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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/185

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173
WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE "DAGO"?

the prison should be clean enough and well enough drained, and wholesome enough to prevent the criminals within—their active work of evil restrained—from negatively breeding infection among the honest people they no longer affirmatively and independently rob, disturb, and destroy. There ought to be no hesitation about going quite as far as this. The question is, How much further—with an honest regard for the rights of the non-law-breaker—may we proceed? A prison is not supposed to be a nice, cozy place to live in. It should not be a desirable place even to the class of people which criminals are bred from. Neither the criminal classes nor the classes from which criminals come—live and dress warmly; their shoes are not dry, their bodies are not well kept and sleek and cleanly; their tables are not regularly or sumptuously or even wholesomely spread. Poverty certainly should not be allowed to aggravate or in any way influence the penalty for crime: but it would seem as if, in the enforcement of the penalty, it can not be entirely left out of the estimates taken by our law-makers, and this for certain reasons, of which the following are a few:

There is just now seeking these shores, in extraordinary numbers, a class of laborers who live more meanly than the imagination of the general public, in well-paid and well-fed America, can conceive. Every one who has visited the northern shore of the Mediterranean, in Italy, is familiar with the class called lazzaroni. It may be actually said that this class does not live in houses at all, does not know what a house means: except for shelter against inclement weather; that it has no use for roofs at all. Water, except as it falls from the heavens, it appears to know not in any external sense; and during the long summers and mild winters a wall or an alley is quite as convenient as, and much more available a shelter than, a roof. A gang of these people, "dagoes" as they are nicknamed (a corruption of hidalgos, which, though a Spanish and not an Italian word, once came to be sneeringly applied to a foreigner of Latin Europe out of his element), employed in building an American railroad, will find it necessary, in the new climate, to be provided with quarters of some sort; will herd together as tightly as they can dispose themselves, in anything which is covered by a roof, and every office of nature will be performed together in the same tumbled quarters. I once happened to witness the following incident: A small circus, with a few lions and tigers, exhibiting in a small town, near by where a railroad was being constructed, fed, as a part of its programme, these wild beasts. The bones which the beasts gnawed were left on the ground when the circus departed between two days. And the "dagoes" collected these bones and boiled them for their soup! What terrors have jails and prisons for such human beings?