Archive for February, 2012

Humor in Prison

Posted: February 26, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
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People think of prisons as gloomy places and, in great part, they are. But some men can rise above it and find humor even in prison.

 

Two men came to my writing class. They were buddies and they seemed to care about each other. When one had no money, the other fronted him goodies from canteen.

 

One incident sticks in my mind, a bit ghoulish, but I found it funny. They told me they had posted a notice on the door of health care.

 

 

Get Fifty Bucks put into your account. We’re looking for some inmates to sign up for a new euthanasiamedical study. It’s just one needle, that’s all – and then fifty bucks. Imagine what that will buy at canteen. So sign up today for our Euthanasia study.

Ten inmates signed up

 

 

 

Images courtesy of:

 

  • electionsmeter.com

 

 

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People think of prisons as gloomy places and, in great part, they are. But some men can rise above it and find humor even in prison.

Two men came to my writing class. They were buddies and they seemed to care about each other. When one had no money, the other fronted him goodies from canteen.

One incident sticks in my mind, a bit ghoulish, but I found it funny. They told me they had posted a notice on the door of health care.

Get Fifty Bucks put into your account.

 

 

Text Box: We’re looking for some inmates to sign up for a new medical study. It’s just one needle, that’s all – and then fifty bucks. Imagine what that will buy at canteen. So sign up today for our Euthanasia study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten inmates signed up

 

Images courtesy of:

electionsmeter.com

I often complain about the staff who work in prison, but I have to mention some outstanding staff. One who comes to mind is a teacher. She works for about half of what she could make in the public school system. I’m talking $25 dollars teacheran hour compared to $50 an hour. That’s a substantial difference.

She works for a private company who won the contract from the prison system. Like so many other things in prison, it’s the low bidder who usually wins the contract.

This teacher has no union to protect her, but she teaches on, giving a hundred and fifty percent of herself. “Damn fine teacher,” one inmate says. “Taught me how to read,” another says.

The men respond to her because she respects them. Does she have trouble in her classroom, fights breaking out? No. And if a few guys get close to mixing it up, other inmates stop them. “Take it to the yard,” they say.

She teaches basic skills and hopes to bring each man to a high school diploma or an equivalent diploma. Sadly, there is no higher education in prison unless an inmate pays for it. That’s why I set up a bursary  (http://edgriffin.net/bursary.html)

I doubt if society will ever acknowledge teachers like this. She is the true ‘crime fighter.’ Since education is the proven way out of crime, she is at the center of the rehabilitation process.

dandelionsPeople do everything to get the dandelions out of their yards. They spray them with deadly chemicals, they root them out with sharp instruments. Here’s a woman who works with dandelions, respects them and helps change them into good members of society. Kudos to a teacher who cares.blue ribbon

 

 

 

Images courtesy of:

  • eyeontheedge.blogspot.com // dandelion
  • school-clipart.com // teacher
  • familycrafts.about.com // best

Stinky

Posted: February 14, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Stinky was a fat, gray-striped alley cat.  He was an inmate in a federal prison.

alley cat  I first saw evidence of Stinky one Friday morning on the way to teach my weekly creative writing class. As I walked to the school building, I noticed a series of paper-mache bowls shoved underneath a chain link fence, near the back door to the kitchen.  There was an inmate standing outside the kitchen.  He noticed me looking at the bowls.  “They’re for the cat,” he said.

“What cat?”

“Stinky.  He’s a stray.  I’m the only person who can feed him.”

“Where does he live?”

“In them bushes over there,” he said, pointing to some low-growing evergreens near the sick bay.  “He comes out at meal time and I feed him.”  Then he pointed beneath the kitchen steps, where I saw a box with a cushion in it.  “This is where he sleeps at night.”

“What’s he doing here?”

The inmate blinked and gave me a deadpan look.  “Life.  He’s doing life.  Killed a rat.”

I laughed and the inmate went on to tell me that Stinky was the only inmate who could crawl under the main gate of the prison and chase birds.  “I seen him there yesterday.  He must have got a pass.”

The next week I saw another guy standing outside the kitchen.  Again the area on the other side of the fence was littered with bowls.  I pointed to the bowls.        “Stinky?”

“Yeah.  I’m the only one that can feed him.”

A few weeks later a third inmate was outside the kitchen. I asked about Stinky and he informed me that he was the only one who could feed him.cat eating

Clearly, Stinky had it made.

I noticed him every week, arrogantly sitting among his many bowls, licking his paws.

But Stinky gave as much as he got.  Men cared about Stinky. They worried about him in cold weather, padding his bed with extra blankets.

Stinky was not on the roster of rehabilitation programs at this prison, but he was a rehabilitation program all by himself.  Psychologists have known for a long time the value of pets for giving and receiving affection and for teaching responsibility. Stinky’s gone now, but he was a harbinger of the day when prisons will not be warehouses, but places of cat with prisonertrue rehabilitation.

