A Modern Purgatory

A Modern Purgatory
Title: A Modern Purgatory
Release Date: 2018-03-12
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 28
Read book
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 14

Transcriber's Note:
A Table of Contents has been added.


[Pg i]


[Pg ii]


[Pg iii]





[Pg iv]



[Pg v]

M. L. R.

[Pg vi]

"It is believed in this country that a poor man has less chance to getjustice administered to him than a rich man."

—Woodrow Wilson, in a speech in
Chicago, January 11, 1913.



[Pg vii]


This book is a record of the prison experiences of Carlo de Fornaro,artist, writer, editor, revolutionary. It is a record of experiences inthe famous Tombs Prison, in New York City, and in the New York Citypenitentiary on Blackwell's Island—a record of the daily happenings oflife in a prison, of brutalities and stupidities and abominations; asordid record, from the pages of which gleam many fine human things, thesympathies and kindnesses and sacrifices of men thrust by society intothe dark of prison because society was afraid of them.

The book begins with the author's imprisonment, and ends with hisrelease or discharge from prison. It is the tale of his punishment, butit tells nothing of the "crime" that brought the punishment upon him.

It is a strange story, that of the circumstances that brought him toprison and an unprecedented proceeding in the United States, aprosecution for libelling an official of a foreign government.

Carlo de Fornaro came to America when he[Pg viii] was a young man. He was bornin Calcutta, British India, in 1871, of Swiss-Italian parents; and,determined to be an artist, he studied, first architecture in Zurich,then painting in Munich. But when he came to America he found a dearthof art, and when his talent for caricature was recognized, he turned toa newspaper career.

He began in Chicago, with the old Times-Herald, but the greatest partof his work was done in New York, on the Herald, the Telegraph, theWorld and the Evening Sun. In 1906 he went to Mexico to visit afriend—and he stayed three years.

Mexico first interested him—the people, the problems, the smoulderingfire of revolution—and then absorbed him. Porfirio Diaz was Presidentof Mexico, and approaching the end of his long reign of power. Fornaro,always a revolutionary, became interested in politics—a dangerousinterest, especially for a radical opposed to the Diaz régime.Assassination and murder and life imprisonment in dungeons immured fromthe world were commonplace methods used in that day to defeat thepurposes of the opposition to the undermined Diaz dynasty.

But Fornaro, undeterred, went into politics.[Pg ix] He chose the way bestknown to him; he organized a company and established a daily newspaperin Mexico City, of which he was Director. This was late in 1906. Hecontinued with this newspaper for over two years, doing his share offomenting the revolution that brought the Diaz government to its fall afew years later. Then, in 1909, he came back to New York, to continuethe work in another form.

He wrote, and early in 1909 had published in New York, a book entitled"Diaz, Czar of Mexico." It was translated into Spanish, and thousands ofcopies were smuggled across the border into Mexico. It created animmediate sensation; it was forbidden and interdicted; copies of it wereconfiscated and destroyed; people selling it, distributing it, giving itaway, or having it in their possession, were subject to punishment. Butin the face of this it was widely distributed; it was passed from handto hand, secretly, clandestinely; and the demand for it was so great,and the interest in it so intense, that in many cases where it wasdifficult to procure it, single copies were sold for as much as fivedollars and ten dollars.

When the efforts to stop its distribution among the people of Mexicofailed, other measures were[Pg x] tried. Agents of the Diaz government cameto New York; they sent messages to Fornaro; they came finally to seehim; and they offered him $50,000 for the entire edition and to suppressall future editions. But they were true to the practices of the systemthat had so long exacted tribute from the people of Mexico. They knewthe amount of money that would be paid to suppress Fornaro's book—and aproposition was made to Fornaro offering him $50,000, and asking him tosign a receipt for $150,000.

They failed. Fornaro told them the book was not for sale except fordistribution; it would not be suppressed for any price.

It took these agents of the Diaz government some time to realize thisfact. They could not believe there was a thing their money could notbuy. But when they realized it they gave up and departed. And then othertactics were begun, and this time they were more effective.

Fornaro was indicted for criminal libel. This was a logical proceeding,and not unexpected. Agents of the Diaz government, acting ostensibly forRafael Reyes Espindola, a Mexican Congressman, and Editor of thegovernment paper El Imparcial, presented complaints to the GrandJury.[Pg xi] Grand Jury proceedings are secret, and Fornaro, of course, had noopportunity to present his case before that tribunal. It was set forththat in his book, "Diaz, Czar of Mexico," Carlo de Fornaro hadcriminally libeled Rafael Reyes Espindola, and Fornaro was dulyindicted. One of the accusations brought against Espindola in the bookwas that as Editor he used the government paper with impunity to murderreputations.

Fornaro was arrested on April 23, 1909. He pleaded justification. He wasadmitted to bail in the sum of $1,000. On June 21, 1909, a postponementof the trial was granted, to permit the defendant in support of his pleato secure, by Rogatory Letters, or Depositions, the testimony ofwitnesses in Mexico as to the truth of the allegations against Espindolacontained in the book and complained against.

