In the past few months, I have posted a couple of excerpts from Six years in the prisons of England, in which an anonymous merchant described his time in prison, and in its hospital ward. He was so badly cured there that he had to have his leg amputated. At the end of six long years, he was freed. Here’s how he describes his liberation, plus his reflections on the life that awaited an ex con:
On a Friday morning I was unexpectedly called before the governor, and informed that my license had arrived. I was asked certain particulars in reference to my future intentions and address. I was next measured for a shoe, the only decent and honest article of clothing I ever received in prison; tried on a suit of clothes, and had my portrait taken. On the Saturday morning I was weighed and measured, and taken before the chaplain to receive a few formal words of parting advice. On the following Monday I was again taken before the governor to hear my license read. On Tuesday morning I was removed to Millbank Prison, and lodged there for the night, in a cell along with two other prisoners going to liberty like myself. We slept on narrow dirty mattresses, laid on the floor, so close as to be touching each other.
One of my new companions had been nearly four years in the lunatic asylum at Fisherton, and had recovered. The other was a young professional thief, belonging to London, whose mind was just on the verge of insanity, through long confinement in separate cells. To sleep on the floor of a dusty cell, between two such companions, was not quite so comfortable as a bed in the Hotel Meurice, at Paris, where I had spent my last free night. Every moment that divided me from the hour of my liberation now seemed magnified into days. Wednesday morning at last dawned upon me. I was taken out and placed before a regiment of policemen, who each scrutinized me, and that done I received my license. With feelings of inexpressible thankfulness and gratitude to God I heard the heavy prison doors close behind me, and once more I inhaled the sweet free air of Heaven!
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I trudged along the streets, in my shabby clothes and with my deal crutch. I felt a new punishment creeping over me, even whilst the glorious sun of freedom was shedding its welcome rays on my dishonoured head.
With nineteen shillings and threepence in my pocket, but with my reputation lost, my health ruined, alone and a cripple, whom no “Prisoners’ Aid Society” would assist, I was expected to begin anew the battle of life!
While I write these lines the bitterness of my new punishment has already visited me. Repulsed from every door where I seek employment, waiting patiently for the replies to my applications for advertised situations, which never come, the brand of the convict has indeed become the very mark of Cain, and I feel as if my fellowmen shrink from me as they pass. Fortunately I found at the post-office a few pounds sent to me from my brother, which, with slight additions, have enabled me to procure a mechanical leg, and to live till I have completed this narrative. But what is the fate of the many so situated, with no friends to help them, save the workhouse or the prison once again? A dreary life amongst paupers, or a short life of pleasure and crime, and long years of bondage to atone for it. Do you wonder if some choose the latter?…
Six years in the prisons of England by an anonymous merchant