A Chat with an Inmate

Excerpted from the Chaplain's Report,
August 1947

Chaplain: I recall that you attended chapel on the first Sunday you were here, but that you haven't been back since. Didn't you like what you found or do you have other interests?
Inmate: (pause) That is right. I don't go because I like to play baseball. I play four games on Sunday. Of course, I guess I could miss one game if I really wanted to go. I never attended chapel much. I don't think I went over six times in the six years
Chaplain: Did you go to Sunday school when you were young?
Inmate: Yes, we went to St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington and to the Methodist Church in Indianapolis. My mother and I went together. I joined the Methodist Church in Indianapolis, but I don't know whether we joined a church in Washington or not.
Chaplain: How do you feel about religion? Do you think it is a racket or only for weaklings?
Inmate: I think it is all right, but I don't know that it is any good for me.
Chaplain: Do you think religion prepares one for the hereafter?
Inmate: (pause)Well, I don't know about that. I think it is a 50-50 toss up as to whether there is any hereafter or not.
Chaplain: You wouldn't say there is and you wouldn't say there isn't. Do you consider yourself an agnostic?
Inmate: No, I just figure there is a 50-50 chance on thee being or not being a hereafter.
Chaplain: Do you think that heaven and hell are to be experienced here on earth?
Inmate: Some people seem to think that, but I don't know.
Chaplain: Do you feel that your life has been unusual in comparison with others?
Inmate: How do you mean?
Chaplain: Do you feel that you have had more suffering, more unhappiness, more injustices than others?
Inmate: No, I don't think so.
Chaplain: Do you consider yourself content, happy, at ease?
Inmate: I don't think much about it in that way. I just take each day as it comes. I do know that I am very unhappy.
Chaplain: If you had your life to live over, would you do it differently?
Inmate: (pause and smile) Yes, I would stay away from the penitentiaries.
Chaplain: Do you feel that there has been a change in your life, in your personality, in the last few years?
Inmate: (pause) Yes, there has been. I don't know exactly what it is, but I do know that I have lost most criminal tendencies.
Chaplain: What do you think is responsible for this change?
Inmate: I don't know what it could have been unless it was the motorcycle accidents I had. I've had four serious accidents on motorcycles. In two of them I had a brain concussion and was nearly killed.
Chaplain: How long ago did these accidents happen?
Inmate: The ones that might have had some change on my personality were the ones where I got the concussions. One happened in 1937 and one in 1940.
Chaplain: Did the other two happen in the meantime?
Inmate: One happened before and one in between. I had one accident in Colorado when I was traveling with another fellow. We hit a car and he was knocked unconscious and had a concussion, but I wasn't hurt very much.
Chaplain: Have you had any other accidents in your life, car accidents or others?
Inmate: No, none of any importance.
Chaplain: Do you feel that you have been lucky in your experiences?
Inmate: Do you mean on this last charge I'm here on?
Chaplain: That and your other experiences as well?
Inmate: No, I don't think I've been too lucky.
Chaplain: You know that the chaplain has charge of educational courses and the library here, as well as the chapel. Should you have any interests in any of these lines I should be glad to have you get in touch with me. And if you feel the desire to talk thing
Inmate: I might be interested in some correspondence courses, say in another year.
Chaplain: O.K. That will be all. Thanks for dropping in.

This interview continued for one hour, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and included much more information than has been recorded above. The conversation has, of course, not been produced exactly, but is the interviewer's attempt [to] objectively to produce a portion of the material.

The inmate seemed quite at ease during the interview and showed no nervous tension by way of moving his hands or feet. He moved about in the chair occassionally. He is a medium-build man, 31 years of age, with an intelligent manner, but does not appear to be as old as he indicates in years. He has a quiet way of speaking and is not aggressive or offensive. He has none of the "typical" appearances for the criminal. He seems to be of the sensitive, fine-skinned type of personality, although he is active in athletics. It was noticeable, however, that his emotional tone is flat. He smiled twice during the interview, but this did not show any depth. His affect is dulled and he revealed little or no emotion to any of the questions or subjects discussed. The frequent pauses in his responses to questions are likely symptomatic of emotional blockage.


The conscious cooperation of the inmate, the time available, the office setting and the general mechanics of the interview were satisfactory in this interview, I feel. There was ample opportunity to note the expressions of the inmate and to get information from his statements.

This contact indicated a general indifference on the part of the inmate to the formalities of religion and his feeling that reality does not lie in such considerations for him. His intellectual prwess appears to be adequate, but his emotional capacities are impaired. While he superficially meets one in his conversation, emotionally he remains withdrawn and noncommittal. Even in his intellectutal productions in many instances he was non-committal. This becomes indicative of a discouraged and faithless personality and suggests that early experiences were so unfavorable that this defensive insulation has developed to afford some protection. The protection now, however, is the barrier to his development as a we-feeling, emotionally healthy and adjusted person. Even his crimes and acts of aggressiveness reveal a remote control feature indicating his basic personality withdrawal.

The contact indicated further that the inmate is not ready for insight and maturity. He continues to cherish his defensive weapons and to interpret life in a non-vital, mechanistic way which leaves him personally indifferent.