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WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE? TH& LIFE STORY OF A FORGER
AS TOLD TO ROBERT 0. BALLOU BY ROGER BENTON
INTRODUCTION BY LE W I S E. LAW ES WARDEN. SING SING PRISON
FURMAN. INC. NEW YORK
Copyright, 1936 BY LEE FURMAN, INC.
Printed in the United States of America
LEwrs E. LAwu, Warden of Sing Sing Prison that confronts Roger Benton, who has just finished serving a long prison term, is not only his own, but that of every other man leaving prison: that of earning a livelihood in a legitimate enterprise to the end that he need not be forced by economic pressure to return to unlawful activities with a certainty of finishing his life in another penal institution. Benton is an accomplished man. He is a skillful artist whose delightful and pleasing sketches have afforded myself and many others much genuine pleasure. He possessed the will power and the courage while in middle age to accomplish what many, with all the advantages of youth, failed to do. He finds himself now, after a prolonged criminal career that carried him from the unbelievable horrors of a Louisiana prison camp to a final sentence at Sing Sing Prison, firm in the conviction that he does not again desire to incur the vengeance of society for further misdeeds. In depicting his career in the various prisons of this country for crimes which netted him large sums of money, he brings the reader to the time of his latest release, which finds him possessing the willingness but not the means to undertake a decent life, thereby forcefully summarizing each and every argument ever advanced as to the futility of crime.
Society must stand ready to assist and encourage Benton, as it must every other released prisoner who shows the necessary inclination to travel in the right path. Not every released prisoner is so fortunate as Benton in having at his command a positive means of earning a livelihood. Great numbers of men are released from prison without having had the ability, opportunity or forethought to prepare themselves for an eventual life dissociated from crime. If such men are to gain a measure of self-confidence and to prepare themselves to regain the esteem of their fellow citizens, those forces that so uncompromisingly decreed their punishment for alleged misdeeds, must be marshalled with just as much fervor to encompass their rehabilitation. It is my sincere hope that this recital of Benton's life may bring home to many people the responsibility that society must assume if it is to reclaim to proper exist. ence those whom it at various times has designated as outcasts, and who, on their part, are sincerely desirous of assuming a proper standing in their chosen communities. LEWIS E. I.Aw~
I. A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY II. RICH MAN, POOR MAN Ill. BEGGAR MAN, THIEF
IV. RUN, SHEEP, RUN
A DREAM COMES TllUE
VI. LOUISIANA HOUSE PARTY Vil. SWEET ARE THE FRUITS OF TOIL VIII. ONE·MAN REVOLUTION IX. "UNDER THE GUN"
A LITILE MAN PAYS A DEBT
XI. WASHINGTON RUN-AROUND XII. A MAN NAMED GENE DEBS XIII. BRIEF FLIGHT XIV. IN SOLITUDE ONE FINDS PEANUT BRITTLE
XVI. CONQUEST IN A TAXI XVII. JIM FAILS TO JtEEP A DATE XVIII. UP THE RIVER TO THE BIG HOUSE XIX. WESTCHESTER HOUSE PARTY
HERE IS A MAN
13 29 41 60 72 98 116 136
154 189 201 215 221 229 239 249 262 271 284 297
XXJ. I TAU INVENTORY
XXll. INCIPIT VITA NUOVA
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
FOREWORD Foa SEVENTEEN years I lived on the fruits of theft. For seventeen years (which ended on Christmas Eve, 1954) every bit of food which I put into my mouth, every piece of clothing which I wore, was either paid for with stolen money or given me by the state whose compulsory guest I was at the time. Nearly ten of those seventeen years were spent in prisons or jails. All the rest of them were spent in avoiding detection-the lifework of every professional criminal, so complicated in its operation that it dwarfs the actual technical practice of his profession. During the five and a half years which constituted my last stay in prison, I took seriow stock of myself for the first time in my life. I tried to find out why I had followed the abnormal path of criminality instead of the normal one of social living within the law, tried to see what there would be for me if, in middle life, I were to begin the attempt to build for myself the solid position I wish now I had begun at eighteen to build. But I confess that, aside from the fact that I know I played a losing game before and shall not try to beat it again, I have arrived at no completely satisfactory answers. Almost any criminologist will give you a glib list of the causes of crime, will outline for you this situation and that in the childhood of the criminal which explains why he has spent most of his life making scornful gestures toward the law and social approval. xi
Without wishing in any way to dispute the intimations which these classifications of the causes of crime make, I can find in them nothing which seems remotely to satisfy my search for the reasons why I became a criminal. I don't know what they arc. I have never known what they were. · Only the other day I read that a sociologist, making a study of men in English prisons for serious crimes, found that none of the inmates had ever kept pets u children, and drew from this an elegant theory about the relation of petlessness in childhood to crime in later life. I smiled as I read this and decided that a group of mugs had been having a fine time pulling some scholar's leg. I had a pony named Bess, who was almost as much a part of me as my legs, and an all-time dog as well as frequent occasional muts. And I have seen too many murderers, rapists, burglars, hold-up men, and whatnot in prison taming rats, mice, birds-even cockroaches--to believe that pets or petlessness and crime have any relation to each other at all. Criminals are simply human beings who love animals and like to make pets of them, or don't, just as men and women who have never evaded the law (or at least have never been caught in any evasion and convicted) are. The whole matter seems to me to be almost as indefinite as that. I should like to be able to find in my own memory some event or combination of events, some arrangement of environment, some twisted human relationship which was forced upon me, to fit into the neat pattern of causes which sociological and psychiatric science hold forth to explain crime-it would be an easy sop to my regrets. But I cannot. I have no explanation to make.
