex-prisoners from the stories of Tim, Boggs and the other weak ones. There are some really bad ones who make good, and as he regarded himself as one of the most hopeless that ever came out of prison he has written me the following letter:
Fremont Older, The Call-Post, San Francisco.
Dear Friend of Mine: I have been reading your story in The Call. The last chapters, portraying the "nuts" that have ripened on your ranch, have got me so wrought up that I feel that I must express myself.
Your name is at the top of this letter, but I suspect I am writing to myself. You may never get it. It may prove to be one of those things we write after midnight and tear up after breakfast. Your collection of "nuts" would not be complete without me and I want to sign up right here and now.
Your stories take me back seven years. Do you remember our meeting at the Ingleside Jail, where you visited me at Lowrie's request? You did not ask me if I were guilty, or if I wanted to go to work or if I thought I could make good You said, "What can I do?"
I told you that nothing could be done; that I was convicted of highway robbery; that I had committed the still greater crime of retaining a highway lawyer to object and obstruct, and delay the swift and sure processes of justice. I told you I was plastered over with prior convictions; that the police hated me, not for the things I had done, but for not pleading guilty and saving them the bother of proving them.
I told you the judge was sore, that the police were sore, and the jailers were sore, and that I was sore; that the whole thing was a hopeless muddle. I told you I was a complete criminal and glad of it. I told you to look on the jail register and you would find a line under my name in red ink which meant that I had committed the one unforgivable crime in a jail—I had tried to escape.
You said, "It looks pretty tough, but I'll try." I've often wondered what the judge said when you approached him for me. He probably thought you were crazy. You did try and you learned that nothing could be done and told me so.
But your trying meant as much to me as if you had succeeded. When you were unable to help me, I realized that it was tough indeed, and I said to myself: "Here's where I make them put another red line under my name," and so, with the help of friends from life's other side, I left the jail by the window—and began again where I left off.
Soon came the inevitable "pinch" and I found myself back in San Francisco. You came again, saying, "What can I do?" This time you did do something. You got my sentence changed from twenty-five years to one year.
Dear friend, that one year, the minimum, stopped me, and whatever I've done in the way of redeeming myself dates from the day I got that one year. It was the first time I ever got anything but the worst of it in a court of law. When I first met you, my mind was closed against any kindly impulse. I wanted no help except what I could take by myself. When I came back from the year in Quentin, my mind was open. I went to you, and then to your country place for six months. It is the only six months of my life I would care to live over again. Mrs. Older, little Mary, and yourself "eased" me away from the last bitter thought. And one day when you said you had a job for me in town, I was surprised to feel that I rather liked the notion of going to work. I had for twenty years been sidestepping work, not that I was lazy, but that there was "no class" there. That's five years ago. It did not take me long to learn working. Now I like it and there isn't a day's work out of which I don't get a "kick."
Enough of this "I" and "me" stuff. I must get to the point. You have a big, true story with one hundred thousand readers. Tell them all how to help the under dog. They are willing, but they don't know how.
Policemen, prosecutors, judges and jurors are reading your story. Tell them the time to start helping the so-called criminal is when he is arrested, not when he is released. They will never get anywhere so long as the "cop" clubs them with his night stick and turns them in to a judge who finishes the job by giving them five, ten or twenty years in prison. They are all wrong and they are making it worse.
This "crime" thing is just a boil on the social body. I think it can be corrected, but they will never do it by opening it with a poisoned lancet.
Point out to them the value of probation, of paroles, of kindness and helpfulness to the fellow with a bow-legged mind. And take another slam at the case of John Byrne—something might come of it. But I doubt if it's well to make the point that he is innocent. With the effort and time and money spent by you and James Wilkins and Theodore Roche, we could have got out half a dozen guilty prisoners. Every day guilty prisoners are released on technicalities by the courts, but if you mention innocence, they bristle like badgers. They can't be wrong. From the copper on his beat to the Supreme Court, they are all infallible and incorruptible. Give any of them the "right," "honest," or "square" test and he will show a triple X positive certification.
