It is said that there are no more horrible prisons than those found in certain provinces in
Russia. A traveler, just returned
from these provinces, gives an interesting incident in connection with prison
life there. A colonel was appointed to take charge of one of the largest and
most noxious of the prisons. I t was situated in the center of an important
province, and was filled with turbulent men and abandoned women. Harsh
discipline, poor food, insufficient ventilation, uncleanliness, and
hopelessness- all conspired to brutalize the inmates.
Especially was this true of the women. The longer they were imprisoned, the more depraved and unmanageable they became: until it needed a disciplinarian of the severest type to keep them under control. The colonel could manage the men, but the women defied him, and he began to think that he must resort to flogging to subdue them.
One morning the colonel's young wife took a walk in the prison yard. She was a gentle enthusiast, who had made up her mind when her husband first entered upon his official duties, to reform, if possible, the women prisoners by kindness. This purpose she failed to accomplish; for kindness seemed to have no more influence over them than solitary confinement. As she walked in the yard one morning, she became apprehensive and nervous lest some harm might be done her baby whom the nurse carried beside her and for the first time had taken into the enclosure.
As soon as the women prisoners caught sight of the child they ran to it, gesticulating wildly. The mother gave a shriek and stood at bay before them, prepared to defend her babe from violence. The guard came running up; but instead of the abusive language which had heretofore greeted the young wife, the poor women broke into raptures over the babe.
"Oh, the darling! Let me hold him." One after another stretched out her marred arms in entreaty toward the obdurate nurse.
"Isn't he the innocent!" exclaimed the vilest of the prisoners. At that word several of them peered into the pure face of the child and then broke down, tears streaming down their cheeks. .
Begging to hold the baby, the laughing, crying, gesticulating women crowded around the child. The eternal motherhood lighted up their embruted faces, and the sight of unimpeachable innocence softened every stony heart.
Then the colonel's wife had a happy thought. "The best conducted woman of you all at the end of the week will be allowed to tend the baby for half an hour."
The women, whom neither kindness nor punishment had been able to restrain, became docile to every word and order. At the end of the week it became almost impossible to decide which one had earned the coveted reward. The baby made weekly visits to the prison yard, and the gentle, humanizing effect upon the women seemed almost miraculous. Innocence is irresistible.