Perhaps it was a delayed adolescence and a chance which induced me to commit my first crime at the time when I was just looking forward into the years of adult responsibility and the events which followed still seem to me to have been natural consequences. Perhaps it was as simple a matter as persons of other generations would have you believe: a lack. of proper character training. I only know that I bet on the wrong horse and that now the race is over and I have lost and have no desire ever to try my luck. on the crazy animal again. And so, since I have nothing to conceal now, the story of the race seems worth telling. ROGER BENTON
A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY MOUNTAINS, blanketed with forcsu, rocky heighu from which one could look to the Atlantic and sec, in the mind's eye, the far poru of the world, white, lowroofed farmhouses, and seemingly whiter churches, the love of a happy family, and a group of neighbors who exemplified the best traditions of New England Puritanism, surrounded my childhood. The village of my birth, housing less than 1500 persons, lay peacefully in a little nest made by surrounding slopes and pcab of mountaim. When I went to bed at night in the two-storied white frame house which was my home, I could lie on my side and sec, through my bedroom window, a mountain peak bathed in the moonlight; when I woke in the morning I could, from my fair point of vantage, speculate on whether I would that day manage the climb to iu very top which I had always planned some day to make. (On many nighu since, when the only view from my bed was a barred prison window, I have closed my eyes tightly and tried to recreate that vision, in a search for the peace which would make it possible for me to sleep.) We were a family of four-Father, Mother, one sister, and myself. There was nothing to distinguish us from the average family, unless you think. of normal family life as unhappy. We were a happy group, going about the business of respectable, middle-class living 18
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE1
quite as our neighbors did, normally affectionate, my sister and myself normally, but never bitterly, quarrelsome, Father and Mother given to ups and downs of good humor as all adults are. My father was a civil engineer-upper middle class, I suppose you would call him-who had lost a great deal of money in investments before meeting my mother, and, abandoning his profession, had decided to try his hand at business. With one possible exception, I think he was the most likable and altogether enjoyable person I have ever known. He was tall and powerful and apparently adequate to meet any situation which presented itself, not over serious, preferring to take life as it came, somewhat lightly and without so much regard for consequences that the fun could be spoiled. Money seemed unimportant to him-the only times I can remember his seeming to worry about it was when Mother was urging him to give up his habit of making wild investmenu and settle down to harder work. The strange thing about his investments was that it never seemed to matter to him whether he won or losL I think it was a game to him and his fun came &om waiting and watching, rather than &om the actual possession of the money on those rare occasions when his investmenu were successful. As a small child I idolized him and wanted to do everything as he did. I can remember consciously imitating his way of speech, his gestures, his little peculiarities in handling tools and my playthings. I was transported with happiness when I found that he would spend an hour or two with me, playing my games or walking through the countryside with me. It was Father to whom I went when I wanted any
A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
especial permission which I thought might be the least bit difficult to get. It was he who brought me my fint dog, a little ball of fur which even I could hold easily in my two hands. He told me that the dog was a "curb setter" and I went about leading him on a string and boasting about his pedigree, proudly telling everyone that I had the only "curb setter" in town. It was only years afterwards that I learned there was not and never had been a breed so-called, and that my father had coined the name himself, making a boyish pun with which to clothe a divinely misbegotten mongrel with dignity. By then, of coune, it didn't matter. I have never had a dog whom I loved more truly (and I have owned many since), who stuck to me more loyally, or who seemed more the embodiment of all virtues than that fint fuzzy little mutt who taught me to know the staunchness of a dog's heart and the beauty of his character. My seventh birthday was one of those days which stand out in a lifetime. A few lucky boys in the world will remember the same kind of a day-many will remember only their own longings for it and their regrets that it never came. It was the day on which I got a horse! Father called her a pony, she was so small. Her weight was about nine hundred pounds and I was sure, in those days, that she was the fastest, the staunchest, and the most beautiful aggregate of nine hundred pounds in the world. In this case there was no need to make a pun in order to orient her properly in the dignified shade of a family tree. Her sire had a track record of 1: u, and her mother was somebody too, though I have forgotten, now who. She was my own
