Archive for August, 2012

Joan BaezJoan Baez is an old favorite of mine. I bought an album of hers and mixed it in with the other songs on my I-phone. One day as I was out walking, I heard this song – Prison Trilogy. It was so strong, I have to tell you about it. I’ll put all the lyrics below.

The song talks about three inmates and it’s honest. It doesn’t gloss over the crimes of one or the drug addiction of another. The third inmate is an old man. When he leaves the prison after many years, the police stop him and tell him he’s got another ten to do.

In modern times, this is called “Gate-ing” – Confront someone at the gate with new charges.

The chorus is the thing that is very strong: And we’re gonna raze, raze the prisons
To the ground” see footnote

I’m not there yet. This is the position of those who say that the best tool for prison reform is a bulldozer. I don’t agree. There are a minority – maybe 15 %  — of inmates who should NOT be let out of prison until they are reformed.prison

Let the song speak for itself

Prison Trilogy Lyrics

Joan Baez

(Words and Music by Joan Baez)

Billy Rose was a low rider, Billy Rose was a night fighter
Billy Rose knew trouble like the sound of his own name
Busted on a drunken charge
Driving someone else’s car
The local midnight sheriff’s claim to fame

In an Arizona jail there are some who tell the tale how
Billy fought the sergeant for some milk that he demanded
Knowing they’d remain the boss
Knowing he would pay the cost
They saw he was severely reprimanded

In the blackest cell on “A” Block
He hanged himself at dawn
With a note stuck to the bunk head
Don’t mess with me, just take me home

Come and lay, help us lay
young Billy down

Luna was a Mexican the law called an alien
For coming across the border with a baby and a wife
Though the clothes upon his back were wet
Still he thought that he could get
Some money and things to start a life

It hadn’t been too very long when it seemed like everything went wrong
They didn’t even have the time to find themselves a home
This foreigner, a brown-skin male
Thrown into a Texas jail
It left the wife and baby quite alone

He eased the pain inside him
With a needle in his arm
But the dope just crucified him
He died to no one’s great alarm

Come and lay, help us lay
Young Luna down
And we’re gonna raze, raze the prisons
To the ground

Kilowatt was an aging con of 65 who stood a chance to stay alive
And leave the joint and walk the streets again
As the time he was to leave drew near
He suffered all the joy and fear
Of leaving 35 years in the pen

And on the day of his release he was approached by the police
Who took him to the warden walking slowly by his side
The warden said “You won’t remain here
But it seems a state retainer
Claims another 10 years of your life.”

He stepped out in the Texas sunlight
The cops all stood around
Old Kilowatt ran 50 yards
Then threw himself down on the ground

They might as well just have laid
The old man down
And we’re gonna raze, raze the prisons
To the ground
Help us raze, raze the prisons
To the ground

What do you think? Should we raze the prisons to the ground?

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raze — verb (used with object), razed, raz·ing.  to tear down; demolish; level to the ground: to raze a row of old buildings.


Posted: August 23, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

freeMy novel, VETO, will be free this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 24, 25 and 26

Even if you don’t have an E-reader, you can download it to your computer. I’d Vetoreally appreciate your help.

What if the next Secretary-General of the UN were a woman?

VETO is the story of Pilar Marti, a UN bureaucrat who rises above her limitations to become a great Secretary-General, one who transforms the UN from inertia to dynamism, from control by five veto countries to a representative world body. Pilar grows with the job, becoming a take-charge person who breaks out of the church-like UN building and confronts the world’s problems.

People often rise to the office they find themselves in. Haberdasher Harry Truman became a great president. Schoolteacher Golda Meir led Israel in difficult times. Party official Michel Gorbachev introduced wide reforms in Russia. Pilar Marti tries to help people in Africa who need food and water and in the process she makes some powerful enemies.

We’ve seen recently how powerless the UN is in Syria. Pilar knows the veto is at the heart of the UN’s problems.

VETO won second prize for a novel in progress in the Quilberry Lane Contest from Austin, Texas in 2006


On another note, creative writing classes are starting up again this fall. Please come yourself or talk to that friend of yours who’s been thinking about writing. This fall I’m teaching two courses, Introduction to Creative Writing and a Creative Writing Seminar. Both courses are on Mondays from 10 to Noon, at the Phoenix Centre, behind Surrey Hospital. This fall we have a lot of exciting courses for you. Check them out at:

Classes start on September 17th.

