Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice
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Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
 
The Prison System
(From “Resurrection”)

By Leo Tolstoy

(Russian novelist and reformer, 1828–1910)
 
“IT is just as if a problem had been set: to find the best, the surest means, of depraving the greatest number of people!” thought Nehlúdof, while getting an insight into the deeds that were being done in the prisons and halting-stations. Every year hundreds of thousands were brought to the highest pitch of depravity, and when completely depraved they were liberated to spread broadcast the moral disease they had caught in prison.  1
  In the prisons of Tumén, Ekáterinburg, Tomsk, and at the halting-stations, Nehlúdof saw how successfully the object society seemed to have set itself was attained. Ordinary simple men holding the Russian peasant social and Christian morality lost this conception, and formed a new prison, one founded chiefly on the idea that any outrage to or violation of human beings is justifiable, if it seems profitable. After living in prison these people became conscious with the whole of their being that, judging by what was happening to themselves, all those moral laws of respect and sympathy for others which the Church and the moral teachers preach, were set aside in real life, and that therefore they, too, need not keep these laws. Nehlúdof noticed this effect of prison life in all the prisoners he knew. He learnt, during his journey, that tramps who escape into the marshes will persuade comrades to escape with them, and will then kill them and feed on their flesh. He saw a living man who was accused of this, and acknowledged the act. And the most terrible thing was, that this was not a solitary case of cannibalism, but that the thing was continually recurring.  2
  Only by a special cultivation of vice such as was carried on in these establishments, could a Russian be brought to the state of these tramps, who excelled Nietzsche’s newest teaching, holding everything allowable and nothing forbidden, and spreading this teaching, first among the convicts and then among the people in general.  3
  The only explanation of what was being done was that it aimed at the prevention of crime, at inspiring awe, at correcting offenders, and at dealing out to them “lawful vengeance,” as the books said. But in reality nothing in the least resembling these results came to pass. Instead of vice being put a stop to, it only spread farther; instead of being frightened, the criminals were encouraged (many a tramp returned to prison of his own free will); instead of correction, every kind of vice was systematically instilled; while the desire for vengeance, far from being weakened by the measures of Government, was instilled into the people to whom it was not natural.  4
  “Then why is it done?” Nehlúdof asked himself, and could find no answer.  5
 
 
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