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Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist   By: (1870-1936)

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Published September, 1912 Second Edition, 1920


To all those who in and out of prison fight against their bondage

"But this I know, that every Law That men have made for Man, Since first Man took his brother's life, And the sad world began, But straws the wheat and saves the chaff With a most evil fan."


[Illustration: Alexander Berkman Photo by Marcia Stein]


I wish that everybody in the world would read this book. And my reasons are not due to any desire on my part that people should join any group of social philosophers or revolutionists. I desire that the book be widely read because the general and careful reading of it would definitely add to true civilization.

It is a contribution to the writings which promote civilization; for the following reasons:

It is a human document. It is a difficult thing to be sincere. More than that, it is a valuable thing. To be so, means unusual qualities of the heart and of the head; unusual qualities of character. The books that possess this quality are unusual books. There are not many deliberately autobiographical writings that are markedly sincere; there are not many direct human documents. This is one of these few books.

Not only has this book the interest of the human document, but it is also a striking proof of the power of the human soul. Alexander Berkman spent fourteen years in prison; under perhaps more than commonly harsh and severe conditions. Prison life tends to destroy the body, weaken the mind and pervert the character. Berkman consciously struggled with these adverse, destructive conditions. He took care of his body. He took care of his mind. He did so strenuously. It was a moral effort. He felt insane ideas trying to take possession of him. Insanity is a natural result of prison life. It always tends to come. This man felt it, consciously struggled against it, and overcame it. That the prison affected him is true. It always does. But he saved himself, essentially. Society tried to destroy him, but failed.

If people will read this book carefully it will tend to do away with prisons. The public, once vividly conscious of what prison life is and must be, would not be willing to maintain prisons. This is the only book that I know which goes deeply into the corrupting, demoralizing psychology of prison life. It shows, in picture after picture, sketch after sketch, not only the obvious brutality, stupidity, ugliness permeating the institution, but, very touching, it shows the good qualities and instincts of the human heart perverted, demoralized, helplessly struggling for life; beautiful tendencies basely expressing themselves. And the personality of Berkman goes through it all; idealistic, courageous, uncompromising, sincere, truthful; not untouched, as I have said, by his surroundings, but remaining his essential self.

What lessons there are in this book! Like all truthful documents it makes us love and hate our fellow men, doubt ourselves, doubt our society, tends to make us take a strenuous, serious attitude towards life, and not be too quick to judge, without going into a situation painfully, carefully. It tends to complicate the present simplicity of our moral attitudes. It tends to make us more mature... Continue reading book >>

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