This week I’m happy to present another blog by our Fraser Valley inmate.

jailA note on this man. He was one of the very first winners of the money from my bursary and he plans to use the money for environmental studies. The funds will go directly to the university of his choice. However, for him it will only be a start. $250 is only a beginning to university studies. (This is a plug to see more donations to this bursary which the John Howard Society administers — ). Education is the proven way out of crime.

In his letter to me this inmate told me some sad news. Sometimes the judge sends a man to prison for some charges, while other charges are still pending. This inmate just received news that seven years has been added to his sentence. I don’t know his crime, but I’ve been thinking about those seven years. Seven years of what?

  • Seven years of a dynamic program to deal with his crime? No. Just a few cookie-cutter programs to take.
  • Seven years of advanced education so that he can make a living when he gets out? No. He’s already got a high school diploma, that’s all the system pays for.
  • Seven years of apprenticeship in a trade. No.
  • Seven years of mentored individual study leading to a degree? No. The system does not pay for any post secondary education.
  • Seven years of boredom, seven years of being warehoused, seven years more of crime yesschool, seven years of wearing a mask, as described below — YES


Players on Stage

It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his stagelife plays many parts.”

The prison system is its own little world where the words of Shakespeare ring true every day.

Our prison system is a stage where a tragic comedy plays out on a daily basis. Both sides of the equation playing their parts according to scripts that have been written over time with little, and I mean very little, room for improvisation.

Among inmates there is the expectation that one will live by the ‘inmate code,’ however ridiculous it may be at times. For instance, even if I know that an inmate is in the wrong about something involving staff or administration, the expectation is that I take his side no matter how wrong he may be. This does, of course, lead to support for some pretty paranoid and paranoidsuspicious views that to any rational person would be bordering on mental disorder. This is the game we play because too many of us don’t want to hear the truth or accept that “the man” many sometimes have a point.

On the other side there are the same types of behaviour playing out. Among guards there is an expectation of unity, lest they show weakness in front of the inmate population. It is not very often you will see a guard contradict or go against what another guard has done even if they are in the wrong. POs (parole officers) rarely will go out and say that something that a previous PO has done regarding an inmate’s file is wrong. They merely pretend that no mistakes have been made, and that the

outside box

Think outside the box, end up inside one.

system is infallible. The system doesn’t encourage original thought, and eventually it grinds down idealists and original thinkers under the weight of apathy.

It’s sad that we have to play the game like this with too many of us having to become players on this scripted stage that leaves little room for creativity or original thought. We all wear our masks and play the roles that we believe are expected of us and go through the motions every day. It’s time to play a different role; it’s time to change the script.

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My daughter is a scholar. She knows her way around academia. She recently sent me these abstracts, which I found fascinating, if sometimes contradictory. But it seems that the academics are leading us away from the punishment model to the rehabilitation model.

The Accountable Prison

1.                         Francis T. Cullen1

2.                         Cheryl Lero Jonson2accountability

3.                         John E. Eck1


Despite being used on a massive scale and consuming huge amounts of the public treasury, prisons have largely failed to reduce offender recidivism. This failure persists both because of archaic beliefs that prisons cannot affect future behavior and because nobody is held accountable for inmate reoffending. Building on lessons from the field of policing, we propose a new era of accountability in corrections—an era in which prison wardens and other correctional officials are mandated to reduce inmate recidivism and are rewarded for doing so. Through a restructuring of incentives, the aim is to create in corrections a sustained interest in making offenders less likely to commit new crimes. More broadly, this approach is intended to transform correctional institutions into “accountable prisons” where concern over offenders’ future community conduct rivals concern over their daily institutional conduct.

A Utopian Prison

Contradiction in Terms?Utopia

1.                         Joycelyn M. Pollock1

2.                         Nancy L. Hogan2

3.                         Eric G. Lambert3

4.                         Jeffrey Ian Ross4

5.                         Jody L. Sundt5


Given the often disquieting history of correctional institutions, we question the notion of a utopian prison and, instead, make suggestions for simply improving existing institutions. First, prisons should adopt a clear commitment to the principles of restorative justice and rehabilitation. Second, the recruitment, training, and retention of staff should be reformed so that staff members are more likely to have a high commitment to such principles. Third, the physical, social, psychological, and moral/ethical safety of the prison must be improved so that individuals can concentrate on change rather than mere survival. Fourth, the evidence supporting rehabilitative programming should be consulted, but, in addition, a more nuanced measure of success should also be considered. Finally, it is necessary to understand the barriers to improving prisons, including the vested interests that profit from the “prison-industrial complex,” public opinion, and budgetary restraints. In conclusion, we argue that prisons will never be utopian, but they can be more just, more humane, and more effective as a place to change lives. Evidence suggests this is what the public wants.

