Seventeen Years in the Underworld

Seventeen Years in the Underworld
Category: Prisons / Criminals / Crime
Title: Seventeen Years in the Underworld
Release Date: 2018-01-27
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 10
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Copyright, 1916, by


I   Early Life11
II   Beginning a Career16
III   Persisting in Misdeeds21
IV   Effects of Gambling27
V   The Reform School30
VI   Escape and Recapture36
VII   Discipline41
VIII   Life in Prison47
IX   Prison Experiences49
X   Criminal Classes57
XI   Some Types of Crooks61
XII   Morals in the Underworld66
XIII   Systematic Lawlessness69
XIV   Betrayal and Arrest74
XV   Peculiarities of “Yeggs”79
XVI   Concerning Prison Management83
XVII   Mistakes of a Chaplain86
XVIII   Contract Labor89
XIX   Pardoned99
XX   Difficulties of the Ex-Prisoner104
XXI   Reformation109
XXII   Comparisons112
XXIII   A Plea for Discharged Prisoners117

[Pg 5]


The two of us were sitting in a large parkin an Eastern city, one beautiful summerevening. As the rich afterglow of the sunsetturned to twilight and then to dark, myfriend began to talk about the old furtivedays in the underworld. He told me howin many an American city he had stoodbefore some house of an evening when theshades were not drawn. Within he wouldsee the father and the mother, and the happylittle children, and all the bright light ofhome. He would turn away abruptly andwalk into the dark, trying to forget it. Hecould never have a home like that.

Somehow there flashed upon me thatnight such an intimate sense of the tragicloneliness which a man can know in theunderworld as I had never felt before.

Two years later I stood in the home ofthis same friend who for so many years had[Pg 6]been a social outlaw. He had fought hisbattle and won. He was happily married,and his wife and he together were meetinglife with quiet strength and courage. A littlegirl had come to them. I held this tiny babyin my arms as I pronounced the great oldwords, “I baptize thee in the name of theFather, and of the Son, and of the HolyGhost.” A great light was in the eyes ofthe father, and the mother’s eyes shone withthe same gladness. The furtive man whohad walked away in the dark trying to forgetthe sight of a happy home was replaced bya strong, capable citizen, a proud father,in a happy home.

I first met this friend of mine—WellingtonScott he calls himself in this narrative—ina certain State penitentiary. It was in theold days when stripes were still in evidence,and with the prison pallor on his face, andclad in the uniform of the institution, therewas no mistaking the fact that he was undersentence. But even then there was somethingincongruous about it all. The powerfullybuilt frame did suggest deeds which[Pg 7]required strength and daring, but the face,ready to light up with friendliness andkindly humor, the eyes ready to brighten withhearty good comradeship, the whole bearing,despite a certain embarrassment at meetinga stranger at that place and under thoseconditions, suggested a man who mightmake a great deal of life, and who mightmean much to his friends. As an old palof his in the underworld said to me at alater time, “It never seemed that WellingtonScott belonged there.”

It did not take us long to become friends.We looked each other in the eye. Therewere a few words of straight, honest talk,and we had found each other. After thatday I kept in close touch with him.

I watched his fight for a straight lifewhen he came from the institution where hewas confined. I came to know him with anincreasing understanding. He had hardthings to meet. He felt the tug of theundertow of the old life. But he held tohis new purpose.

His unusual powers of observation, his[Pg 8]capacity for thought, and his gift of expressionmade the following narrative of absorbinginterest. The reader will come to havea new understanding of the forces whichdrag boys down, and of the underworldwhich waits for them with wide-open doors.He will understand better how to deal withthe boys in his own home, his own Sundayschool, and his own community, when hehas read this revealing document. Thewhole problem of the prison and prisonreform will appear in a new light. And thereader will come to think of the prisoner,not as a wastrel, but as a man who has losthis way.

The iron entered into the soul of the manwho wrote this little book, and sometimesthe intensity of his feeling is felt in his writing.Do some of his terrible memories makehim “see red,” and ought some of his vigorousstatements to be taken with a grain ofsalt? I do not think that those familiar withprison conditions under the old regime willbe inclined to that opinion. DonaldLowrie’s My Life in Prison may well be[Pg 9]read by the man who thinks that this is anoverdrawn picture. That striking volumeWithin Prison Walls, by Thomas MottOsborne, blazes with an ethical indignationmuch stronger than any which finds expressionin this book. That Wellington Scottis entirely sincere, that he is level-headed andnot inclined to extreme views, and that hebelieves he has given a fair account of conditions,I know. I am ready to vouch forthis narrative, not as the report of ajudicial commission, but as a sincere andrevealing document, in which, with theendeavor to be both candid and fair, theauthor gives us many significant chaptersfrom his life. When the judicial appraisalof the old regime in prisons comes in, itwill be a more terrible arraignment thanthis book by Wellington Scott.

