My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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HYDE PARK, Wednesday—A gorgeous day today and we are driving down to Lake Mahopac to have luncheon with some friends.

A most interesting letter came in the mail yesterday bringing up a situation which has long been before many of us. As a rule we all think of it as a mass problem and it is only when an individual comes before us as in this case, that the problem becomes a personal situation. Here are some excerpts from the letter to me:

"But why do convicts, particularly those who mean to reform, return to a life of crime? Perhaps my situation, typical of many, may briefly show this. I was released from prison nine months ago with twelve dollars in cash—nine dollars I had saved through prison work, two dollars personal cash and one dollar received from the state. Well, I did have a place to go to—a job as a caretaker of a small country house at two dollars per week. After being there sixteen weeks without receiving salary and being half the time without food because the owner failed to bring any, I came to Paterson, New Jersey, to the home of my brother. He couldn't afford to support me, but willingly did, believing that I really wanted to do the right thing. I've made every effort to get a job and go straight. I've sought the help of anyone who might be able to, including city officials. All I want is a chance to earn an honest living. I've been told that I would not be accepted for CCC Camps and I can understand why. Is there anything strange in the fact that I don't go to the proper properties in order to inquire, because I have tried desperately hard to forget my past life and don't want to sit down and go into full details. The same thing applies to relief. What chance have I got? I don't want to go wrong. I love outdoors, animals, etc. I'm unusually strong and thirty-four years of age."

It is needless to say that this is not something to be sentimental about. These men who come out of prison have offended against society, they can not expect that society will imediately forget their offense. On the other hand, for its own protection, society would do well to make it possible at least for such men and women as really wish to go straight, to go straight. We must face the fact that once a person has found it possible to get a living in crooked ways, they have a knowledge which makes it easier to return to those ways than if they had never known them. Therefore it is harder to keep in the straight and narrow path of virtue!

I wish that every community from which individuals go to prison might have an organization which would be notified when they are returned to society. It would then be this organization's responsibility to find these individuals a job, suited to their capacities and training, which would bring them a decent living. At the same time some one person beside the parole officer who has a few hundred people to look after, should be responsible for helping these men, and women too, to adjust back to their environment.

They must begin to do things for others and to be useful outside of their actual work, or they will not feel themselves anchored permanently to their good intentions.

E.R.
TMsd 21 July 1937, AERP, FDRL