Document 18A: Excerpt from "Foreward," Kate Richards O'Hare, In Prison, by Kate Richards O'Hare, Sometime Federal prisoner number 21669 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923), pp. 18-19.


        From the first days of her incarceration, O'Hare maintained that she would devote the remainder of her life to remedying the abuses of the prison system. She also argued that only by actually suffering in prison could one offer a successful plan to reform the prison system, even advising her husband Frank that he should get sent to prison to study the male prisoners. After her conviction, O'Hare decided that the most productive use of her time while in prison would be to conduct a scientific study of her fellow prioners. Prior to her incarceration, she received permission from the Governors of both North Dakota and Missouri and their prison wardens to conduct her study in conjunction with local universities if she was confined in their states. She expected that she would find a "criminal class" and, through her study, develop theories and methods of rehabilitating that class. Once she was "dressed in," however, O'Hare discovered that there was no such "criminal class," and this comprehension had a tremendous impact on her. O'Hare realized, as she had as a young woman doing temperance work, that crime, like poverty, was not the cause, but rather a symptom of many causes.

        After O'Hare's incarceration in Missouri, the warden changed his mind and assigned her to the prison workshop. She was still able to make a fairly comprehensive survey of her fellow prisoners, but her notes were apparently destroyed just prior to her release. In her examination of the American prison system, O'Hare used her own experiences to illustrate problems in the system. In each chapter of In Prison, O'Hare examined a different aspect of prison life, including the theoretical function of the prison (see Document 18B), the physical conditions of prison cells, bathing and dining facilities (see Document 18C), her fellow prisoners (see Document 18D), and food, clothing and recreation (see Document 18E), and the task and punishment system (see Document 18F). The Appendix includes O'Hare's original study outline (see Document 18G). In this brief excerpt from the Foreward, O'Hare again equated her prison experiences with Roman chattel slavery (see also Document 8J).

p. 18

       I spent fourteen months in prison, and I know it was a necessary and valuable part of my education. I know that only by this actual experience could I gain the knowledge I required in order to make an intelligent study
p. 19
of human delinquency and of rational methods of dealing with it. I am quite convinced that every hour I spent in prison was well worth while, for in no other way could I have secured the facts I need; and I hope that by those long weary months my sympathies were broadened and my understanding made deeper, that I might be fitted for a wider field of social service.

       Behind prison walls I had experiences that come to but few persons who have the ability to evaluate their educational worth. With the clang of the prison gates behind me I was thrown back two thousand years to the position of a female hostage of the Imperial Roman Empire, sold into slavery because she had dared to challenge the power of Rome. Day by day, week by week, month by month I re-lived all that long and bitter way that women have trod since the day when Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin. . . .cast the first stone." In the months I spent in prison were compressed all that womanhood has endured from the slave marts of Rome to the deadly grind of the ultra-modern sweat-shop. The experience does not come to many to live the physical life of a chattel slave, in the mental atmosphere of the Dark Ages, with the spiritual background of the Inquisition, the while performing the labours of a modern factory. Only in our prisons do there exist the slave, the feudal, and the capitalist systems at their worst, and all in full force. Only in prisons are the crudities, stupidities, barbarities, and brutalities of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism concentrated into the narrow confines of four walls where one may see and feel and suffer them all to the nth degree. Such an experience is well worth the price.


Leesville, Louisiana, September 1, 1923


| Documents Projects and Archives | Teacher's Corner | Scholar's Edition | Full-Text Sources | About Us | Contact Us |