The crook is waiting for a friend. Hehas amazing capacity for loyalty. No manin the world is more appreciative of genuinefriendship. The ways to prevent men fromreturning to prison are many. One of themost important is by providing every man[Pg 10]who comes out of prison with a friend—human,red-blooded, hearty in all his relations,ready to enter into the life and see outof the eyes of the man who has come forthto try his fortune in a none too friendlyworld.

At this point the doubter and the cynicmay lift their voices. How do I know thatthe men will respond to friendship? Theanswer is ready. I know because I haveseen the response. That, however, is anotherstory. Some day I may try to tell it.Now it is time for Wellington Scott tospeak for himself.

Lynn Harold Hough.

[Pg 11]


I was born thirty-three years ago in oneof the small cities of an Eastern State. Thefamily from which I came was well thoughtof, and what it lacked in the possession ofmoney it made up in respectability. My lifeup to the fifteenth year was that of theusual boy. I believe I was a little morestudious than the average youngster, spendingmuch time and finding not a littlepleasure in fitting myself for a futurecareer. I stood well in school, being at thattime one year from high school.

My mother died when I was about sixyears of age, leaving the care of nine childrento my eldest sister. My father, a wage-earner,did not remarry. The home atmospherewas all that it could be, no bickeringor quarrels ever marring the quiet of thehouse.

[Pg 12]My father for as long as I can rememberhad been nearsighted. Whether it was hereditaryor not, I too soon developed that conditionof the eyes. I have always beensupersensitive about that defect in my vision,and at the time did all that I could to preventthe fact becoming known at home. Thisdefect of vision I shall dwell on at morelength hereafter, as I believe it to have beenone of the contributory causes of my enteringthe underworld.

The neighborhood in which I lived up toabout my fifteenth year was just that kindone would expect to find around the homeof the prosperous workingman. About thistime in my life, however, an undesirable classof people began coming in, and the olderneighbors began seeking new homes. Myfamily followed the exodus and moved intoone of the established suburbs of the city.I shall call the place Rosedale. Rosedalewas like unto a strange town to me, and Ifound it lonesome. I was a youngster then,craving companionship. I had left all of myboyhood friends five miles away in the city[Pg 13]below. I knew no one, and I needed thefellowship of a youngster of my own age.Whatever sports I entered into I enteredas a stranger. I went to school and missedsadly the presence of my mates of the city.I was diffident to an extreme, and to makematters worse my father decided at this timethat I should wear eyeglasses. That wasbefore the time when glasses became popular,you must remember. I hated the thoughtof putting them on. I feared the derisionof the boys with whom I must associate. Ifelt them a drawback in my search for companionship.

How well I remember the day I first putthem on! I went to school, and the jibes ofthe boys and the half-concealed smiles ofthe girls made life miserable for me. Thepoison of melancholy crept into my heart.I would not have any of their profferedfriendships, and the rancor in my heart keptme alien from their fellowships. I drewmyself, as it were, into a shell. I made apal out of solitude and out of silence. Isuckled the poison of discontent. Can you[Pg 14]imagine the life of a boy like that? Thelife of a lad is incomplete when it lacks thejoys and pleasures found in companionshipwith other boys. These are a necessary partof his life, essential to his well-being andvitally important in the formation of a goodcharacter.

About four squares distant from myhouse there stood a car barn. Opposite thiscar barn was a pool room, where, for twoand a half cents a cue, one could knockaround the balls to his heart’s content. Tothis pool room my steps gravitated. I rememberthe first time I entered. It wasan evening of the middle winter; the coldwas bitter and a cold sleet driving downfrom the northwest made life miserable onthe outside. I hesitated a while before entering,then, summoning up my courage, Iwent in. My! but it felt good. A hotstove showed red in the background, theodor of tobacco smoke struck strong uponmy nostrils, but, above all, the good-naturedchaff and jokes of those at play. This Ithought was fellowship of the highest order.[Pg 15]No one gave me more than a passing glanceas I entered, except the proprietor, who wasall smiles. He wished me a pleasant evening,mentioned something about the weatherand went on about his work. I soon wasmade to feel at home, and some minutes laterfound myself busily engaged at my firstgame of pool. That pool room soon becamethe Mecca of all of my goings out. Initiationsinto the mysteries of crap, poker, andother games of a strictly gambling charactersoon followed. Before long I had acquireda passion for gambling that knew no limit.A year passed in this environment gave mepals a plenty. These friendships, irretrievablygiven, led into the complexshadows of the underworld.

[Pg 16]


I do not remember my very first act denotingcriminal tendencies. The act whichfirst brought me into the clutches of the lawmust have been the culmination of a passionnurtured by similar acts, but on a muchsmaller scale. A weakening of the willpower, perhaps, by the pool-room environmentof twelve months or so, was back of itall. Preceding the act which brought aboutmy arrest I know I committed many otheracts of petty thievery. Like yesterday thatarrest comes back to me. Imagine a departmentstore at the holiday season; throngsof shoppers crowded here and there; sales-peoplebusy with fussy customers; floor-walkerswatching for crooks. There by thejewelry counter two boys in their teens standwatching and waiting, a small hand reaches

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