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Tolstoy as a Schoolmaster

교사로서의 톨스토이


By Ernest Howard Crosby

 

 

 

Chapter 13

A Chapter on Penology

In discussing the moral education of children in the last chapter I found myself naturally using the word "penology," and once or twice before we have been led by metaphor or example to see the close relationship between penology and pedagogy. The problem which is presented by naughty boys is much the same as that presented by naughty men, and it is not altogether a digression to devote a few pages to the latter.

Tolstoy disapproves altogether of punishment in any form and of the exercise of force by man upon man, and he is quite ready to dispense with prisons altogether. This seems like a very radical position, but, strange to say, the most competent prison experts go almost as far. Mr. Charlton T. Lewis, President of the National Prison Association of the United States for the past twenty years, declared in his address before the National Prison Congress at Louisville in 1903 that "our county jails everywhere are the schools and colleges of crime. In the light of social science it were better for the world if every one of them were destroyed than that this work should be continued." And again: "Experience shows that the system of imprisonment of minor offenders for short terms is but a gigantic measure for the manufacture of criminals." "Freedom, not confinement," he adds, "is the natural state of man, and the only condition under which influences for reformation can have their full efficiency."

In an address to a former Prison Congress (Hartford, Sept. 25, 1899, published in the Yale Law Journal of October, 1899) the same authority says: "Prison life is unnatural at best. Man is a social creature. Confinement tends to lower his consciousness of dignity and responsibility, to weaken the motives which govern his relations to his race, to impair the foundations of character and unfit him for independent life. To consign a man to prison is commonly to enrol him in the criminal class.... With all the solemnity and emphasis of which I am capable, I utter the profound conviction, after twenty years of constant study of our prison population, that more than nine-tenths of them ought never to have been confined."

Mr. Lewis makes a strong plea for the "indeterminate sentence," and the release from prison, under proper supervision, of all prisoners whose release would not be a menace to society. "In all but extreme cases of depravity, what is needed with the youth beginning a lawless career is that the social motives in him be awakened and strengthened, that the habit of foresight, the sense of responsibility, the regard for the esteem of his fellows, the sympathy with mankind, be aroused to constant action. It is in the social life of the community that this work can properly be done."

The report of the Committee on Preventive Social Work made to the Fourth New York State Conference of Charities at Buffalo in November, 1903, is as strong in its condemnation of prisons as Mr. Lewis -- the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. J. G. Phelps Stokes, having taken part in the Prison Congress at Louisville. This Committee speaks as follows: "At the Thirty-Second Annual Congress of the National Prison Association, recently held in Louisville, Kentucky, there were present upward of one hundred prison officers representing the penal institutions of the United States and Canada, and as many penologists and criminologists and students of social movements. The sessions of the Congress lasted five days, and throughout the entire proceedings there was not a dissentient voice raised against the opinion voiced by many of the speakers, that the prisons themselves are among the principal sources of crime, and that they probably create far more crime than they cure. There were those present who maintained (and they among the ablest and most experienced), and who presented impressive evidence and arguments to show, that upon the whole the influence of most of our prisons upon the offenders and upon society should be regarded as detrimental rather than the reverse."

Upon such a statement of the case, made by those who manage the prisons and know most about them, the question naturally arises: Why, then, not abolish the prisons? But Tolstoy does not go so far as this. He does not propose abolition. He virtually says: "I do not believe in exercising coercion on my fellow-men, and hence I cannot undertake to execute or imprison them directly or indirectly. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Who am I to act as judge? And as people come gradually round to my opinion, there will be fewer and fewer left who will be willing to act as hangman and jailers and warders, until finally such professions disappear."

And here and there I see evidences that this leaven is working in society. The headsman showed his sense of shame by wearing a mask. The hangman's occupation has always been held infamous, and I see no reason why that of the "electrician" who manages an "electrocution" should be less so. Some years ago a hanging took place in a Canadian town, and they could not find a carpenter in the neighbourhood who was willing to erect the scaffold, and finally they had to send to a distant city to engage an artisan sufficiently barbarous to undertake the job. Even soldiers have the decency to serve out one rifle with a blank cartridge to an execution squad so that each man may hope that he is innocent of the victim's blood.

Maupassant relates an interesting story in his Sur L'Eau of an assassin who was condemned to death at Monaco. No one could be found in the principality to execute him, and the French government charged too much for its friendly offices. The sentence was consequently commuted to imprisonment for life, but after a time this also was found an expensive charge upon the little country, and they besought the prisoner to escape, which he flatly refused to do. Finally, we are told that they agreed to pay him a pension, and he was induced to settle just over the border in France. Maupassant records this as an historical fact, and in relating it I do not know how far he allowed his art to triumph over his accuracy.