 

Images courtesy of:

  • animals.nationalgeographic.com
  • petmd.com
  • graceelliot-author.blogspot.com

Am I soft on crime? No. Restorative Justice calls for the justice system to restore the victim, the offender and society. Restorative JusticeAll points are important. My particular work is with the offender.

Think about that – restore the offender. That means the history in the person’s mind has to be explored and his or her ideas have to be changed. And change is always hard work. Right now a person is sentenced to sit on their ass for X number of years in a cage. What good does that do? Let’s say a man breaks into a house to steal money, so he can buy drugs. There’s a lot of work ahead:

  • First of all, he has to overcome addiction, a very significant battle.Robber
  • He has to make whole the people whose house he broke into. More than likely, their insurance went up
  • He must go into his psyche and his history and find out why he does what he does.

We in the public think this kind of work happens in prison. It doesn’t.  We need helping structures with very trained people to accomplish these things. Expensive? Yes, but cheaper than more crime and cheaper that the $100 dollars a day for twenty years that it takes to keep a man in prison for that time. That’s damn near a million bucks.

And for the offender, he has to do the hardest of things – change.

“But,” the public says, “Don’t corrections do that, help the inmate?” No, corrections don’t correct, they often make things worse, but that’s another post.

We’ve been soft on crime, we’ve been tough on crime. When are we going to be smart on crime?

 

Images courtesy of:

co.dodge.wi.us

hyderabaddailynews.com

A guest blogger

J. Willmott

 

prisonVisiting someone in prison is not an ordinary experience.  My husband and I drive two hours to see our nephew, who is in prison for life without parole. As prisoners are de- humanized, so are those who visit prisoners.

I nod my head hello to other visitors, but speak to no one, because eye contact is brief and projects the shame we all feel.

We are vetted by a tired looking often-dour guard who slowly looks up our prisoner and gives us a piece of paper that states the time when we may enter.  Another guard, equally as grim, puts us through security and will use a wand if he/she is not satisfied with what the machine has to say.  I have learned not to wear any jewelry, anything metal and have exactly .50 cents for the locker for my purse, coat, and car keys. We may use a credit card to put money on a vending card before we are processed into the prison.

I find myself smiling politely at the guards, as they indicate that it is they who now hold my life in their hands. “Why am prison wireI smiling?” I say to myself. “This is the most forbidding place on earth.” I tell myself they have a tough job, are human beings, and other little platitudes –just to get by.

We are accompanied by a guard, through what I like to call “the vapor barrier” to the visitor rooms. Again we must talk with a guard who assigns us a pod of 3-4 plastic garden chairs and told we can have one physical contact with the prisoner at the beginning of the visit and one at the end. The room is large with vending machines at one end.  I suppose the expectation is that we buy our prisoner prison visiting roomreal food for a treat.   …From a vending machine!!!  Please….!

My husband is a quiet person and I find myself doing most of the talking.  What do you say to someone who is there for life without parole?  Bereft of greeting jargon!  Don’t want to say anything like: “How’s life treating you!”  I already know the answer from the way we have been treated.

“How are you?” I guess is the best.  The visit usually turns pleasant with talk of family and events on the outside, a visit to the vending machines and then a goodbye hug. The nicest part of the experience is watching a trustee sitting with a couple children on little chairs reading aloud from a picture book. When we exit the prison, the air is different—“it’s free air.”

With all of the difficulties getting in and out of prison as a visitor, I wouldn’t change the fact that we visit when we can.  Our goal is to see and talk with our prisoner, a person dear to us and a person living under a sentence for as long as his life lasts.  It is just the reality of it!

 

Images courtesy of:

  • archive.itvs.org
  • prisonersfamiliesvoices.blogspot.com
  • guardian.co.uk

 

judgeA judge renders a sentence… “You will serve ten years…etc.  or a longer or a lesser sentence. In many cases, the judge will set parole conditions.

But there are many things the judge does NOT sentence the person to:

 Getting Hepatitis A, B, or C from the dirt and lack of good sanitation in many prisons.

 Getting stabbed or beat up for being the wrong race or religion or sexuality. Getting raped.

 The inmate’s wife or husband suffers as well and the judge never mentions them. There’s an old saying that suffering womanthe man gets the sentence and the woman lives it.

 The judge also never mentions the effect on the inmate’s children. Or the very real divoricepossibility that the inmate will be divorced.

 Let’s say a man gets ten years. The judge doesn’t give the man the death sentence, but prisons often see that happen. Recently prison officials put a deranged killer in with an ordinary inmate. The inmate begged the officials to get him a different roommate. No luck. The result? The inmate was killed.

 The judge does not say, “Learn more crime.” But that’s exactly what happens.

 The judge wants the person to change, to become a good member of society. Prison staff want that, the guards want that. But it doesn’t happen. Half of the inmates will return to prison with new charges. Half. And many men and women end up believing what prison has taught them without meaning to – that they are worthless, dangerous, bad people. People live up to our expectations. Assume they are bad people, and they will be.

Images courtesy of:

  • steigerlaw.typepad.com
  • kidsolo.com
  • actu.org.au