Le 15 février 2017, 06:45 dans Humeurs • 0
We came into such close contact with the world of crime during our travels that we could soon recognise what Lombroso calls “the criminal type.” On the whole, the criminals made a more favourable impression on me than I had expected. Certainly there was much about them unpleasant, and even repulsive; but this was, I think, less due to their character as a class than to the special influence of the “Ivans”—a quite peculiar type, who imparted their tone more or less to all the others. With the exception of these leaders, and of a small number of the worst criminals, who had not succeeded in “swopping,” the majority consisted of very average men of the working class, with the good and bad qualities of their order. Their leading characteristics were dumb acquiescence in their lot and a shy dread of anyone who would attempt to better it.
just as good-natured and ready to help one another as is commonly the case with workers of the lower classes. Among the ordinary prisoners, too, were to be found many individuals who could in no sense be ranked as criminals. Russian village communes have the power of rejecting from their midst members whom they consider undesirable; and these outcasts can then be sent to settle in Siberia, without any judicial sentence, but simply by the desire of a majority in their commune. Moreover, this verdict of the commune is often delivered without any real majority being convinced as to the unfitness of the offending member; the clerk to the commune and two or three of the richer peasants and usurers (Kulaki) can easily manage to get rid of a poor wretch who does not happen to please them. It would be impossible to calculate how many crying injustices are thus perpetrated on the destitute and helpless among the peasantry. The victims of such barbarous and arbitrary proceedings who were among our party, had many sad stories to tell, which only corroborated what I myself had seen going on in country districts. With one or two exceptions, the exiles belonging to this category were quite average specimens of the Russian peasant.
There were also included among these ordinary prisoners members of various religious sects, exiled on that account, and they were very far removed from the criminal type. These sectarians are admitted, by all who know Siberia best, to form the steadiest and the most industrious element of the population. The sectarians in our party of ordinary prisoners always avoided any participation in the fights, quarrels, and rowdyism of the others, and tried not to fall out either with the leaders of the convict band, on the one hand, nor with the authorities on the other. It was their custom to accept humbly all insults and injuries inflicted on them as trials sent them by God.
Those prisoners who had minor punishments to undergo, and who had least on their conscience, were for the 177most part timid, submissive, even broken-spirited. Among them were the unfortunate wretches whom I have described as gambling away their food-money for whole weeks together. They then literally starved, or sold themselves into the hands of the “swop” organisation for a beggarly sum. They were treated with utter contempt by the other criminals, and among them went by the name of “biscuits,” a rather descriptive title for these pale, dried-up, emaciated creatures. These “biscuits” were the pariahs of their society, and all the dirtiest and most disagreeable work—cleaning out of privies, etc.—fell to their share as a matter of course. They seemed to have lost all power of will; and gambling—the source of all their sufferings—was the only thing they cared for. They were always ready to steal anything that came in their way, except from the “Ivans,” which would have had dire results for themselves if discovered, probably a murderous thrashing. I only knew one case of that kind, when a poor young fellow stole a piece of bread from one of the “Ivans,” and the artèl at once decided that he should be punished exemplarily, “because he had stolen from his own people.”