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERD
hone and I gloried in her, and for days even neglected Fuzzy, my beloved dog, so engrossed was I with this new love. I remember still how it nearly broke the dog's bean, how he moped and trotted sadly by my side for days, instead of romping all over the landscape as he had been used to do on our walks. I named the pony Bess ahcr my school teacher-perhaps a doubtful compliment, but one which came from the depths of childish admiration. When school was out in the afternoon I could not get home quickly enough, racing back to the place where Bess was. Home, I would bring her out of the barn, sleek and beautiful with the currying and brushing I had given her before going to school in the morning and, without saddle or bridle (for I prided myself on what seemed to me then a skillful performance), guiding her only with a short stick. with which I would press her head to right and left, I swanked around town on her back., the faithful, if discouraged Fuzzy, always at our heels. Many of the boys in the village were parts of families which had hones, and soon we had organized racing meets of our own. In the sheds bordering an old race track at the edge of town there were always a number of unwed, often completely abandoned sulkies, relics of county fain. To these we would secretly converge, each leading the family hone-I riding Bess-and followed by the envious boys who had no horses. Two or three of the horseless boys would be appointed judges (and never were judges sterner with horses which went under the wire too early at the start) and the rest of us would drive our horses. Bess almost always wool After all she was the only horse in the
A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
village who had a sire with a record of 2: 12 and a dam who was somebody too. But Sunday afternoons were the times when I really felt closest to Bess. I wasn't allowed to ride her then. Neither Mother nor Father was especially strict or rabid about religion, but Mother especially insisted that the conventions be upheld. She used to tell me time and time again that I must "avoid the appearance of evil." St. Paul, the great diplomat, was her spiritual adviser with his "be all things to all men" and she knew that our New England village would look with keen disapproval on any boy who galloped a barebacked pony through the streets on Sunday. I have often thought since that those who caution us constantly about "avoiding the appearance of evil" are much more concerned with the appearance than with the evil itself, and that they would · not mind the evil particularly if it did not appear in public. But the mere fact that I could not ride Bess on Sunday afternoon could not keep me away from her. Coming home from Sunday School I would invariably take a book (usually one of Horatio Alger's or Oliver Optic's or Henty's) right after dinner and go to Bess' stall. There was a window just over her manger, always filled with cool clean hay, and in this I would spend the afternoon, half lying, in a position which would probably seem ghastly to me now, but which seemed heavenly then, and read, with Bess' velvety nose often nuzzling my hand-at fint for the stolen pieces of sugar she knew would be there, and, after they were consumed, for sheer affection, or with her head against my side while I scratched the deep, soft valleys behind her ean.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERD
It was during the year after my birthday that my father announced that he was going to visit a cousin in Missouri, in whose small factory he had invested, and asked me if I should like to go along. The only thorn which came with the otherwise perfect rose of my excitement was that I would have to leave Bess for a little while, but of course I went. I probably would have forgotten all about the trip by now if it were not for one thing which happened. Perhaps it has a great deal of significance-perhaps none-but in any case it was exciting and is one of the most vivid memories of an adventurous childhood. We had driven a horse and buggy from my cousin's home in Missouri to his foundry, five miles away, and started back late. There was a little stream we had to ford and it was dusk when we got back to it on the way home. Our horse had picked his way hesitantly over th~ rocks and slipping sand of the stream bed and was snorting with relief as he climbed, with wet fetlocks, out the other side, when, from the bushes which flanked the road, two men stepped out and seized his bridle. I remember them as thick-set, medium-height fellows, with slouch hats pulled low over their faces. I don't remember what they said-if they said anything, for in less time than it takes me to think of the next words I want, Father had seized me by the coat collar with his left hand and literally hurled me to the floor of the buggy where the dashboard and the hone's body formed a shield for me and, cutting the horse savagely with the whip, urged him forward. It was a good horse we were driving and he needed no more encouragement than this to rid himself fiercely
A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
