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CHAPTER III PENAL SERVITUDE: A TASTE OF LIFE AT PORTLAND A Sentence
of penal servitude may be for three years or for life. Intermediate
between these extremes are sentences of five, seven, fifteen, and
twenty years. By " steady industry," allied to what is called in
prison " good conduct" (a matter of mere passive obedience), a
prisoner may earn remission of about one-fourth of the judge's
award. This, under the " mark" system, means that he must pile up
all the marks he can, and forfeit of them as few as may be. Jabez
Balfour, whose prison life lasted ten years and five months, says
that during the whole of this existence?the most monotonous,
depressing, exacting, and irksome that can be imagined?he lost
never a mark that could be won, had never a scratch against his
name. Praise to whom praise is due ! That this constitutes a
splendid record let the words which follow testify. " The life of a
convict," says Mr. Balfour, " a life regulated by two or three
gentlemen in Whitehall?is not to be judged by any of the standards
which are applicable to a life of freedom. Seclusion, silence,
shame, separation from one's fellows, aminute and pedantic control
exercised by others over all one's actions, a steady, persistent
course of off1cial snubbing from morn till eve?these are its normal
conditions. The man who is brave enough to accept them and adapt
himself to them may grow at length so accustomed, so acclimatised,
to their influence, as to pass at least a tolerable existence. But
this demands exceptional qualities and a tremendous effort." A life
sentence signifies in general some twenty years, but the prisoner
is not necessarily released at the end of this frightful term. I
saw at Portland a convict, a reprieved murderer, who had been
confined for five-and-twenty years....
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