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These Strange Criminals

These Strange Criminals: An Anthology of Prison Memoirs by Conscientious Objectors from the Great War to the Cold War

Edited by Peter Brock
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 524
  • Book Info
    These Strange Criminals
    Book Description:

    Sometimes intensely moving, and often inspiring, these memoirs show that in some cases, individual conscientious objectors - many well-educated and politically aware - sought to reform the penal system from within either by publicizing its dysfunction or through further resistance to authority.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2080-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert Gaucher

    This anthology presents the accounts of the prison experiences of conscientious objectors (COs) during three eras of armed conflict in the twentieth century. The editor, Peter Brock, tells us that his intent is to contribute to the ethnographic study of the prison and prison(er) culture, and to add the distinctive perspective of this category of prisoners to the literary genre of prison writing. Firmly located within the twentieth-century history of pacifism and antiwar movements, this collection introduces a spirited group of political dissidents, their view of the prison and the societies that created them, and it succeeds brilliantly. The prison...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Peter Brock
  5. Document Credits
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Part One: The Great War

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)

      In English-speaking countries conscientious objection to military service was not a new phenomenon in 1914. It was associated there, in particular, with three religious sects, the Quakers (known also as the Society of Friends), the Mennonites, and the German Baptist Brethren (known today as the Church of the Brethren). Mennonites and Brethren, who had sought refuge in North America from their original homeland in Central Europe, rarely went to jail on account of their conscientious refusal to bear arms, since they usually succeeded in reaching an acceptable modus vivendi with the state on this issue. Not so the Quakers – either...

    • Britain

        (pp. 14-29)

        [My] aim ... is to give the reader a record of the writer’s impressions of our prison system, and, in particular, of its moral and mental effect upon convicted prisoners. It is based upon some twelve months’ experience of prison life, of which four months were spent in a large London prison, and nearly eight months in a smaller county gaol. My offence happened to be that of ‘disobedience’ to military orders on the ground of conscientious objection to all war; but I do not wish to lay any stress on the nature of the offence, or on the justice...

        (pp. 30-37)

        ... So you want to know all about my prison life? ...

        Prison either makes or blasts a man. It either makes him self-reliant or else it stuns him into a coma, a mental vacuity which time and habit turn into an inability to do anything except under obedience. Unless one has something self-assertive within one that thwarts the ravages of silence and isolation one will be surely damned. The sepulchral silence or reverberating noises of a prison ward seem to wrap one in an impenetrable cloak that suffocates. The banging of iron doors and gates, the jingling of keys,...

      • HUBERT W. PEET
        (pp. 38-49)

        ‘To prison’ and ‘to isolate’ are practically identical terms. I understood this when on reaching my cell on my first night I found my sole remaining links with ordinary life were my spectacles, every shred of clothing and other possessions having been replaced by prison garb. Then the first rule read, ‘Prisoners must preserve silence,’ and from the moment of entering till that of leaving the prison, to hold the slightest communication with another prisoner renders one liable to punishment.

        Perhaps the outsider will imagine that temptations to break the rule occur on more occasions than is actually the case....

      • JOHN HOARE
        (pp. 50-61)

        I stood on the windswept parade ground at Mill Hill Barracks with (I was told) ‘an angelic smile’ on my face & heard the Adjutant read out after a long rigmarole, ‘We do therefore sentence the accused Private Joseph Edward Hoare to be imprisoned for six months with hard labour.’ It was on the seventh day of my sentence that you said Goodbye to me with Serjeant Norton’s leave before the great gate of Wormwood Scrubs with the medallion of Elizabeth Fry gazing down at her great-grandnephew going to prison. The white washed walls of the little cubicles in which...

        (pp. 62-80)

        The Court [Martial] was assembled, and I was presented before them to answer my charge in refusing to obey an order to put on military clothing. I think I pleaded guilty to the charge, but submitted that I did so with the utmost respect to those with whom I had to contend. The Adjutant read my statement, and read it with much feeling, and the whole court was to me like a Friends’ service. I felt the prayers of those who were not there and God’s presence and was filled with a quiet calm.

        I have stated a doubt of...