of the rude alien hands which had been laid on him. With a bound he threw the two men off their feet, dragging one of them who held on more persistently than the other, for several yards, so that our buggy wheelJ passed over one of his legs when he was finally forced to let go. In the village Father drove at once to the town hall to find the policeman and, after difficulty, unearthed him from a nearby hotel lobby and reported the whole matter. I don't remember what the officer said, but I remember that, as we drove away, Father said, "That fellow couldn't catch molasses in January," giving me a low opinion of the intelligence of officers of the law -an opinion which, I confess (with a few exceptions) I have never revised materially. This docs not mean that I am what is known as a "cop hater." Certainly the average policeman or detective is as intelligent as the average criminal, or for that matter, I suppose, the average man. Occupation seems to make so little difference in producing evidences of intelligence. Wherever I have gone, as a free man or a prisoner, there has been the undistinguished majority, and the distinguished minority. Certainly the average prison population is as dull a lot as you will find on any subway train in New York. The next morning we learned that two farmers had been held up and robbed the night before by the Dalton boys, the Missouri outlaws whose fame was at its height then and who have since passed into legend along with the James Brothers, Billy the Kid, and all that train of heroic, if infamous figures, which added color to the West, and zest to the nineteenth century, Victorian counterparts to John Dillinger and Pretty
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE1
Boy Floyd. Their description, (a more accurate one than I have been able to give you at this late date) , made it obvious that they were the two men who had stopped w, and I swelled with pride and joy. By the time I got back. to school in New England I had elaborated the story into a saga of adventure and heroism. My father had bested both of them in hand to hand combat, with my help, of course. He had beaten one of them soundly and I had slashed the other across the face with the buggy whip so that the Dalton boys, seeing they had met their masters, both took. to their heels and ran for their lives. I was the hero of the school and each time one of the boys would ask me to tell the story again, I would find some new detail in my imagination-,,omething I had apparently forgotten the last time I told it. I remember overhearing on the playground conversations between the other boys about it, and strutting with pride as I listened. Time after time the scene was re-enacted on the school playground and we made it better "theatre" in each rehearsal. And finally we "took the show on the road"-that is, took it out to the edge of town, adding Bess to the cast. There was a little stream there to ford, so that we had most of the original props reproduced and when Bess, playing the part of the horse, quite knocked the wind out of one of "the Dalton Boys" we all went home in terror, somewhat chastened. It was Father who encouraged me in athletics and in any contest which gave me a chance to demonstrate superiority. It was Father who made me believe that I could swim around "Five-Mile Pond" at an age at
A LJFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
which almost any boy in the village would have thought it impossible. I almost thought it was, too, but Father made me believe that I could do it, and I did. It was Father who encouraged me, as I grew older, to be a good jumper, a good hurdler, a good baseball and foot· ball player, and I was all of these things, so that, very early in life I became known and liked as a promising all-round athlete. It never occurred to me in those early days that I would ever have to take second place with anyone. Supported by a sound and active body, a natural love for the out of doon and physical exercise, and my father's encouragement, the world was my oyster, and I had no doubts that it would slip easily · down my ready throat. By the time I was sixteen I had become a good boxer. Father, who had learned early what he used to call "the art of self-defense" often put the gloves on with me, and helped me develop my own skill, and was proud that, at sixteen-although he was of course stronger than I, I could invariably get my blows in through his guard, while his usually landed on my arms and gloves, or missed me entirely. A series of boxing tournaments came along leading to one which was to settle the state championship for boys, and I wanted to enter it. I told Father about it, and he wanted me to enter, too, but we decided to· gether that Mother would never stand for it. So Father decided that we would say nothing whatever about it and that I should enter under the unexplained name of "Kid Reilly," which I did. Father was at the ringside everyone of the three nights I boxed under that glorious title, cheering and shouting and hissing with the best of them. In the fint
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE1
