“An Enemy of Society”
Here is the strange case of a girl who was sentenced, at the Leeds Assizes, to six years’ penal servitude for robbery with violence. On the face of the evidence, as it appeared in the News of the World, she simply invited arrest. According to the statements made in court, she is apparently suffering from some kind of nervous ailment. It was said that she did not drink, did not smoke, and was not known to mix with other thieves. So far as is known she avoided men. Time and again she had been found sleeping in odd places like air raid shelters. Probation officers had tried in vain to help her. She had already served three terms of imprisonment, and been to Borstal twice.
Looking at the facts closely, it seems clear that she is absolutely unable to adapt herself to any work normal to a working-class girl, even though she is described as a domestic servant. She did not steal in order to obtain luxuries or clothes for display; she stole to get food. It was the only means she had of keeping herself alive. The truth of the matter is that she does not seem to care whether she is in prison or out of it It may be that she prefers prison as the most convenient refuge from the unsweet realities of freedom. There is nothing terrifying about prison to someone who looks upon the whole world as a prison.
It is difficult to conjecture about a person’s mind, but it appears that she is highly strung and rather unsociable. There is no doubt that the sudden shock of war conditions on a delicate nervous system has brought her to a state of melancholy and misanthropism. It is significant that she has spent practically half the war years inside prisons. It shows how desperate was her longing for an atmosphere of peacefulness. She is not mad, she is sick of the world. Her actions are, to some extent, calculated, and they give us an insight to her misery.
No doubt the judge meant well. His idea was to keep her out of the asylum and give her a chance of recovery. Unfortunately for his good intentions, the existing prisons are definitely unsuitable for people suffering from mental troubles.
If the prisoner were a rich girl she could get the right sort of treatment, which is very expensive, and would become known as a wealthy “recluse.” As she is only a pauper she is compelled to linger for a number of years in the discomfort of a prison.
This case, insignificant as it may seem, is in itself a terrific indictment of a civilisation which offers six years penal servitude to a sick and unhappy girl.