I was talking to Ollie about a rather extraordinary experience of mine, and he suggested that I write to you, proposing it in terms of a magazine piece.
You may recall that in the year 1950, I served a three month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. (the records of the Spanish Refugee Appeal being the case in point) Now in any fashion, prison is one of the deepest and most singular experiences a man can encounter. It has that basic intensity and nakedness that one finds only rarely, in war and in a few other circumstances. But in this case, my own prison sentence was something more unusual.
For the first eleven days, I was held at the Federal Penitentiary at Washington, D. C. This is a prison of the old style, huge, grim, and soul-shaking---the kind that figures so vividly in the average prison film. Then, at the end of eleven day,s I was taken from there to the prison at Mill Point, West Virginia.
This, of course, was deliberate on the part of Mr. Bennett, the Federal Commissioner of Prisons---although I did not know that at the time. Since he presumed that I would eventually write about my experience, he placed me in the double position, the very old--and the very terrible too, one must say---and the very new. He---and so many others in the prison system---are proud of Mill Point. They have a reason to be.
In all likelihood, there is no prison like Mill Point in the whole world. Not that it is a resort. It's a prison, but one turned toward the reclamation not the destruction of men. It's a prison without walls, without cells, without guns or clubs--a prison that embodied the most daring thinking of modern penology. And it works, and has worked, guietly and efficiently for twenty years.
It is probably the best and most exciting and most hopeful prison story in this country; and like most of our decencies, it hides its light under a bushel. I would like to tell this story from my own point of view, not as a penologist--which I am not--but as a writer, that is with all the color and detail and incident that prison provides for a writer.
Do you suppose you can find an editor who would be interested? While modern warfare has given so many literary folk a taste of battle--and boredom--there is still only a trickle of us in and out of jail. It might make interesting reading.