Archive for September, 2012

statisticsWe have another comment from our prolific inmate in a local federal prison. (Apologies for scanning his work instead of retyping it.)

 

 

 

text

recidivismOur correspondent asks why more effort isn’t put into rehabilitating those with lower scores. Do you think our current government in Ottawa cares at all about rehabilitation?

 

 

Images courtesy of:

  • the-slammer.org
  • webquest.hawaii.edu

vist chairsI will never forget the first time I visited an inmate in prison, a maximum-security prison in the USA. These are my reflections as I waited in the visiting room. It was not like what you see on TV with inmate and visitor separated by a hard plastic or glass window with a telephone on each side. That’s typical of remand centers. Here fifteen groupings of molded plastic chairs and nicked coffee tables filled the windowless room. At one end of the room a guard watched the whole scene from a platform. Another guard patrolled the groupings of people. The ceiling was low, the paint old, the ventilation poor.

The guard assigned me to a coffee table/chair cluster.  “It’s going to take a while for us to find your inmate and search him, so you can relax.”

Search him?  He’s been in prison.  What was he going to smuggle out of prison?  License plates?

I sat down and waited.  I could hear everything the family in front of me said.  The father was the prisoner.

“Dad, can I play with that truck?”  The five-year-old boy had his eye on a sturdy, prison-made, wooden truck that another boy played with.

“When the other boy is finished.”

“When will that be?”

“You wait.  He’ll be done soon.”

The woman sat back and looked at her husband and son.  She looked tired.

After a few minutes the boy saw that the other child had abandoned  the toy. He moved to the floor and began to work the truck.  The man and woman moved their chairs closer together.  They kissed, then broke away from each other.  The woman looked as if she’d come alive again.  The tough convict appearance of the man softened.  He was a lover now.  They kissed again, their hands reached out to embrace each other.

Then a tap on the man’s shoulder.  “Williams, you know the rules about embracing. Visit’s over. Say good-bye.”

Williams’ face changed.  He wasn’t a lover anymore, he was a convict.  Hate filled his eyes.

The woman stood and called the boy to come.  He refused to leave the toy truck.  His mother pulled him away.  He began to scream.  The sound filled the low, windowless room.  She slapped him and dragged him back to her husband.  “Say good-bye to your father,” she ordered.  The father picked the boy up, but he continued to scream.  He tried to push away from his father.  Holding the boy with one hand, the father spanked the boy with the other.

While all this screaming, slapping and spanking was going on, the guard stood right behind the father to make sure there was no more embracing.

The woman took the man’s hand.  Her eyes spoke of longing, of loneliness and of fatigue. She alone had to deal with a screaming child.  One minute, two minutes they held hands.  I could feel their desire to hug each other.  The guard stepped forward. “I said, ‘Break it up.’ Now get back to your unit, Inmate Williams.”

The convict went through the door where I assumed he would be searched again.  The woman and child left.  I sat and thought.  How could this separation be good?  A boy needs a father, a man needs a wife and a woman needs a husband.  What kind of system breaks up the family in order to punish and supposedly rehabilitate someone?

I wondered about all that slapping and spanking.  Abused children can easily become abusers.  As I watched Mr. Williams slap Son Williams, I wondered if I was not looking inside picture within picture?  Would Son Williams be in prison someday and spank his boy, who would then – and so on into infinity.

My attention turned to a quiet middle-aged couple.  Their son came into the visiting room.  He was

visit area

a typical visiting area (minus the windows)

lean, six feet tall, with an acne-covered face.  He didn’t walk toward his parents – he swaggered toward them, his eyes on the other convicts in the room.  The woman stood and hugged him.  Tears filled her eyes.  He let her hug him, but he glanced at neighboring tables to see if anyone witnessed this emotion.  He saw me eyeing him and snarled.  I looked away.

I’d waited twenty minutes and still my inmate had not shown up.  The prison wasn’t that big.  You could walk around the whole place in twenty minutes.

I glanced back at the young man.  He sat now and his mother talked to him.  The father listened, but an intermittent look of incredulity flickered across his face. How could this have happened to my son?

