‘Life In Leavenworth Federal Prison’ by John Pancner from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 1 No. 6. August, 1919.

‘Life In Leavenworth Federal Prison’ by John Pancner from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 1 No. 6. August, 1919.

John Pancner was serving ten years for conspiracy, convicted in Chicago’s mass 1917 I.W.W. trial. A leading Wobbly, comrade Pancner joined the I.W.W. in 1905, the year of its founding. For the next decade he organized in Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, and Michigan involved in many of its most important struggles; Leavenworth was hardly John’s his first time in jail. Released after five years in Leavenworth in December, 1922, comrade Pancner would settle in his native Detroit and be active in I.W.W. autoworker organizing. He would leave the I.W.W. in the 1932, later joining the C.I.O., helping to found the United Auto Workers, becoming secretary-treasure of UAW Local 235 and active until his death in 1952. Local 235 remains an important UAW local in Detroit.

LEAVENWORTH, Kan., is a little city of about 20 or 30,000 population. Standing on the roof of new West Cell Wing at the U.S.P., one can see two other prisons, two miles from Leaven- worth is Lansing, where is situated the Kansas State Prison. Looking in the opposite direction you will see Fort Leavenworth and alongside of it is the military prison, which holds at present about 5,000 prisoners. While Leavenworth can boast of several small factories, much of the local citizens’ income comes from prisons and other federal institutions located nearby. It might claim the distinction of being the Siberia of America.

There are about 1,800 or more prisoners at the United States prison today. Many of them are young soldiers, who committed some trifling offense for which they were court-martialed and given long terms in prison, they generally came with 5, 10, 20 or 40 years. Good, fine American boys every one of them, they are the kind of Americans I read about when I went to school. They are leaving this prison with a deep sympathy for the I.W.W. They seem to be hungry for I.W.W. literature, but there is only a limited amount allowed inside. Many of them proclaim themselves Bolsheviks. Another large group, that are for the I.W.W., are the revolutionary farmers of Oklahoma. The Socialist and Labor Press should give more publicity to their cause. Leavenworth has a strong local of two hundred and fifty members of the Federal Employees’ Union, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. About 20 of the prison guards carry A.F. of L. cards.

Daily Routine

At 6:30 A.M. the bugle blows for everyone to get up. Then we rise, sweep out our cells, make up our beds, wash up and get ready for breakfast, which generally consists of mush, coffee, syrup and biscuits.

At 8 A.M. we are at work, at 12 A.M. we go to dinner, which during a week’s time will vary and will include such things as stew, liver, potatoes, hash, beef heart, bread, tea, rice or tapioca pudding now and then, also radishes and young onions once in a while. As a rule nothing is fried or baked, most of the stuff is steam cooked, giving it a bad taste and making prison life monotonous. At 1:30 P.M. we are back to work. At 4 P.M. we get supper and about 5 o’clock we are in our cells. Supper is the lightest meal. As a rule it consists of bread, tea, dried fruit and maccaroni or rice. On two occasion, when the supper was too slim, the men all began to rap on their plates, and then began to shout, “Give us something to eat!” As a result of this four fellow workers are in permanent isolation. That is, they are in a jail within a jail, they work one hour per day, get the same kind of food as the big mess, are allowed fresh air in a very small yard, but cannot see or speak to the rest of their fellow workers. They are allowed to write only one letter per month, but can receive many letters. The names of these fellow workers are Chas. Phalen, Jack Walsh, Burt Sarton and Ed Hamilton.

All of the members confined in Leavenworth are in good spirits and eagerly watch for every little bit of news telling about the progress of the movement.

Fellow workers, when you write to the boys inside, be frank, don’t exaggerate. Don’t make any false promises that you are going to get them out next week, but dig in and help build up the general defense fund. We must appeal the case of the Sacramento boys and fight the Wichita case to the end. We don’t expect justice, but we want to use every means to bring about a release. Last, but not least, you can help the boys inside by building up the One Big Union.

One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced. OBU was a large format, magazine publication with heavy use of images, cartoons and photos. OBU carried news, analysis, poetry, and art as well as I.W.W. local and national reports. OBU was also Mary E. Marcy’s writing platform after the suppression of International Socialist Review., she had joined the I.W.W. in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-08_1_6/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-08_1_6.pdf

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