The Therapeutic Prison

1.                         Paula Smith1

2.                         Myrinda Schweitzer1therapy

1.                 1University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA

1.                         Paula Smith, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, PO Box 210389, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0389, USA Email:


Since the founding of the penitentiary, the hope has persisted that incarceration could serve reformative purposes. This intent to create a truly therapeutic prison is no longer a utopian dream. A theoretically informed and evidence-based approach for designing a correctional institution that delivers effective interventions is now available: the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI). In this context, the current essay illuminates how the CPAI can be used to guide the development of a prison whose goals and practices advance offender rehabilitation.

The Future of Community Corrections Is Now

Stop Dreaming and Take Actionaction

1.                         Faith E. Lutze1

2.                         W. Wesley Johnson2

3.                         Todd R. Clear3

4.                         Edward J. Latessa4

5.                         Risdon N. Slate5


The political, economic, and social context in which community corrections functions makes it extremely difficult to achieve successful outcomes. The current fiscal crisis, however, is forcing change as many states can no longer support the cost of our 30-year imprisonment binge. As in the past, community corrections will be expected to pick up the pieces of an overcrowded and expensive prison system. The authors argue that community corrections is capable of taking on this challenge and can be successful if policy makers take action to reduce prison and community supervision populations, ensure that agencies are structured to proactively support evidence-based practice, and recognize corrections as a human services profession. The authors present a number of actions that can be taken to promote a new era of shared responsibility in corrections that is framed within a human rights perspective and driven by an ethic of care.

Moving Toward Utopia

Visions of Progress for American Jails

1.                         Jeanne B. Stinchcomb1

2.                         Brandon K. Applegate2

3.                         Ken Kerle3

4.                         Stan Stojkovic4


Even the most distant utopian dreams are fundamentally anchored in present reality, since it is only by assessing where we are today that it is possible to determine how far we have to go to achieve tomorrow’s goals. For America’s jails, that begins with the analysis of an organizational identity that has traditionally been mired in custodial and security considerations, in contrast to the more reformative human service orientation of a utopian perspective. Moving toward such a renewed identity means operationalizing far-reaching conceptual ideals—from diverting the mentally ill to treating substance abusers. Because accomplishing these advancements depends on a foundation of capable staff, it also means creating an organizational culture where theory, policy, and utopian goals can be translated into operational practices–since it is ultimately the workforce who breathes life into the system, determining whether jails are destined to remain anchored in tradition or are designed to ascend toward a more utopian future.

What is your opinion of these abstracts? Do you agree with some but not others?

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  • —

Open Closed signPrison is a closed system. We, the tax-paying public, don’t know what’s going on behind those walls and prison authorities don’t want us to know. It’s a great system for them – as long as they keep inmates inside the walls, they can do what they want.

If a teacher does something wrong, children tell their parents and the parents go to the school board. If a nurse or doctor mistreats a patient, the next day the family of the patient are on TV or pounding on the door of the hospital administration.

But what happens if a guard mistreats an inmate or a staff person punishes someone beyond the reasonable? What happens? Nothing. As long as no one escapes, the public is quiet. Who cares if an inmate closed systemobjects to something?

Yes, there is an office of correctional investigators (ombudsmen) in Ottawa which issues reports from time to time, good reports about abuses in the system. They have 34 employees for this vast prison system. Why isn’t there an ombudsman in every prison? In my twenty-three years of teaching in prison, I have never met anyone whom the ombudsman helped.

And there are procedures inside the prison to deal with complaints (for those who are courageous enough to complain). Isn’t that like the foxes investigating the other foxes to see who raided the chicken coup?

The tax-paying public is kept out of prison. No cameras are allowed, no cell phones, and no recording devices. Naturally some situations in prison demand restrictions, just as the public can’t waltz into the Operating Room and watch an operation.

But why can’t the taxpayer come into prison and see what they’re open closedpaying for? Why can’t they see the dirty walls, observe staff sitting around chatting or playing solitaire on their computers? Why can’t they talk to the staff and to inmates? They’re paying for this place.

“Sorry, folks, it’s a closed system,” the prison says. “We’re warehousing these people, not changing them, and that’s all the system demands. We’re doing our job. Stay out.”

Should prisons be closed to the public?

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