Here sat two parents who cared about their son.  Why were they seventy-five miles away from him?  Why were they not part of his treatment plan?  What the hell was this place I was in?

I thought about my own family. It was my family that kept me on the ‘straight and narrow.’ I may have longed for wild adventure, but ultimately my son and my daughter determined my behavior. Look after the children – the message is written on the human heart. This crazy place ripped a man from his family. Yes, a small number of men destroy their families or their families destroy them, but don’t the vast majority of convicts belong in the basic unit of our society, the family?

I watched more and more of this family action.  I saw fathers come into the visiting room, I saw fathers being told to leave.  I saw more emotion than I could handle.  Through it all one guard sat at the desk, the other made the rounds and tapped people on the shoulder when it was time to go or when some illegal embracing had occurred. Both of them looked bored.

As I waited, I discovered why the prison allowed people to keep coins. A cola machine and a candy machine occupied a corner of  the visiting room.  Visitors, unable to bring things into the visiting room, fed many coins into these machines.  A promising area for an enterprising reporter to investigate, I thought.  What kind of kickback was necessary for the privilege of keeping a machine in this lucrative spot?

Finally the man I’d come to visit walked into the room. The family is the key unit in our society. Is this the way to reunite families?

Free

Posted: September 17, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

freeA few years ago, I showed up at my writing group with a chapter of my novel and something I wrote about myself. The group (the Rainwriters) had a lot to say about the novel chapter, most of it critical. But they loved the little thing I wrote about myself.

Week after week, month after month this went on. They liked the writing about myself, but had a lot of suggestions about the novel. One woman said, “Ed, your novel is okay, but these stories about yourself are your best writing ever.”

I believed her and put together my themed autobiography, Once a Priest, the theme being that priesthood continued in my life minus religion. the church and the roman collar. Even the title came from a man in the group. (A sub-text message is to find a good writing group or start one. It can make a big difference in your writing life)Once A Priest

Once a Priest is:

  • About a man finding himself, not a book about religion.
  • About carrying things of value from the church, not a book about being a priest.
  • About seeking the transcendent, the spiritual, not a book about what people said in confession.

Once a Priest is:

  • About Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery
  • About a thirty-two year old man, a virgin, beginning to date
  • About running for political office – and winning
  • About getting married and having a family
  • About starting a business without knowing anything about the business
  • About moving to a new country
  • About teaching writing in prison
  • About living with cancer.

cakeGet this book free starting on Thursday, September 20, Ed’s 76th birthday, and on Friday and Saturday, September 21 & 22. Go to http://www.amazon.com/Once-a-Priest-ebook/dp/B005H5DSTI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1347893572&sr=1-1&keywords=once+a+priest

Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get this book for free to read on your computer or e-reader.The Kindle for PC app lets you read eBooks and e-textbooks on your PC. Download the app today to start reading.

Kindle for PC: Read eBooks on Your Computer – No Kindle Device Required

Images courtesy of:

  • theyorkboys.blogspot.com
  • clintoncards.co.uk

get out of jailIn my opinion, the most critical time for a man or a woman are the months right after they get out of prison. Many have little money and, of course, they know many easy ways to get money.

These people, who are used to a very regimented life, wake up one morning and no one is telling them what to do. Many spend their first months in a halfway house, which in some cases is good and in some cases is a disaster. As one inmate told me, if you want drugs, go to such and such a halfway house.

How about the parole officer who follows an inmate on the outside? Many of them have way too many cases. In theory, a parole officer on parole officerthe outside is a good idea – someone to care about an inmate, to advise, to be a mentor. What it comes down to, however, is the inmate going to an office, chatting with (or lying to) the parole officer for a few minutes and then leaving.

I had the opportunity to sit in with an inmate and his parole officer on their first interview after the man got out of prison. It was horrible. The man had a lot of things going for him, great self-confidence and an intelligent mind. For an hour the parole officer told him what a scumbag he was, how she was going to send him back to prison, how she knew he was going to screw up, how she knew he was going to go back into crime, on and on for an hour.

