A Call for Prison Reform

Posted: January 18, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Prison Bars

Photo by Vectorportal via Flickr

Slavery. Fathers, mothers ripped from their children. People thrown in the bottom of slave ships where many of them died. Transported from Africa to America. Prodded and displayed for sale in markets.

Today we look in horror at what our ancestors did. How could human beings do those things to other people?

I fear, however, that our descendents will look back at our era and say the same things:

They put their law-breakers in cages? They had these things called prisons, fenced in spaces where there weren’t any trees. They ripped the identity out of the people, told them in countless ways that they were evil. Some of the law-breakers they executed. And these people of the 21st century claimed to be educated.

I can hear it now. A descendent of mine. She studies my history. What did he do? Did he support this evil by paying for it? Yes he did. He paid his taxes.

So I take a very small step. I’m going to write a blog on prison reform. Who am I? I’ve been teaching creative writing in prison for 23 years. My heart aches with what I see.

What do I believe? Yes, a very small minority of those currently locked up in prison have to stay there, at least until they change. But most men and women need something besides prison. They need rehabilitation. Our current prisons are warehouses for human beings – and they are crime schools.

I don’t know all the answers. I’d like to hear your views. But we must start. Our descendents are watching.

What do you think about prison?

  1. Karen says:

    I look forward to reading your posts on this. One voice can make a difference. Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Fry?

  2. […] A Call for Prison Reform (prisonuncensored.wordpress.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  3. […] A Call for Prison Reform (prisonuncensored.wordpress.com) […]

  4. walthe310 says:

    Wilderness and Razor Wire, a Naturalist’s Observations from Prison by Ken Lamberton. Ken Lamberton was an award-winning teacher at age 27 when he made the grievous error of falling in love and running away with a student aged 14. He was arrested after two weeks and sent to prison for a total of 12 years served in a split sentence when he was released by one judge and returned to prison by an appellant panel. He was released in 2000 and has not returned to prison. His life story is different in that his wife and three children did not abandon him during the prison years. In fact, his wife returned to school to learn enough law to fight his case from outside prison.

    In prison, Ken met Richard Shelton who was teaching creative writing at various prisons in the Arizona penal system. He began writing at the same time he observed the natural world that invaded the prison. He kept records of what he observed, made drawings and read voraciously. Wilderness and Razor Wire is about his prison experience and also about the people and the nature he observed while there. He was fortunate in that most of his sentence was served among other sex offenders where gang violence was minimal. He was brutally attacked and injured when he was mistakenly transferred into the general prison population.

    Pets for prisoners were prohibited where he was incarcerated, but prisoners kept pets in defiance of the rules. Some prisoners kept insects and others had small rodents as pets. Lamberton observed that prisoners with pets were happier and less prone to violence. I think some prisons should experiment with allowing inmates to have pets. Lamberton observed that human contact, one person to another, or one man to pet, was essential to prisoner mental health. The most feared punishment was isolation from others, and that is the trend being followed in more and more prisons.

  5. […] A Call for Prison Reform […]

  6. Aurora, HSP says:

    It’s like the blog censorship to me in as much as I am aware that we need to have certain measures in place for the good of every one but we can’t achieve it by treating people how to become better animals. We might stand a chance if we can teach people early on, perhaps in elementary school, how to be more human and humane. I don’t know, Ed. So much scares me out there. The bullying is so out of hand, both in real life and cyber bullying. I do agree we have to start somewhere. Add my voice to yours. I’ve seen both sides and recidivism, itself, is a reflection of what you speak of. Glad to see you speaking out so passionately here about what really matters in life.

  7. lsd123 says:

    Thanks to you and others, more people understand what an important issue this is…even in the face of the tough-on-crime contingent’s screeches. Sadly, it’s one of many injustices in our society. Enlightened folk have to share their stories of effective alternatives so we can spread the news of these examples and bring about greatly needed changes.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you for your comments and your positive approach. I like you idea of spreading news of positive events and approaches. I guess my problem is finding too few of those positive things in our current prison system. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Yes, there are teachers and staff and volunteers who really care about the men and do them a world of good.The sad thing is that they are in the great minority.

      • cleverbrit says:

        I thought creative writing and art classes were a part of the rehabilitation process as it calms the inmate and improves the psychological wellbeing.

      • Ed Griffin says:

        Yes, you are 100 percent correct — art of any kind heals the soul as Aristotle said, 300 years before Christ. But that’s not enough. We can’t lock people in cages and give them art. I’m sure you were not saying that.

  8. cleverbrit says:

    Creative writing and art classes were part of the rehabilitation program in uk prisons. Studies show creative classes calm down the inmate and improve psychological wellbeing. Why are these classes being withrawn?

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Oh, I see more what you meant, cleverbrit. I can only speak for the Canadian federal prisons, but they believe in programs, Anger management, cognitive skills, etc. They do NOT believe in art. In the prison I taught in there was no music, no theater, no painting — only one small volunteer course in creative writing and now that is cancelled. It sounds like UK prisons are far advanced over Canadian (and American from what I know.) Thank you for your post.

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