tournament I won the fint fight and, after a little rest, went confidently into the ring to undo my second opponent. One by one I was going to eliminate them, as a wild-turkey shooter gets his string of wild turkeys, picking them off one at a time, in line, as they stalk out of their protecting cover. But in the middle of the fint round something very unheroic happened. It began in the pit of my stomach and surged upward toward my throat, gripping my vitals, clouding my eyes with misery. I swallowed hard and'· rapidly, told myself fiercely that I would not let it happen, called myself hard and uncomplimentary names as a weakling, but nothing would stay the onrush of that awful contingency which had arisen to smite me. Giving in at last to the inevitable, I covered my head with my hands against the blows of my opponent and backed to my corner where I was ingloriowly, disgwtingly sick. Thus ended one evening which was to have gone down in the sports legends of N cw England. But another tournament came and I, with my father cheering me from the ringside, won it in the 125 pound class, and was given a gold watch as proof, and was thus eligible for the championship bouts. In these I got to the semi-finals and was beaten by the man who, in the finals, won the championship. But so sure was I still that I was a better boxer than he, and so unbearable was it for me to take second place, that I challenged him to a private bout before friends and beat him. I had no shadow of a sense of inferiority in those days. I tell these things, not because they are of any importance in themselves but because, as I look back now,
A LIFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
it sttmS to me that I had more than the average boy's opportunities and assurances. From my father, too, I gained a sense of fairness and a hatred of cheating, which I have to tliis day. This must sound strange coming from a man who has stolen thousands of dollars and spent ten well-earned years in prison for doing it, but it is true. There has always been a strict, if not completely logical, distinction in my mind between the outright thief who aligns himself against the forces of law and a more or less impersonal and indifferent soci.ety, taking a plainly realized risk of losing his freedom by doing it, and the man who, under the guise of fairness and often shielded by friendship, stoops to petty cheating. Mother found out eventually about my boxing and my father's part in it as a conspirator, and we both came in for a sound drubbing for having "disgraced the family." She was like that about most things. Things had to be "nice" and proper and in the frame which persons in good society had designed, in order to seem justified to her. I have written little about my mother and there is little which seems significant for me to write. She cared for me in gentleness, taught me a few things, in an indecisive way, and seems now to have left little impression on my life. I remember her as always trying to do the "correct" thing and as being supremely disinterested in all matters which seemed important to me-r, for that matter, to my father. I should like (as I suppose every man would) to be able to relive my life with my mother. I would be able to understand her better now, I think, and would doubtless find many things in her to love and praise.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE1
But there is nothing that can be done about it now. She died more than twenty years ago and her death seemed to have no more noticeable effect on me than her life had. My sister too seems to have touched me only distantly. I have no idea where she is now, or what her circumstances, or even definite knowledge that she is still alive. She knows nothing at all of my criminal record-she had lost all interest in me long before I had any. Neither my mother nor my father gave me any instruction in sex. It was a master in an Episcopal boarding school, where I spent two yean from eleven to thirteen, who partly made up for this lack. Collectively and individually he told the boys what their bodies were like, what they were made for, and how to take care of them, and I am grateful to him to this day. I think I owe it chiefly to him that I led a clean and decent life as a young man, free from the cheap and spiritually (if not physically) harmful sex experiences which harass most boys, and that I have followed a definite set of standards in sex relationships ever since. I seemed fated, as a child, to contact a few famow people briefly, as I contacted the Dalton Boys before I was seven. While I was at the boarding school I spent a week-end with one of the boys who lived in Concord, New Hampshire. We were walking along a country road just outside the town when we had to step aside to let pass one of the most handsome teams of black horses I have ever seen, drawing a Victoria. The horses were beautifully cared for and radiated life and vigor. They were covered with blaci fly nets, which trembled and shook with their nervous movements and, with the
A UFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
