Paul Coates


Jan. 15, 1958

I talk to a lot of men who are fresh out of prison. I do because each
one has a story–usually each is in bad need of someone to listen.

So I do.

I listen as each one alternately curses and praises society and curses and praises himself.

Ninety-nine times out of 100 I don’t go to them. They come to me.

But yesterday was the 100th time–the exception.

I made the initial contact.

I did, because I heard the man’s story when he was released and I felt at the time that it was one worth hearing firsthand.

At my request, the man came to my office. He sat in the chair across my desk. And we started at the beginning.

"When was it," I asked, "that you were picked up?"

"June 15, 1953," he said.

"And the charge?"

"Well, they told me I had illegally concealed some land deeds."

He smiled, like he knew the whole thing was trumped up.

"But it wasn’t true?" I asked.

The man shook his head. "No. It wasn’t. They found some land deeds in
my room. But they were expired. Worthless. Certainly, there was nothing
illegal about them."

"There were some others picked up at the same time, weren’t there?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yes," he answered. "Some of them are still in prison."

"Were they held on the same charges?"

"No," was the answer. "We were charged with various crimes." The man
moved uncomfortably in his seat. "Do you mind if I smoke?" he asked.

I lit his cigarette for him.

"What happened at your trial?" I said.



"My trial–if you can call it that–didn’t come up until more than two
years after I was arrested. When the guard led me into the courtroom,
he said, ‘You’ve come to receive your sentence.’ I was given four

"You never admitted that you were guilty of anything though?"

"No," he said, "I didn’t."

He paused in thought, and began again:

"Actually, I guess I did. I agreed with them that I had broken the law
on some money affairs. You understand how it is. They have ways of
making you say things."

"You mean," I said, "brutality?"

"Oh, no. I wouldn’t accuse the guards or officers who interrogated me
of brutality. All the time I was in prison I was only hit–struck
physically–once. A guard did it but he was excited. It was during a
questioning session when everybody was pretty excited."

"Then how about the treatment generally?"

"It was a strenuous routine," he answered. "There were times when other
prisoners and I were forced to sit up against the cell wall for hours.
We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t move–even to change positions
slightly–except with permission from the guards.

"Sometimes," he continued, "as punishment they’d make us sit straight
up in the middle of a room. I had a slipped spinal disk and had to be
taken to the hospital because of it. They’d do other things, too, if
you weren’t co-operating–like putting cinders in your food."

"How about the treatment just before you were released?" I said.

"Better. Much better. They want you to leave with pleasant memories, I guess. In honesty, they’re nothing but dedicated liars."

I asked my visitor, now that he was a free man, what he planned to do.

"I hope to eventually go back there," he said, "to go back and work in Red China once again."

And then my guest, Missionary Father Alexander Houle, stood up. We shook hands and he left.


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Columnists, Paul Coates, Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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