JULY 12, 1939
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—I have a very pathetic letter in my mail which bears upon a subject I have talked about so often, that I almost hesitate to bring it up again. And yet it touches so many of our interests and is so vital to many of our unfortunate wards, that I cannot help writing about it.
A mother tells me about her boy, who after growing up and doing very well at school, suddenly went insane. The family spent all the money they could to make him well and, finally, funds being exhausted, they put him in a local sanitarium. It was, I think, a county institution. He was there for two years and all the good which had been done by the other hospital was completely lost. His whole physical condition suffered because of lack of proper care and food, and naturally his mental condition suffered even more.
This would never happen if people in every community really knew about their county, state and federal institutions and watched them carefully. Particularly should hospitals for the insane and homes for the indigent old and for very young children, be visited frequently. These are three defenseless groups in our communities. While it is hard to understand how anyone could possibly try to gain any personal profit by making their lives miserable, still we know it is done. Cutting down on the inmates' food, for instance, is one way of making money to supplement a somewhat slender salary.
There is one other defenseless group in any community, the men and women in our prisons, and we might add those who come out and return to live among us. State and Federal prisons, on the whole, are improving year by year, but some of the county jails I have visited are not fit for human habitation. The men in charge are frequently incompetent. A little attention on the part of the members of the community, particularly of the judges in the courts, would do a great deal toward improving these penal institutions.
However, the man out on parole and back in his own community, is faced by an extremely difficult situation. To go straight, he must earn his living in a legitimate way, he must get a new start. There are organizations which help men and women who have come out of prison, but they do not reach down into the smaller communities and cannot cover the whole problem. Frequently an ex-prisoner is young. He has paid the penalty for his mistake. Sometimes he comes out with a firm determination not to involve himself in any further difficulties, but everywhere he turns his record faces him. He cannot get away from it, and only too often this is the reason for the second step in the wrong direction.
It seems to me that every community should have a group composed of members of various civic organizations whose particular duty it is to contact these men and women for whom a job is almost an impossibility, except as a result of special effort, to see that at least a chance is given to return to good citizenship.