There was no part of America that Tom Duggan hadn’t visited, no tragedy of the life of outcasts that he hadn’t seen. He was so saturated with it that he couldn’t think of anything else. He would tell about men who had perished of thirst in the desert, about miners sealed up for weeks in an exploded mine, about matchmakers poisoned until their teeth fell out, and their finger nails and even their eyes. Peter could see no excuse for such morbidness, such endless harping upon the horrible things of life. It spoiled all his happiness in the jail—it was worse than little Jennie’s talking about the war!
One of Duggan’s poems had to do with a poor devil named Slim, who was a “snow-eater,” that is to say, a cocaine victim. This Slim wandered about the streets of New York in the winter-time without any shelter, and would get into an office building late in the afternoon, and hide in one of the lavatories to spend the night. If he lay down, he would be seen and thrown out, so his only chance was to sit up; but when he fell asleep, he would fall off the seat—therefore he carried a rope in his pocket, and would tie himself in a sitting position.
Now what was the use of a story like that? Peter didn’t want to hear about such people! He wanted to express his disgust; but he knew, of course, that he must hide it. He laughed as he exclaimed, “Christ Almighty, Duggan, can’t you give us something with a smile? You don’t think it’s the job of Socialists to find a cure for the dope habit, do you? That’s sure one thing that ain’t caused by the profit system.”
Duggan smiled his bitterest smile. “If there’s any misery in the world today that ain’t kept alive by the profit system, I’d like to see it! D’you think dope sells itself? If there wasn’t a profit in it, would it be sold to any one but doctors? Where’d you get your Socialism, anyhow?”
So Peter beat a hasty retreat. “Oh, sure, I know all that. But here you’re shut up in jail because you want to change things. Ain’t you got a right to give yourself a rest while you’re in?”
The poet looked at him, as solemn as an owl. He shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just because we’re fixed up nice and comfortable in jail, have we got the right to forget the misery of those outside?”
The others laughed; but Duggan did not mean to be funny at all. He rose slowly to his feet and with his arms outstretched, in the manner of one offering himself as a sacrifice, he proclaimed:
“While there is a lower class, I am in it.
“While there is a criminal element, I am of it.
“While there is a soul in jail, I am not free.”
Then he sat down and buried his face in his hands. The group of rough fellows sat in solemn silence. Presently Gus, the Swedish sailor, feeling perhaps that the rebuke to Peter had been too severe, spoke timidly: “Comrade Gudge, he ban in jail twice already.”