Some of the most prominent men in Mexico were among those Fornaro soughtas witnesses to prove his cause. There were Francisco I. Madero, who ledthe revolution against Diaz, became President of Mexico and was killedwhen Victoriano Huerta assumed the Dictatorship of Mexico; F. IglesiasCalderon, the head of a political party, for thirty-five years aconsistent opponent[Pg xii] of the Diaz system, and the man who had furnishedmost of the material for Fornaro's book; Heriberto Barron, a member ofthe Mexican congress and a prominent journalist in Mexico City, andduring the latter part of the Diaz régime an exile from Mexico; andothers of equal prominence.

But the plan to secure this evidence failed. The witnesses in Mexicowere "not allowed" to testify in Fornaro's favor; there was noopportunity to secure the testimony required by Fornaro, or, even if ithad been secured, to get it out of Mexico; and his witnesses werethreatened with punishment and retaliation if even by speaking the truththey gave aid to Fornaro.

What testimony was offered in his behalf from witnesses in Mexico wasnot allowed; his lawyer in Mexico City, Diodoro Battalla, a Mexican whohad offered to take this case at the risk of his life, was not permittedto represent him. But a representative of the District Attorney of NewYork was sent to Mexico, and he was permitted to represent the state ofNew York in such hearings as were had in Mexico City in an endeavor tosecure the evidence necessary to establish Fornaro's guilt.

[Pg xiii]

On October 27, 1909, Fornaro was put on trial. The result wasinevitable. Fornaro was convicted. On November 9 he was sentenced to oneyear at hard labor in the city penitentiary on Blackwell's Island.

After his conviction, Fornaro was held for five weeks in the Tombsprison, first awaiting his sentence, and after his sentence, during astay pending a decision on his application for a Certificate ofReasonable Doubt, which was denied; and on December 4, 1909, he wastaken to the penitentiary on Blackwell's Island to begin serving histerm.

Two weeks later, when the news of the sentence had reached Mexico,Rafael Reyes Espindola went to a bull fight. As soon as he was seenentering the stands there was a great outcry against him from thespectators—there were over twenty-five thousand of them; they werecalling him "Assassin of reputations." They pelted him with missiles anddrove him out of the bull ring in confusion and ignominy. The Mexicannewspapers, commenting on the incident, called it "Brutal Justice."

On October 3, 1910, Fornaro was discharged. He had served ten months inprison, which was[Pg xiv] the full term of his sentence, except for two monthsoff for good behavior, which is provided by the laws of New York.

Within a few weeks after Fornaro's discharge from prison, after therevolution against Diaz broke out in Mexico, on November 20, 1910,Fornaro was offered $25,000 to leave the United States if there was aninvestigation of the manner in which evidence in his behalf wassuppressed or kept from the court.

Fornaro refused it, as he refused the bribe for suppressing his book,and as he refused a pardon which he was told would be granted himunconditionally after his appeal to the Supreme Court had been lost.There never was any investigation into his case.

But the book that caused all the trouble went on. The first edition of"Diaz, Czar of Mexico" had been exhausted, and a second edition wasprinted. The revolutionists in Mexico still say that this book, inconjunction with Francisco I. Madero's "The Presidential Succession in1910," were the greatest influences in bringing about the fall ofPorfirio Diaz.

[Pg 1]



It is the second day of my trial. The whole performance is tiresome andmonotonous in the extreme. On one side—the side of the prosecution, theside against me—the case is legally perfect, on my side there ispractically no defense; and surrounded as I am by powerful and subtlepolitical influences, I have come to the conclusion that I have as muchchance of success—or escape—as the proverbial snowball in Hades.

Considering my hopeless predicament and my helplessness, I am astonishedat the sneering and insulting manner of the prosecuting attorney. Whythis unseemly desire[Pg 2] to swat as insignificant a gnat as I?[1] Duringlunch at recess I hear that my victim and accuser is very muchembarrassed and annoyed at the pertinent questions asked by theprosecutor and translated by an interpreter.

"Are you a picaroon?" queried the District Attorney.

"No," protested the blushing Mexican, "I am only a congressman."

Insults are sometimes the making of a man's reputation, but ridiculealways kills, as my Mexican opponent confessed to me once in MexicoCity, adding that he never paid the slightest attention to insults orlibelous attacks of the Mexican press. In this case they made him changehis mind and he was sent twice three thousand miles from Mexico toprosecute as libel that which he could not even read.

[Pg 3]

Finally the case is concluded and I am led through a maze into theTombs prison to await the deliberation of the jury.

The keepers inquire as to the real meaning and equivalent in slang ofthe word "picaroon," and they seem disappointed at its commonplacemeaning as compared to the phonetic redundance of a word which promisedso much. All seem quite certain the jury won't convict, but I am of adifferent opinion.

After waiting more than two hours I am brought back to court to hear thedecision of the jury. I notice the foreman, a gray-haired, lean personwith a long neck two sizes smaller than his collar. He is speaking in alow voice. I cannot hear what he says, but when

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 14
Comments (0)
reload, if the code cannot be seen
Free online library ideabooks.net