shining black leather of the harness, their sleek coau, and their daintily lifted feet, made a brave display in the sunlight. · Behind them, very erect and dignified, sat a famous coachman whose name (Fry) has come down, strangely enough, through the history of one of America's most popular churches. And behind him, as erect as he, shading her eyes from the sun with a little sun parasol, sat one of the most gracious and kindly looking ladies I have ever seen. She looked down at w, gave us a beautiful smile and waved her hand at us as the Victoria rolled grandly on, while we raised our caps courteously. I asked my friend who she was. "Oh, she's a preacher lady who lives in town," he answered indifferently, and we went on. It was Mary Bak.er Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church. Not that it matters. A cat may look at a king or queen-or a great religious leader, or a pair of the most famous bandiu in the world, and it is doubtful that it has any effect for good or bad. It just happens, and is remembered, and he likes to speak of it if he becomes articulate. Those personal contacts which really influence him, which carry the course of his life outside the set track predetermined by his heredity, are furnished by men like the Episcopal master who help him to sec the meaning behind his being, and start moving in him the forces of choice and free will and intelligence. I could easily waste time now wishing for more such men in the early story of my life. Yet I have often remembered that meeting during the past five years as I sat in a prison cell trying to find something within my own heart to which I could
WHERE DO 1 GO FROM HERE1
cling, something which would give me a base on which to build a new life, for, during this time someone gave me a copy of a book written by the graciow lady of the Victoria-Science and Health. It did not make a convert of me, yet I found in it some things I wanted and needed to find, and I know now that I, raised indifferently as a Baptist, and for most of my life completely indifferent to all codified _religions and their churches, am now trying to live a life composed of decent values largely becawe of the influence of this founder of the . Christian Scienc~ Church, my old Episcopal master whom I shall never forget, an ancient Hindu mystic, and a Catholic priest, whom I consider the best friend I have in the world. Of these last two I shall have more to say later. After two years at the boarding school I was suddenly taken away by my father's decision that we were to move to Boston, the hub of New England-in its own conception then, the hub of the world. Here I finished grammar school and high school, carrying on my earlier reputation as an athlete, going to panics with the other girls and boys, and living as normally as any high school boy could be expected to. Although we were far from rich (Father's investments were going no better than they had before and his bwiness, while sound and satisfactory, never paid him huge profits) I never actually wanted for money. I had no regular allowance but I cannot remember ever having been actually refused money when I asked for it. Strangely enough, it· was to Mother that I went when I needed funds. If I were about to go to an affair to which the admission was fifty cents, I would simply tell Mother and she would give me at least a dollar or
A UFE BEGINS PLEASANTLY
a dollar and a half, so that I would have a little extra to spend with the other boys. Perhaps she overdid it. I don't know. Perhaps money came too easily to me even then. Dimly, in the back of my mind, I was looking ahead to what I should do with the rest of my life. At fint (following the pattern my father had laid down, I suppose) I decided that I would be a civil engineer. I know that it was not only Father-wonhip which dictated this. The love of the out of doon which I knew as a child, and feel to this day, the dim stirrings of a childish spirit already moved by the beauty of Nature, its grandeur and its power to make a human being feel more than a human being, urged me to follow a profession which would keep me in the open. But a stronger, related urge, soon took its place. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see distant places. ThOIC early glimpses which I had of the ocean, at a spot not so very far from that on which the Pilgrim Fathen landed, had had their effect on me. I travelled. right enough, later-often rapidly, and with scant time for goodbyes to the place I was leaving. and often accompanied by guardians of the law-but these trips were never indicated in the dreams of travel I had as a high school boy. It was while I was in Boston that Mother insiated on something she had urged me often before to do. She wanted me to take music lessons. At last I consented, but, though I loved music, I could never stick at my practicing, and she was never strict enough to make me. I would always be deserting it for the out of doon and all which I really loved best and neither her discipline of me nor mine of myself had ever been
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE1
developed to the point at which I could be made to take the longtime view and see the values which would repay me after I had become a pianist. I mention this here as of some importance, because it has only been during the last five yean that I have really worked for a view of things in my own mind which would regard lasting values more seriously than temporary ones, and I often wonder whether the last twenty years might not have been very different for me if I had been taught self-discipline by firm, loving hands and minds when I was a child. After all middle life is a bit late for a man to learn that there are often greater values in the world than those which mature between this day's sunrise and sunset and that they may be achieved only by ruling himself. Thus went the days of my childhood-potential preparation, you would say, for a good life, a life of usefulness and honesty and purpose, a life in the making-or perhaps a life already made before I was through with my high school days, already twisted somehow. I do not know. Surely it seemed fine then, and all which lay ahead seemed fine.