        (pp. 81-88)

        After vigorously protesting against my illegal arrest, trial by a Military Court, and being placed in a combatant regiment, whilst in possession of a non-combatant certificate – not, as I pointed out, that the latter mattered anything, for I had determined not to aid the war directly or indirectly, roundabout or square, at home or abroad – I was sentenced by a Military Court to six months’ imprisonment.

        I have never before so much as seen a prison, and looked forward to my new experience with great expectations. As a boy, I had read in my history books of the imprisonment of...

    • Canada

      • JOHN EVANS
        (pp. 90-100)

        The day finally arrived when I was to be taken to Wandsworth Military Prison in south London. It was the 25th of June and I was put in the custody of a young corporal to make the trip. I refused to carry my kit bag, which meant that the corporal was forced to carry it. He was a pretty good fellow and probably had a little sympathy with my stand, for he carried the kit bag without argument. When we arrived in London and found ourselves standing before the bars of the prison door, he handed me the kit bag’...

    • New Zealand

        (pp. 102-126)

        The Terrace Jail was a survival – and there are many such in the world – from the days when security, lack of light and lack of air, seemed to be the main things aimed at in building a prison. High outer walls successfully cutting off sunlight and view from the yards. Then more walls, still further preventing the admission of light to the small barred windows in the cells ...

        We were marched in through the main gates to the reception office, where our escort formally delivered us over to the prison authorities. Several warders were present and one stern-looking individual...

    • United States

        (pp. 128-148)

        The great iron gates swung open. We passed in, between the two gates, under an archway that reminded one of a medieval castle. A young man – a strange-looking man in an ill-fitting brown suit and a visored cap – moved silently by with a lantern, sparing us just a glance. We turned to go into the little room to our right, and we faced a bulletin board.‘U.S.D.B. – POPULATION 3125’... We were prisoners, in the largest military prison in the United States – Fort Leavenworth.

        A guard entered. We were rapidly and skillfully searched. Our money and jewelry, which had been...

        (pp. 149-156)

        [The] lieutenant in charge came daily to give us rigorous physical exercises. He stated he was getting us ready for what was to come. This was the extent of his information. After a week or so of this had passed, regulation army uniforms were reissued to us with orders that each of us appear the following morning in full uniform of the depot brigade for roll call. This, all of us believed meant a final effort toward induction into some form of military service. Questions arose as to what to do. It was agreed among ourselves that each would make...

        (pp. 157-170)

        I was never a soldier, yet I spent three years of my life in military prisons. After I registered for the draft as an objector to war on political grounds, I refused to submit to a physical examination for military purposes and refused to sign an enlistment and assignment card. Instead of being tried for violation of the war-time conscription act, which was a Federal civil offence, I was turned over to the military and was subjected to all forms of punishment as an erring soldier, not as a civilian who refused to participate in a war waged ‘to make...

  7. Part Two: The Good War

    • Introduction
      (pp. 173-180)

      In one way it was easier in English-speaking countries to be a conscientious objector in the Second World War than it had been during the previous world conflict. At least in Britain public opinion was less hostile than earlier, and legislative provision for COs was more generous everywhere. In another way, however, COs might find it more difficult to maintain their pacifism, for this was a war against Nazism and Fascism, against the powers that suppressed freedom and savagely persecuted minorities and dissidents. This was, or seemed to be, a ‘good war’ (as the Second World War is often known...

    • Britain

        (pp. 182-188)

        ... Early in the new year [1940] I returned ... to the University, and at the beginning of February the law finally caught up with me. I received a summons to appear in court for not submitting for medical examination as the first step to complying with the order of the Appellate Tribunal, before which I had appeared almost a year earlier. I pleaded guilty and was fined £5 and given a week in which to pay it. Failure to do so would mean a month’s imprisonment, I was told. Then I was taken for medical examination, but I refused...

        (pp. 189-204)

        Slopping-out, as this early morning ritual was called, was decidely unpleasant, though one got used to it. Every prison memoirist who has experienced slopping-out comments on it with distaste, often with expressions of repulsion. Cells in the antique jails of Britain had been built without toilets; and the landings on which the cells were located had been provided with very few toilets. As a result of this inadequacy of lavatory facilities outside and inside, when prisoners were locked in their cells after work for over fourteen hours (as they were during my spell in jail), they had no alternative except...

