I think if you will get the thought into your mind that our present penal system is Silurian and unscientific—the same to-day as it was 10,000 years ago—you will see my stand-point. Our penitentiaries develop criminals, they make criminals out of men who are not criminals to begin with—boys, for instance. They debase and degrade men. The state by its system of punishment reaches into the heart of a man and plucks out his very soul. I am speaking of men who are when they enter responsive to good impulses. ...
I thoroughly appreciate the spirit in which you have written me, and I hope that you will get my point of view. I have known Abe Ruef for over twenty-five years. He was a perfectly straight young man and anxious to help in San Francisco. I do not know the influences that turned him into the direction that he took, but I am absolutely certain that that man has suffered mental tortures greater than any that he would have ever suffered if he had gone to a physical hell of fire. He may appear brave, but he is in fact, I will warrant you, a heart-broken man, because he has failed of realizing his own decent ideals. ... He never was my friend, politically, socially, or otherwise, but my judgment is that society will be better off if he is allowed the limited freedom that a parole gives and given an opportunity to live up to his own ideal of Abe Ruef.
Regards to Val, your wife, and family. As always, faithfully yours,
TO CHARLES K. MCCLATCHY SACRAMENTO BEE
[Washington, January, 1912]
My dear Charles,—I have your note regarding Ruef. ... It seems to me you have made one good point against me, and only one,—that there are poor men in jail who ought to be paroled at the end of a year. Very well, why not parole them? If they are men who have been reached by public opinion and are subject to it, I see no reason why they should be kept in jail. Every case must be dealt with by itself and to each case should be given the same kind of treatment that I give to Ruef. You will be advocating this thing yourself one of these days, calling it Christian and civilized and denouncing those who do not agree with you as being barbarians. It may be that Ruef fooled me when he was just out of college, but I was a member of the Municipal Reform League which John H. Wigmore, now Dean of the Northwestern University Law School, Ruef and myself started. It did not last very long, but I think that Ruef was as zealous as any of us for good government.