If you every try again to get a pardon for Johnnie Byrne, just remember that he is 45 years old. Forget that he is innocent and that he has been in jail since 1906. You ask for his pardon on the grounds of extreme youth and the Board of Pardons will let him go. When I submitted proof of his innocence to the Board of Pardons three years ago, they held a sage and serious session and I said to you, "Byrne has a good chance of getting out." Later, I learned that they had turned him down, and that the only thing the Board of Pardons wanted to determine was whether I was a lunatic or just an ornamental liar who ought to be locked up.
These have been five full years for me—a wholesome home and a nice little job. It's true that I had to fight with my two fists to hold that job, but when you get one that way, you hold it.
I called on the judge some time ago, the one who sentenced me. He has traveled some himself in the last five years. "What can I do?" he said. I told him there was a boy in his court charged with robbery; that it was a tough case, but not so tough as mine had been. I told him if he could consider favorably a motion for probation for the boy that I would get him a job. The judge said, "I'll try to do something," and he did. The boy is working now and reporting to me.
If there is a thought in this letter that will help you in your fight for the outcast, the ex-prisoner, the prostitute—take it and use it as only you know how. They all love you and are for you, "chaps," "taps," and rawhide riata.
Sincerely, .......... JACK BLACK.
I was once discussing criminals with a woman who is an authority on psychology. We were sitting at a table in a restaurant at the time, eating luncheon. She said, "The trouble is that they are not able to realize anything but the thing they see at the moment. It is a mental lack. All of us have it in some degree.
"For instance, you and I sit here enjoying our food. If there was a starving woman at the next table, a starving woman right under our eyes, we could not eat. We would have to give her our food. Now, if there were starving people at the other end of this room, out of sight, and we knew of them, we would still be unable to eat until we had fed them. Even though we did not see them, if we knew they were there, we would be able to visualize them, just as though we did see them.
"But over in Poland and Russia and Palestine there are millions of starving women and children right now. We know it, but still we enjoy our food. That is because, while we know they are starving, we don't realize it. They are too far away. It's good that we can't realize all the misery in the world, for if we could, no human brain could endure it. We would go mad.
"The criminal has this same inability to realize absent objects and facts, but he has it in a greater degree. He knows when he steals that he is doing wrong, he knows that he will probably be caught and sent to prison and made to suffer. But he cannot realize it, any more than we can realize the sufferings of peoples on the other side of the world. All he can see is something he wants, and all he knows is that he wants it. He cannot realize anything else.
"That is what makes the criminal. It is a mental abnormality, just as definite as a crippled arm, only we can't see it as we can see crippled arms."
It may be that this is the explanation. I do not know. I only know that in all my experience with criminals I have come to the conclusion that their minds in some ways work differently from the minds of what we call normal men.
So, while my original opinion about them has changed, it has changed only to increase my abhorrence of our system of punishment for crime. We need the aid of science here. Punishment—revenge—is not the solution of the problem.
THE BYRNE CASE
The case of John Byrne, referred to in the published letter of Jack Black, has attracted wide attention. Although striking evidence has been disclosed showing Byrne to be an innocent victim of circumstantial evidence, he is serving a life sentence at San Quentin pententiary. His sentence to death was commuted by Governor Hiram Johnson.
Byrne, who had lived in San Francisco many years, was a printer in Nevada at the time of the fire of April, 1906. Soon after the disaster he came to San Francisco in search of the body of his father, who he learned had been burned to death.
Lodgings were scarce at that time. Byrne had many friends in the south of Market street district. One of them, Patrick Sullivan, proprietor of a saloon at Sixth and Brannan streets, offered Byrne a room in the back of his place.
Byrne was in this room one night soon after his arrival when two bandits held up a saloon diagonally across the street. George O'Connell, a former policeman, who was in the place, opened fire on the robbers. A fusillade followed in which O'Connell, one of the bandits and a third man was killed. The other robber escaped.
Evidence since has shown that this man came to the door of the saloon where Byrne was staying and was rushed away by friends. A search of the neighborhood was made by the police. Byrne was taken from his room as the escaped bandit and charged with murder.
The only evidence against him was that he had a bandana handkerchief in his pocket. Both of the bandits wore bandanas.