        (pp. 205-215)

        Announcing the decision of the Bench the chairman said ‘Six months hard labour.’ The magistrates were very sorry, but they were simply concerned with the order for medical examination ‘which defendant had refused.’ My father was the last to see me at the police station and brought cakes and chocolate ... [I was now] placed in a ... cell with a merchant seaman charged with (according to him) stealing electric torches. His fears were mainly due to 101 other convictions that might tell against him. A week’s remand had been given. A little after 2 p.m. we were taken to...

        (pp. 216-231)

        The bleak hills above Chorley in Lancashire were powdered with snow as I came to the Detention Barracks, via Manchester. During the rail journey ... I puffed philosophically at my pipe, knowing I would have to part with it ‘inside.’ An escort of four NCOs had charge of the three unfortunates of whom I was one. They kept watchful eyes on us from the very moment of our setting out ... On the train they raised their voices in song – perhaps to impart a little cheer to those soon to be ‘in durance vile.’ In contrasting our respective lots they...

        (pp. 232-242)

        I left Uxbridge Police Court in the police van at about 1.30 p.m. on 22nd January, 1943, and was taken first to Rochester Row Police Station, where we were all put into another police van and taken to Holloway Prison. Here we were locked into separate reception cells. I remained in this cell for about 3˚hours. There was no printed card in the cell giving any sort of information as to procedure, nor was there any bell. I gathered, by listening, that the only way of attracting attention (for example, if one wished to use the W.C.) was to shout....

        (pp. 243-260)

        And a few months passed and then I received a summons for five pounds for having refused industrial conscription, and I was given ten days to pay it. Of course I did nothing about it, didn’t reply or anything, I just did nothing about it at all. Then after the end of ten days I received a second summons asking me to appear before the court at the session house ... in Blackburn to give my reasons why I had refused to pay this fine. And I was given a date to go and I went and stated my views...

    • New Zealand

        (pp. 262-296)

        I was going to say that long afterwards I got used to the locked door but that would be a lie. You never get used to it. You can, after innumerable repetitions, become temporarily unaware of its full implications. But every now and then, caught off guard as it were, all the horror and degradation of prison life comes home to you and they’re symbolised by the crash of the heavy door, the turning of the key in the lock, the rattle of the keys and the receding footsteps, leaving you alone to face your own blankness. Later on, yes,...

    • Australia

        (pp. 298-314)

        The hand of a nearby police officer fastened on my arm. I was escorted down to the Watch-House, and locked in a cell. As the key turned, an uncanny feeling came over me, and I wondered what the next move would be. Within a few minutes my two friends [who had accompanied me to court] arrived. They had been given permission to enter my cell and spend a short time with me. Such an experience leaves a deep impression on one’s mind and heart. Who could forget the prayers they offered for me and the members of our family?


    • United States

        (pp. 316-321)

        In the second-largest city of the empire of Japan, the secret police entered my office one afternoon in midwinter. After a short talk I was informed that I was under arrest. The following is a true account of my experiences in jail, written with care lest it occasion retaliation on those who remain behind. For that reason I shall not use names.

        After being taken to the largest and most modern jail in the city, the Kangoku, I found myself in a cell of the block that is known as the ‘hole.’ Many of the men were in solitary confinement....

        (pp. 322-335)

        There have been many books written about prison and the men who are their involuntary inhabitants. Wardens, penologists, and psychiatrists have all in their own ways tried to tell what makes a criminal and how society attempts to punish or reclaim him. I can presume to add to the number of such books not because I am an expert, but precisely because I am not. This is not the story of one who has studied convicts, but of one who, with few preconceptions, has found himself living with them twenty-four hours a day for month after month. It is the...

        (pp. 336-354)

        The one factor that stands out above all others in making this story possible is the well-nigh unbelievable tolerance and restraint shown toward us by the staff of the Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone, Minnesota, in the face of what at times amounted to extreme provocation.

        Although I feel sure the main policies regarding our treatment originated in Washington, there is considerable latitude possible in the interpretation and implementation of these policies at the local level.

        It was certainly not an easy situation for the guards and officials dealing with us, and I just wonder if I would have acquitted...

        (pp. 355-375)

        Danbury is supposed to be for short-timers, some of the men at West Street had said. ‘Not like here, where ya got killers, pimps and everything else. It’s only sixty miles north of New York. It’s a new place, it’s supposed to be a pretty good can.’