The case of Sheriff Mines, of Camden, New Jersey, who died in 1903, is in point. According to the newspapers his death resulted directly from the execution of a criminal. He had dreaded the ordeal beforehand, but had nerved himself sufficiently to carry it through. When it was over, however, his health failed, and he began to waste away. He could not get the scenes of the execution out of his mind, and they preyed upon him until he collapsed altogether at his office, was taken home; and, after lingering a few weeks in bed, died. The doctors called it "acute indigestion brought on by worry," but a more profound diagnosis would ascribe his death to "maladaptation to environment due to his superior civilization." If Mr. Mines had foreseen the outcome of his act, he would have resigned his office before the day of execution, and when the time comes when no one can be found to fill such a vacancy, capital punishment will have been effectively abolished.

Tolstoy's attention was first called to capital punishment when, as a young man, he witnessed an execution by the guillotine at Paris, and he instinctively felt then and there that the whole thing was evil and only evil. It was simply one man killing another. We talk of the "State's" hanging a man, but a State cannot hang. We cannot avoid responsibility for our individual acts in that way. And what good does capital punishment do? Life is just as safe in countries where it no longer prevails.

It has no deterrent effect, and this was shown by the assassination of President McKinley. He had just completed a journey through fifteen or more of the States, in several of which capital punishment had been abolished. A week before his murder he had passed several days in Michigan, where they stopped hanging people thirty years ago. Czolgosz might have shot him there (and it was nearer the murderer's home than the actual scene of the deed) with the absolute certainty of escaping with his life. But what did he do? He waited until the President had entered a State where speedy expiation by death was inevitable, and here it was that he accomplished his design. If capital punishment had any effect at all, it was to precipitate the crime, and it is not impossible that the prospect of a trial for his life and the dramatic surroundings of an execution really had some influence in fixing his choice of place for the crime. But the fact is that criminals rarely think of punishment. Their mind is engrossed with the criminal act, and they either snap their fingers at the penalty or expect to avoid it.

And capital punishment is demoralizing to those who take part in it, to those who read of it, and to all the inmates of the prison in which it is performed. For this last fact, read the Ballad of Reading Gaol, and that the same is true in Sing-Sing prison is proved by the fact that the officials of that institution petitioned the Legislature some years ago to remove all executions to the little prison of Dannemora, in the Adirondack wilderness, on account of the pernicious effect which such events had upon the prisoners generally. When the State feels impelled to go off into the woods to do its work, we may be sure that it is dirty work which ought to be left undone.

The proper treatment for a criminal is to develop the good that is in him, and there is always at least a germ of good. I was reminded of this fact a year or two ago, when, during a visit to Georgia, I learned that a convict had made his escape in a daring manner from the new Federal prison at Atlanta. Descriptions of the man were at once telegraphed all over the country, and in these he was designated as a "desperate character." And what do you suppose was the occupation which had been assigned to this "desperate character" in the prison? He had been appointed barber, and he had been accustomed from morning till night to wield a sharpened razor upon the throats of his fellows! He had been trusted to this extent -- and could trust go farther? -- and he had fully justified the trust reposed in him. The story was a lesson to me in penology. It showed that the safety of the community rests upon the good will of our fellows far more than upon the threatening arm of the law, and that the kindliness even of ruffians is one of the bulwarks of society.

Men in prison differ very little from those outside. Ask any humane and sympathetic warden, and he will tell you that a small proportion of the prisoners in his charge have the criminal head, and seem to have been predestined to a life of crime. Is it not rather hard to punish men for the shape of their skulls? An asylum would be the proper place for them. And then the rest of the prisoners, he would tell you, are very, very much like you and me. So that, barring the small class of defectives, if all the prisons were emptied to-day, and you and I and our friends put in instead, the world would go on very much the same. Mankind is not divided into good and bad people, but each individual has his good half and his bad half, and the best of all discipline is that which is exercised by the saint in a man over the sinner in him. This is the only real self-government, and the education which tends toward it is worth more for the public safety than all our penal institutions put together.

And how ineffectual those institutions are! Over ten thousand homicides are committed in the United States every year, and probably not ten percent of the perpetrators are punished. The other ninety percent are at large -- not only of last year, but of the preceding years -- and yet we are not afraid. Then we know that all the men who will commit next year's murders are free to-day, and the murderers of the immediately succeeding years as well, and that nothing can prevent it; and yet we go on living in tranquillity, not relying evidently upon the power of the law so much as upon the good will toward us of the human beings among whom we are placed.

