The Refuge for Discharge Prisoners

William Stevenson

There was a burden pressing on Harms which is pressing on very many. We catch the thief and put him in prison. On the whole, our machinery, so far, is admirable. But when the prison door lets him out again into the world, our machinery ceases. It is simply the opening and closing of a trap. We are trying to better this in many ways; trying to care something for the creature that we catch, to remember that it has a human soul. The first step was to remember that it had a human body. Festering chains were struck off, cells were cleansed, light and air were made available, prison fare was reformed till prison cookery had made a name for itself. Then chaplains were introduced and Christian visitors; there was some pains to teach, there were kind and warning voices. Reformatories were begun. They are doing their work; they are more capable of limiting the number of the vicious and criminal than had been even sanguinely supposed. But the older criminal had no place in them. He was turned out of the prison; he had heard good things of a better life; he had perhaps learnt to value these better things, and dreamt that he might live honest and without reproach. He found every man's hand against him; suspicions, abuse, selfishness. His old companions were still true to him. He was driven back to his former ways.

"Every honest work was denied us; we could not starve; we were forced to steal." These were the miserable words which earnest and painstaking prison chaplains had been hearing for years. And as the burden of these pressed sore upon Harms, he determined to join in connexion with the mission a refuge for discharged convicts. He felt rightly that there were peculiar facilities about him; the quietness and country character of the neighbourhood, the Christian life that it had pleased God to quicken and sustain, and the presence of the future missionaries, who would find as great advantage in teaching and helping these convicts as the convicts would find from them.

A farm was purchased, of sufficient extent to afford the men constant employment. The farm-house was fitted up for their reception; a pious yeoman of the parish was appointed superintendent—is not the German word housefather better?—and they waited in stillness for any who would voluntarily come. Thus waiting, they closed the year 1857.—William Stevenson, Praying and Working