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"Solitary" (The Survey)
prisoners. As I entered the cell chosen for me the sentry in charge, who supposed me to be a recalcitrant prisoner, searched me. He then pointed out the board and blankets that I was to sleep on and the drinking cup that stood on a ledge in the grating at the front of the cell. Captain Rousseau left word that he would take me out in the morning and departed. The sentry now approached me again, with a pad and pencil in his hand, and asked what I was in solitary for. My mind failed to work quickly. “Didn’t Captain Rousseau tell you?” I asked, sparring for time. “No,” he answered, “he just said he would take you out in the morning;” then, as I hesitated – “Come on, I’ve got to write something down about you.” “Well, I’m in for impertinence,” I replied. “What’s your number?” he asked. I didn’t have a number. My mind was now active, however, and I said: “I am a garrison prisoner.” (It was a phrase I had heard.) Again he wrote something down and left me.
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Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
My cell was Number 138. It was, in all respects, such as I have described above. The solid wooden door was not immediately closed, though the inner grated door was closed and locked. I placed my board upon the floor and examined my blankets. A friendly officer had advised me, before entering, to look for bedbugs at once. This I tried to do, but the light from the corridor was so dim that obviously the search was doomed to failure. I decided that that battle would have to wait the actual appearance of the enemy.
The blankets were greasy in feeling but had no bad odor. Two of them were large and think, the others thin, being little more than strips of blanket material. There was the regulation number—six. Spreading four of these upon the board for my couch, I kept two for covering. I took off my shoes, cap and coat, opened my shirt at the front and lay down. My bed did not seem so uncomfortable as I had expected to find it.
Hardly had I lain down when a gong sounded and a guard shouted: “Attention! Stand up for the count.” I then knew why the wooden door had not been closed. They were waiting till the count had been taken. I arose and stood at the front of my cell, just inside the grating, with my arms folded. My friend, Captain Goodlett of the adjutant’s office, came hurriedly by. He gave me one perplexed glance, recognized me and passed on. Uncertain whether I was expected to stand until another gong announced that the count had been completed, I decided to risk this violation of rule, and again lay down. If I committed any offense, it apparently was not noticed, for nothing happened.
Shortly after the count a sentry came by and closed the wooden door of my cell. I could hear him closing the others also, these having been opened for the count. Ceremonies were over and our night in solitary had begun. It was about 9:15 when I entered the cell. A clock somewhere in the corridor struck ten before I went to sleep. I was surprised to find that the physical discomforts of the bed and of the cell did not seem as serious as I had expected to find them. Indeed, I have spent worse nights on the ground when camping. The air in the cell remained fairly good throughout the night and I did not find it necessary to kick out my lower screen, as some prisoners do.
At what time the bedbugs appeared I do not know; neither do I know how many of them there were; there were enough to annoy and awaken me at times, not enough to torment. Having spread my white towel over my coat for a pillow I was able, since I was lying with my head toward the lighter end of the cell, to detect those that crawled over this surface. From conversations with other prisoners I am convinced that I was lucky in not having to do battle with a greater number. One prisoner, in whose word I have confidence, told me that he had killed 103 the night before and then stopped counting.
I was awakened sometime during the night by a loud roar. Rising to my elbow, I lay listening. A second roar followed, closer than the first. Suddenly I recalled the fire in the quartermaster’s warehouse in the prisoner yard a few nights before, and wondered whether something of the sort had broken out again. A third roar followed, almost in my ears. I now remembered that I had heard that sixteen sticks of dynamite had been stolen a few days previously and that the prisoners were supposed to have secreted this somewhere; two or three officers had wondered when the dynamite would appear. Of course, I thought that it was now appearing and that one cell wing after another was being blown up. As I lay there waiting for the walls of my cell to fall in upon me, I reflected on the helplessness of my position. I could not escape; two doors barred all exit from my cell. Another stood at the end of the corridor, a fourth at the top of the stairway and a fifth at the exit from the building. Besides, there were