Then when the law does intervene, how far does it protect us? It usually imprisons the criminal. A life imprisonment is rarely served out to the end, and we may practically consider imprisonment as a temporary punishment. We take a "desperate character," put him in prison, keep him there under harsh and forbidding circumstances for five or ten years, and then release him absolutely. It is (as Mr. Lewis says) "as if one should cage a man-eating tiger for a month or a year and then turn him loose." Is it likely that he will come out with a greater feeling of consideration for his fellows than when he went in? Is he not perfectly sure to be a more "desperate character" than he was at the beginning? And can such a policy be considered to any great extent protective of society?

Our penal laws have only one legitimate object, and that is to make better men. Crime is the result of lovelessness, when it is not a disease, and the true field of reformatory activity is to produce a spark of love in human souls. How little our prisons are adapted to this end is sufficiently evident. As for capital punishment, it is a clear evasion of our duty. What right have we, as some one has asked, to make a sort of Botany Bay of the world to come, and send our hardest cases there without consulting the wishes of the inhabitants? Nurses in hospitals fight over the most desperate cases, and prefer them to all others; and so the true penologist should long to exercise his healing influence upon the most advanced, and consequently the most interesting, cases of wickedness. There is not a man living so low but we can do something better with him than hang him.

Whether we ever arrive at such a conception of the police powers of the government or not -- and there are not wanting indications that society is headed in that direction -- it is, at any rate, a pleasure to find that we owe most of our security not to gibbets and dungeons and the resulting cowardice and fear, but rather to the natural kindliness of our fellow-creatures, an atmosphere which is conducive not only to safety, but to happiness.

It will be a slow matter, the gradual apprehension of the truth regarding crime and punishment, scientifically and sympathetically. In Burmah punishment is looked upon as an expiation for crime, and when the prisoner has paid his debt to society he comes out a new man. His books are balanced, and he is as good as any one else. (See Mr. Fielding's fascinating book, The Soul of a People.) With us, on the contrary, the punishment is a far greater stain than the crime. Most of us could easily stand the burden of an ancestor who had committed murder, but the ignominy of one who had been hanged would be almost overwhelming.

Further than this there may be a redeeming element in crime itself. Edward Carpenter suggests in one of his luminous essays that the criminal often keeps alive some necessary social element which the prevailing society has neglected. We may thus suppose that the smuggler is not so much a criminal as a protester against the unnatural shackles of trade and an object lesson in a higher morality than that of his fellow-citizens.

It is a fact that the greatest crimes are also the greatest virtues. High treason is the first of crimes, and it is also often the first of duties. How many of the great benefactors of the race have stood in the prisoner's dock? Until recently a picture of the crucifixion, the greatest miscarriage of justice, hung in every French court-room. The Government has recently ordered them to be removed, but it was ill-advised, I think, for I know of no better reminder to the bench of its errors and limitations. It would have been better to add other pictures of the great and good convicts of history, whose faces would be likely to instil greater modesty into the hearts of the enforcers of the law.

And the vulgar criminal may have his virtues, too. Let us call that enlightened witness, Mr. Lewis, again. He speaks of convicts, "whom I regard as heroes upon the face of the earth, and before whom I am happy to bow in reverence as to those to whom I must give precedence by a true standard of manhood. For I know my life has wrought no such heroic work as that of the man who, under the terrible burden of inherited degradation and accumulated shame, has achieved the conquest of self, the victory over passion, the triumph over his own past and over the prejudices of a community which had learned to distrust and despise him."

The "indeterminate sentence" and the "probation" system, in the hands of men like Mr. Lewis, would certainly be a great advance in the right direction, and he declares that wherever they have been fairly tried they have succeeded marvellously. The criminal, like the child, must learn in society, and not in a school which shuts him out from real life. The convict at large could be committed to the supervision of such societies as the Prison Association, the "Volunteers" or the Salvation Army.

But society itself is largely responsible for the crime committed within it. We forget the solidarity of social conduct, and that we are members one of another, and silent partners in each other's misdeeds. Beside each criminal prosecution, "The People against John Doe," I would like to see another action instituted entitled "John Doe against the People," in which the community should be brought to book for having made a criminal of the plaintiff or permitted him to become one, and the evidence offered would be that of unjust social conditions, improper environment, the limitation of opportunities and the shortcomings of education.

"Every student of our penal administration knows well that the criminal class is, generation after generation, the continual product of our social system," says Mr. Lewis, and he points out, as an example, the evil effect of imprisonment for petty offences, but his remark is true in the widest sense. We must be just in our social and industrial arrangements before we can decently talk of "administering justice," and we must in educating the child begin to develop that germ of good which, if it is once allowed to atrophy, may sooner or later leave him an apt candidate for membership in the criminal classes.

 

 

   
   

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