I stayed with the case for many months and twice she tried to send the inmate back, but her supervisor overruled her. I suspected she had some kind of personal problem, which she was taking out on the inmate. Sadly, that happens a lot in our prison system.

mentor

Mentor

These months are important. Can’t something be done? Take some staff who have little to do in the prison, retrain them, and retrain them again with some psychology and again with how to help people change.

When someone is on parole, they are already standing behind us in the supermarket. We in the community have to help those who have just been released. I’ve helped many citizens go into prison and help the men in there, but I have failed to get people involved with those who have been released.

Many men and women are afraid of the world that confronts them. They understand prison and know how to live there. Their friends are there. We have to help them live on the outside.

Images courtesy of:

  • collegesurfing.com
  • articles.businessinsider.com
  • samdick.org

While I taught in a maximum security prison in Wisconsin, I learned a sad lesson. I learned what was most important in prison. On this particular day, the director of education told me I had to shorten my class by half an hour. “There’s a group from the state government in Madison coming to inspect the school and it has to be cleared ofclassroom all inmates. (I wondered why a school should be cleared of its students for an inspection, but I kept my mouth shut.) Instead of two hours, I would only have an hour and a half.

I accepted this change without complaint. At least I had a class that day. Sometimes I drove up to the prison only to find that the place was locked down. The men were confined to their cells and there would be no class. I got the class started quickly and launched into our plan for the day.  After forty-five minutes a young security guard opened the door of the classroom, walked in and, without even a nod to me, interrupted what I was saying and told the men to get out.

I have spent a lot of my life in school.  From the nuns at St. Ann’s to the professors at the University of Wisconsin, everyone held the classroom as inviolate. No one could barge in on a class as this guard had just done. Besides – we had forty-five minutes left.

“There must be some misunderstanding,” I said

get outThe guard looked at me for a second and then faced the men. His face tightened and his voice rose. “I said OUT.”

“We have another forty-five minutes,” Walter said.

“The State Inspection Team is due at 10:30,” Brian added.

Jim looked worried and began to fidget.

“The director of education…” I began.

The guard cut me off. His whole body tensed. “You men get out of this classroom or you go on report.”

Nobody moved. “You got no right,” Walter muttered.

“Listen,” I said, trying to find a reasonable answer, “why don’t you check with the director. He’s in his office.”

The young guard’s face flamed red with anger.  “This is your last warning, you men. Get out.”

I saw from Walter’s face that a confrontation was coming. Another prison riot could start in the school.   I tried to calm things down.  “Men, I’m going to take this thing right to the top.  Not only is this against what the director said, but it’s an invasion of the classroom.  In my opinion the classroom is sacred.  I’m as angry as you, but for now I suggest you comply.”

Amid angry mutterings, everyone left. I went to the director immediately. When I explained what had happened, he shrugged.  “That’s one of the things about teaching in prison.  You have to learn that security is top.  Just forget it.”

But I didn’t.  On the way out of prison, I stopped at the office and asked to see the head of security.  Surprisingly, he admitted me.  After I explained the situation again, he said, “That’s young Burns, the guy who came into your classroom.”

“And?”

“His dad worked here until last year.  Had a heart attack.”

“Do you think it’s right to just barge into a classroom?”

“You come up here all the way from Milwaukee?”

“Yes.”

“The director of education tells me you volunteer.  Is that right?”

“Yes.  Can I get clear the rules for the classroom?”

“You have to understand this is a prison.  But what we need are more volunteers like you.”

The man was dodging me, not very artfully. “I’m very upset about what happened.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are.  The Department of  Corrections needs good people like you.”

“What about the classroom? Can a guard just barge in like that?”

“This is a prison.”

What could I say?  I had no threat to deliver.  If I said I was walking out and would never teach again, his response would have been indifference.  After fifteen minutes of listening to him give me public relations, I left, defeated.  Security was king.

I was powerless. Funny. That’s the word convicts use to describe their situation – powerlesspowerless.

Images courtesy of:

  • newforyou1991.blogspot.com
  • diverseeducation.com
  • openclipart.org