RICH MAN, POOR MAN THAT which lay immediately ahead was a job in my father's office. He had been fairly successful during the year or two before I finished high school and was quite willing to send me to college, though he was not insistent on it. And I didn't want to go. I wanted to get started at something, I wanted to see strange places and strange people, and felt that I would like to be a traveling salesman. Mother wanted me to go to college, but when Father offered me a job in view of my expressed lack of desire to go, I took it. He had several medium-sized building contracts under way at the time, and I was supposed to stay in the office doing general clerical work and taking care of some of the details in connection with his relations with his clients, but my restlessness, my love for an active rather than an inactive life, worked together to keep me outside as much as I could manage to be. Both Father and I saw that I wasn't going to get anywhere that way and we both knew that he as my boss was bound to be too tolerant, and so, when a friend of his offered me a position in a brokerage office I took it and tried to settle down to work. When I think back now over the troubled history of the last seventeen yean, the tremendous risks I have taken in order to get money, even during those short 29
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periods when I seemed to be winning, the long months when I was forced to look with suspicion upon the face of every man I didn't know, because I knew that those who were hunting for me were nearby, the torture I have known in prison and the penniless state in which it has left me at last, I think back to the pleasant office I had in that brokerage firm, the sound salary and generous commWions which I received, the contacts which I was making, and the general and definite prospect of success which it offered, and wonder what strange insanity ever made me leave it behind, and with it, all prospect of a normal social life. Yet had I stayed there, I would know less of people than I do now and, strange as it may sound, would probably have a more twisted idea of honesty and dishonesty than I have now, and a more complicated, and I think, less sound, sense of values. For here I met and dealt with people whose one ambition in life seemed to be to make money, and, once having made it, to increase the amount beyond all dreams of human need. Most of the clients with whom I dealt were wealthy women of high social standing who seemed animated by the repetition of one idea, and one idea only: Get, Get, Gett In truth it was my own then, too, I suppose. It has only been during the last few years that I have come to see a great many things worth living for which have nothing to do with the acquisition of money. And all of my own ambitions in this direction were supported and encouraged by the socially elect for whom and with whom I was working. Nor was it always clear to me that the line between honest acquisition of money and theft was finely and clearly drawn. Had I stayed
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in the brokerage business, or in the banking business, and been successful as a broker or banker, I might have acquired as much money as (or more than) I ever did as a forger, and kept it along with the approval of society, instead of losing every cent I ever acquired, as I have, and in addition spending ten years of my life in prison as a punishment for my acquisition of it, and it might easily seem to me that the business of acquiring wealth at the expense of anyone else in the world, was quite the natural and right thing for anyone to do. But, having stolen instead, it seems to me now that the whole business of considering the acquisition of money the most important thing in life doesn't make much sense, and that the thing which matters most is not whether one acquires money legally or illegally, but whether he devotes his life sheerly to acquiring money, or to the pursuit of some rather larger, less tangible values, while he is making a living and passing a decent constructive life. The thing which brought my job to an abrupt close was Father's announcement that he was about to take a trip to Panama, and his question as to whether I would like to go along. Would I? It was like asking a hungry dog whether he would like a fine juicy steak. In any case a trip of a thousand miles and the prospect of strange sights and sounds to greet me when I got there would have been enough. In this case the journey sounded particularly glamorous because I knew that at the other end one of the greatest engineering projects in the history of the world was being accomplished: the digging of the Panama Canal.
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I shall never forget my first view of the Culcbra Cut in the making. The cut was being dug in "steps" or terraces, with one tier above another standing out, a gaunt rift in the earth, a group of steam shovels at work on each tier, the smoke from each rising straight up in the clear Equatorial air, unusually still on that day. They were huge machines really, but in the vastness of the expanse at which their giant maws were nibbling, they looked like a child's toys, and the great line of flat cars which caned away the earth was the plaything a baby pulls about by a string. I did not know that one day I would be trying (and always failing) to capture pictures like that on paper with a pen or pencil, but I did know that I could never get my eyes full of the dramatic spectacle I saw there. There was another man there who felt that way about it, too, and who was translating the wish into a series of great lithographs. His name was Joseph Pennell and we passed and rcpasscd each other often in the lobby of the Tivoli Hotel where both he and my father and I were staying, and about the cut where we both spent countless hours. That trip was a succession of meetings with famous personages. We met Rex Beach, who was there working on a novel, Luciano Duque, city editor of the Panama Star-Herald, Raol Amador, a son of the first president of Panama, Colonel George W. Goethals, the wizard of the canal, Walter Reed, after whom the great hospital in Washington is named, and Colonel Gorgas, who drove mosquitoes out of Panama as thoroughly as St. Patrick freed Ireland of snakes. I can still sec the colonel's "utility gang" on their daily rounds of mosquito elimination. The "gang" was
RICH MAN, POOR MAN com~ of West Indian Negroes, each of whom carried two common garden sprinklers suspended from a yoke which they bore across their shoulders. In them was a mixture of crude oil and creosote with which they sprinkled every stagnant pool and puddle of water within the city and its immediate environs, smothering the mosquitoes' larvae and effectively wiping out the race so far as that locality was concerned. Father knew one of the engineers on the canal project which gave us a pretty free footway about the work. and I spent most of my days watching it and most of my evenings listening to talk of it in the hotel lobby and restaurants. The high spot of the visit was a trip up the wild Chagres river with an engineer who wanted to find a way for a road-a road which was never actually built, as it turned out. Every foot of the way was like a trip through some exotic greenhouse. Giant ferns, palms, orchids, and a thousand and one amazingly bright colored flowers flung their riotous spectacle in the face of the wilderness, against the dark green background of the jungle wall, through which no man could go without painfully and slowly hacking a way for himself at every step with a machete. There were animals too, of course--small alligators sunning themselves on the banks and tiny monkeys swinging along in the trees and chattering at us as we proceeded, but I hardly saw or heard them for looking at the flowers, and the beauty of the foliage and bits of liquid sunlight which fell on the water as though dripping through the lace-like .branches of the trees that made a canopy above us.