A jury returned a verdict of guilty and Byrne was sentenced to death by Judge William P. Lawlor. His attorney, Theodore Roche, carried the case to the state Supreme Court, but admitted that there was grave doubt of Byrne's guilt.
Captain of Police Thomas Duke, who had conducted the investigation of the entire case, later made a statement admitting there was grave doubt of Byrne's guilt.
AFTER having related many of my experiences of the past twenty-five years I should like to be able to say in this, the concluding chapter of my story, that from those experiences I had learned of some way to correct the wrongs and injustices that continue to menace our social life. I can not, because I have gained no such knowledge.
Economists who have specialized in socialism, single tax or co-operation are sure they have solved the perplexing problem. There is no ill that now besets man that Socialism will not cure, says the Socialist. The single taxer is even more confident that he has the remedy. The more ardent of them declare that single tax will not only bring about a perfect economic condition, but will rid the world of all contagious diseases. Even measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever will disappear from the face of the earth. I cannot help believing that they claim too much. But even if one or the other of these social doctrines contained all of the curative properties that their advocates invest them with, the entrenched wealth that is opposed to any radical alteration of the present social system has sufficient power to make the approach to either one of them very slow, indeed.
The change must necessarily be slow. Man is prone to the belief that the way of the world into which he is born is the conclusion of all of the wise men of the preceding ages, and, as a result has become the fixed plan of the universe. This conviction man will not easily surrender. I used to think otherwise. In the days of the graft prosecution I believed that the people once convinced that there was corruption in their government would take the same interest in correcting it that the merchant does when he finds his till is being tapped by a dishonest clerk. I was soon to learn how slight the people's interest is in public affairs.
The campaign of reform made by Hiram W. Johnson as governor of California is a good illustration of this point.
While the graft prosecutors, after three years of work, only succeeded in putting one man in prison, it was evident that the exposures that were made had to some extent aroused the people of the state. Encouraged by this knowledge a movement was inaugurated to destroy the political power of the Southern Pacific Railroad—a power that had controlled the government of California for more than forty years. Johnson was the leader of this movement. After his election as governor he soon learned how slow and hesitant the people were to change. If he had been any less a crusader with his marvelous power, energy and personal charm, he would have failed to enact those progressive laws that at once lifted California out of the group of corrupt boss-ridden states, giving it the foremost place among the redeemed commonwealths of America. In all of his great fights Johnson's program was far in advance of the thought of a majority of the people. The measures he advocated at the time were denounced as revolutionary. It was only his wonderful ability to persuade that enabled him to be victorious. His great enthusiasm swept me into the fight with him. It seemed to me quite worth while to dethrone the Southern Pacific Railroad, to pass an eight-hour day for women, to care for the workers in case of accident, to curb the greed of corporations through a reconstructed railroad commission, and to give the people the initiative and referendum, and the power to recall judges.
This work accomplished, I became impatient to strike deeper into what I thought were the causes of an imperfect and unjust social system. I was convinced that the remedies we were applying reached only to symptoms. The real, underlying disease had not been attacked. I wanted to hurry on, heedless of the knowledge we had all acquired that the people were slow moving and suspicious of new ideas hurled at them by those they did not fully trust.
My experiences in the graft cases had awakened in me a deep interest in labor. I had been fighting the rich men of San Francisco, that is, the employing class, because as soon as Calhoun was threatened with punishment for his crimes that class stood almost solidly with him. The street car strike, made to order by Calhoun, had naturally aroused my sympathies for labor, and brought me more closely in touch with their leaders.
In addition, I thought that an expressed sympathy with labor would sweep working men over onto the subscription list of the Bulletin. I reasoned that they failed to support the paper more liberally because we had been antagonistic to them in the teamsters' strike of 1901. I felt now that I had come to believe in their cause, that I need only convince them of my sincerity and they would stand loyally by me and help to make the Bulletin tremendously successful.
I held this idea for many years, but in time I found that the fact that a man belonged to a labor union did not change his nature or his psychology at all. He was just a human being like the rest of us, controlled by motives as mixed.
I discovered further that labor would never have been in the position of the under dog, as it was, if laboring men had realized their opportunities and been a little more wide awake to their own interests. If they had been able to stand solidly with men who believed in their cause and had the power to help them, as I did, their own strength would have been such that they would have needed no help.
