In the fourth year of my imprisonment I was promoted to the third step, which eased prison life for me because of the new privDeges: every two weeks I could write letters with no limit to the number of pages on ordinary paper.'
I no longer was required to do any compulsory work. I was aUowed to pick out a job of my choice and I received higher pay for it. Up to now the so-called “pay” was eight Pfennigs [about two American cents] for the daily work quota. And from that I was allowed to use four Pfennigs to purchase additional food. Under the most favorable circumstances at the second step I could get one pound of lard in one month. In the third step the daily work quota paid fifty Pfennigs, and one could use all of the earnings for oneself. In addition to that, one could also use up to twenty marks [a mark has one hundred Pfennigs] of his own money monthly.
Listening to the radio was now allowed in the third step and smoking was permitted during designated hours. At thai point the clerk’s job in the supply room became open, so I requested it.
I now had a daily job which wasn’t boring. I saw and heard a great deal from the prisoners of all departments who came every day for a change of clothing, underwear, or to get tools. I also learned about everything that happened in daily prison life from the guards who were on duty or accompanying the prisoners. The supply room was the gathering place for all the prison news and rumors. I also found out how rumors of all kinds got started, and how with the speed of lightning they were spread, and what the effects were. The news and the rumors, both of which are secretly whispered and passed on, are the elixir of prison life. The more isolated the person is, the more effective the rumor. The more naive he is, the more he will believe.
One of my coworkers, who was a prisoner like me working in the supply room—although he really belonged to the inventory since he had been there for more than ten years—took a devilish pleasure in inventing rumors completely out of thin air. He enjoyed whispering them to others
And observing their effects. Since he did this so shrewdly, he could never be held to account for some of the serious effects caused by the rumors he started. I myself was once the victim of such a rumor. One day a rumor surfaced that through friends among the senior officials I was able to have women visitors in my cell during the night. A prisoner smuggled this complaint to the officials of the Prison Inspection Bureau via a guard. Suddenly one night the chief of the Prison Inspection Bureau appeared in my cell with several other higher officials, including the warden, who they had gotten out of bed, in order to see for themselves if the complaint was true! In spite of an extensive investigation, neither the person who wrote the complaint nor the one who spread the rumor could be found. When I was released, my coworker told me that he had invented the rumor and that my cell neighbor had written the complaint and then had smuggled out the letter. He did all this just to get back at the warden because he had refused him his parole. Cause and effect! Malicious people can cause a great deal of harm this way.
Especially interesting to me in my job were the new arrivals. The professional criminal was insolent, self-confident, and brash. Even the most severe prison sentence could not subdue him. He was an optimist who somehow believed that a favorable situation would develop. In many cases he had only been on the outside for a few weeks, as if on leave. The penitentiary had become his “home.”
The first offenders were depressed, shy, sad, reluctant, and even fearful to talk to anyone. The same was true of those who had bad luck and were caught for a second or third time. Emptiness, misfortune, misery, and desperation could be read on their faces. There was plenty of material there for the psychologist or the sociologist! After a day of seeing and hearing all this, I was always glad when I could withdraw to the solitude of my cell in the evening and with thoughtful calmness draw my conclusions. I buried myself in my books and magazines or read the letters sent to me by kind and dear people. I read about their plans and intentions for me after my release and chuckled about their good intentions to cheer me up and console me. I didn’t need this anymore, for it was now the fifth year, and I had gradually become immune to being locked up. Five more years lay ahead of me with not even the smallest reduction of time. Several pleas for mercy by influential persons, even personal supplications by someone very close to Reichspresident von Hindenburg, were absolutely refused by him for political reasons. I did not count on getting out before the ten years were up. With confidence, I hoped to endure the rest of my punishment physically and mentally healthy. I even made plans to keep myself more occupied by learning foreign languages and learning more about my new profession. I thought about everything possible, except an early release.