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Mile after mile the little monkeys followed us, increasing in numbers as we went along. Whether their chattering was an expression of friendly hospitality or unfriendly imprecation or curiosity or sheer love of the sound of their own voices, I don't know, but they became almost terrifying in , their numbers and the volume of noise they made before we turned back. They were the only things which paid any attention to us. Enormous butterfiies of the most brilliant colon, gorgeously plumaged egrets, a thousand other spectacularly colored birds, little love-birds sitting pair by pair in the trees, and shamelessly sentimental-all paid no more attention to us than they did to the river and the trees and the sunlight. I mention this trip at some length because I think it was the first time that I had ever seen brilliant coloring in nature. The landscape in New England was beautiful, but rugged and grey. Here was brilliance and drama in nature. I think it moved me more deeply than anything I had ever seen before, and strengthened my conviction that I must see more of the world, that I would not let myself be hemmed in by the walls of an office. When we went back to New England the job I had left behind was waiting for me, but the last shreds of my sympathy for it had vanished in Panama. I spent only a few weeks in New England, doing nothing save expressing my restlessness in trivialities, and then I was off on a quest for adventure, recognition, and money, which was to fill the next four years with excitement and pleasure and profit. I was going to be somebody and leave the evidences of my being in many places for all to see. But the story of that
RICH MAN, POOR MAN four yean I must leave with little more than that statement. It was during that time that I engaged in the only legal activity in which I have ever been succesdul, in which I became 5omewhat known, and in which I made friends before whom I did not have to be reticent about my life. Few, if any, of those friends know now that I ever spent a term in prison or ever did anything to make that possible, and I do not want them to find it out through reading this book and identifying me in the story of those four yean. It is enough to say that what I did during that time fulfilled every one of the specifications I had laid down when I started out. It was wildly adventurous, it kept me moving constantly from place to place, it enabled me to get recognition and applause from large numbcn of people, and it was profitable beyond all of my early dreams of profit. It was during these four yean that my mother died. I remember a fleeting sense of loss as I looked at the still face which greeted me (I had not arrived there quickly enough after my father's wire to see her in her last moments), a fleeting sense of regret that I had not been a more attentive son, and a great sense of embarrassment. That was all. As soon as the funeral was over I went back to my work. I was different when my father died, two years later. Just a little before Mother died he had fallen and hurt his spine, and had retired from active work. I remember thinking, when I went to Mother's funeral, that I must get home oftener, spend more time with Father, and be more like a son to him, but I was making money rapidly in those days, my work fascinated me, and of course I did nothing about it. When he died I felt
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a real sense of lou and a real sense of regret for not having treated him more as a son should treat a father. A month later I was in an accident connected with my work which nearly killed me. I had always known that it was bound to happen some time and had always said that, when it did, I would quit. Now Father's death somehow strengthened my decision and when, the day after the accident I was handed a newspaper in the obscure little hospital to which I had been taken and read there that I had been killed, I quite suddenly decided that I would do nothing to correct that impression. I was about to leave the field in which I had become known during four years; I would start afresh, in whatever field I chose, without any past. Thinking back now I cannot honestly remember that I had any thought that I would do anything illegalthat I would steal-yet I wonder now a little whether some such impulse, perhaps unknown to myself, did not make me a little too ready to hide behind the accident of a mistaken obituary. It seemed so simple, I felt so little hesitance, that first time that I forged a che