        The government car rolled steadily forward. Two pistol-hipped marshals sat in front. We three prisoners sat in the rear, handcuffed together. The prisoner next to me wanted to smoke. I was glad to oblige him by moving my hand up and down with his.

        Trees were exceptionally green. The hills in the distance...

        (pp. 376-390)

        Congress passed the draft registration law in July 1940. Apart from my nonviolent philosophy, how could I ever serve in a segregated army? We talked in Newark about the draft, and in September five of us decided to go on living there, continuing to work with children and identifying ourselves with workers and lay people. We rented a house and lived in Christian Ashram style, having prayers together; working at [house] painting, washing windows, and various odd jobs; putting the earnings into a common pot. Each of us took a dollar a week to spend. We decided to attend classes...

        (pp. 391-404)

        With shocking abruptness all official amenities ceased with my entrance into New York City’s West Street Federal House of Detention. The official papers told the uniformed prison personnel who I was and why I was there. The papers were consulted, studied; I was taken away, stripped, showered, brought naked before other officials, where again the papers were consulted. Words were spoken among the men; I was glanced at. I was led away to another place where other disinterested dark-uniformed men moved here and there about me on silent business of their own. Not yet in a cell, but in view...

  8. Part Three: Cold-War America

    • Introduction
      (pp. 407-410)

      In Britain military conscription was phased out during the decade and a half following 1945. In the United States selective service continued, to be reinvigorated as American intervention in Vietnam mounted in the course of the sixties. Meanwhile, over the whole globe hung the shadow of the atom bomb: nuclear war remained a possibility – hopefully remote – even after the fall of communism and the ending of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s. By that time many European countries had begun to abandon conscription, considering it no longer necessary for effective defence, though compulsory military service remained in...

      (pp. 411-419)

      In Chicago, most federal prisoners who are waiting for transfer to a federal penitentiary, or are not free on bond pending their trials, are housed in Cook County Jail. The Jail, reputed to be the largest county jail in the United States, was designed for 1300 inmates and has a current population of between 1900 and 2100 prisoners. It is located on the south west side of Chicago at 26th and California, just behind the monolithic Cook County Court House building.

      The ultimate administrative responsibility for the Jail is in the hands of the Sheriff of Cook County, while routine...

      (pp. 420-429)

      When escorted into Fort Lewis stockade you are locked in, then unhandcuffed, then issued a mattress and led back into the body of the prison, into ‘C’ block which is a caged bay of two-tiered bunkbeds ...

      My days in the stockade were filled with routine. One of the tricks of prison is that you begin to understand and appreciate the value of routine. Routine is the agent that makes your days endurable, because it hides time, makes it invisible, each day running into the next, each week indistinguishable from the last; until it all becomes a kind of dream....

    • J.K. OSBORNE
      (pp. 430-454)

      At last I have something to write with. At last I can put my thoughts in concrete form to save myself from going mad. The end of my first day in prison, and I am desolate, ready to die; wanting, almost, to die.

      After I was sentenced I was handed over to a U.S. marshal who brought me to the county jail. I was again fingerprinted and photographed. My possessions were taken from me and I was given a pair of coveralls to wear. I will wait here in this jail until transferred to the Federal Penitentiary on McNeil Island,...

    • ‘JOHNSON’
      (pp. 455-463)

      I served part of the drug sentence and then got out on probation. Almost immediately, I heard that there were people on campus asking questions about me. I assumed they were FBI, because they looked straight, they were large, and they wore shiny black shoes. I was unofficially and illegally living on college property twenty miles out of town. A few people knew it, but no one would tell them. At some point, the FBI thought they had notified me to turn myself in on the draft sentence. One day, when I went to see my probation officer, FBI agents...

      (pp. 464-491)

      I am not the same man today that I was on June 2, 1967, when I began to serve time. Twenty-six months in prison change a man.

      While serving as a physician in the U.S. Army, I was outspoken in my opposition to the war in Vietnam; I refused a direct order to train Special Forces (so-called) medics. I went to jail because to have obeyed that order would have compelled me to violate canons of medical ethics which were deeply significant to me. David Miller was imprisoned for twenty-two months because he burned his draft card in opposition to...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 492-500)
  10. Further Reading
    (pp. 501-505)