The Unselfish Mind Part 1
Introduction: A Prisoner’s Dilemma
When the United States entered the First World War, a young radical, named Ammon Hennacy, refused to register for the draft. Upon his arrest, he was given a choice: register or face the firing squad. In addition, he was told that all his socialist comrades, arrested for the same crime and given the same choice had agreed to register. The threat of execution was a bluff and the story of betrayal was a lie. Hennacy did not know this, yet he stood his ground.
He reflected “I felt that if they gave in someone had to stick, and I was that one.”
Hennacy was not shot, but he was convicted and sent to federal prison. While incarcerated he organized a hunger strike against the spoiled food fed to the inmates.
In his autobiography, Hennacy described what followed, "the next Monday I was called to the office and was told that I had been seen plotting to blow up the prison with dynamite, and was promptly sent to the dark hole. This was on June 21, 1918. I was left in my underwear, and lying in the small, three-cornered, very dark hole. I got a slice of cornbread and a cup of water each day. I kept a count of the days, as I heard the men marching to work, and at the end of ten days I was put in the light hole. White bread, which I got then, tasted like cake. This cell was on the ground floor, back of the deputy's office. It was about 18 feet long, 15 feet high, and 6 feet wide. A small dirty window near the top to the east faced a tall building, which kept sunlight from coming in, except on very bright days. A bunk was attached to the wall to the right; a plain chair and a small table, with a spoon, plate, and cup on it” (p. 19).
The only book that he was allowed to read was the Bible. When the guards noticed his interest, they replaced his copy with a smaller hard to read edition.
The deprivations and cruelties of prison failed to break Hennacy and he became a lifelong Christian pacifist. Over the course of his career he would participate in hunger strikes against capital punishment and nuclear armaments. One such fast lasted 45 days.