I found that the labor policy of the Bulletin did not bring us the circulation I had expected. Working men bought the paper that amused them, or that published things that interested them, rather than the paper that stood for their cause. But by this time I had become interested in the cause itself, regardless of whether or not it brought us circulation.
This led me into an attempted explanation of the background in the desperate crime of the McNamaras.
I tried to show that it was the culmination of many years of bitter fighting between labor and the steel trust, in which the International Structural Iron Workers had been forced to the wall, their unions defeated by the employers time and again, their wages forced down, and their cause defeated to the point that not even shops handling the by-products of steel were allowed to employ union labor.
It was only when labor had been defeated in every legitimate attempt, and crushed to hopelessness, these particular men began in despair to use dynamite against the property of their enemies. They used it at first in destroying girders and bridges and other beginnings of structures in which iron and steel were used, but as time went on and the fight became increasingly bitter and desperate, their rage finally culminated in the destruction of the Times building and the accompanying deaths.
It seemed to me that a blind outburst of murderous rage on the part of the public would not help this situation. I felt that people should understand the background of this violence, if similar crimes were to be stopped.
Oppression beyond a certain point will always result in violence, and however great our abhorrence of violence, we do not stop it by increasing the oppression. When steam pressure in a boiler goes beyond a certain point the boiler bursts. No one wants the boiler to burst, but nothing is gained by heaping more fuel on the fire beneath it.
It was this attitude that I tried to make clear to the readers of the Bulletin. I was bitterly condemned for not taking the same attitude that all the other papers took, and a feeling grew in San Francisco that I was a dangerous person. This feeling has been further intensified by my activities in the Mooney case. For months after the commission of the Preparedness Day crime I believed Mooney and Billings to be guilty. I continued in this belief until I saw the Oxman letters. They convinced me that at least Oxman was a suborner of perjury, if not himself a perjurer. Upon investigating the testimony of the important witnesses I found it to be false. None of the five people who were arrested for the crime had anything to do with the commission of it. The articulate and powerful people of the community professed to believe them guilty. Many sincerely so believed and still do. This made the fight a hazardous one for a newspaper, especially when there was a division among those who locally speak for labor. The struggle is still on and may continue for many years, with Mooney and Billings serving life sentences in prison for a crime they did not commit. Public opinion may in time grow strong enough to overthrow the power that now stands in the way of justice, or it may lessen through the weariness of those who have for more than two years been leading the fight. It is difficult to determine the outcome.
My resolute advocacy of justice in these cases was an outgrowth of an intense interest I had acquired through the years in prisons and prisoners, and in that practically unexplored half-world inhabited by men and women who had been cast out and abandoned as hopelessly bad. Experience has convinced me that there are no wholly good nor wholly bad people. I do not believe anyone starts out in life making a deliberate decision to be bad. I am sure everyone prefers goodness to badness, but life puts a heavy strain and pressure on some of us, and unconsciously we find ourselves departing from the conventional standards set up by those whom nature, or the chance of birth, has favored. Not one of us is pure white nor solid black. We are a blend—a gray; rather a dark shade of gray at that. I believe the worst of us are blindly groping toward the good.
I have said before I am not at all sure about remedies. An intelligent, economic readjustment will help, but I cannot resist the belief that the ill-working of our social system is due to causes that are deeply rooted in ourselves. Malice, hate, envy, greed and hypocrisy, and a desire to get even for wrongs—real or fancied—are deep-seated qualities that make it impossible for us to achieve a higher and a finer life. The task of overcoming these persisting traits of character is a discouraging one, and it is a task that belongs to each one of us. Constant vigilance and effort is necessary, even through a long life, to materially lessen these qualities in ourselves. To make any progress at all it would require all of our time, and unless we loafed on the job we would have none to devote to the conduct of the other fellow. If we undertook this struggle in real earnest we should soon discover in ourselves the same attributes we had condemned in our neighbor, and we should no longer judge, "leaving justice to God, who knows all things, and content ourselves with mercy, whose mistakes are not so irreparable."