Archive for January, 2013

educationA young man came to my prison writing class every week. He loved the group, the interchange among the guys, the debates, the stimulus. I soon found out he was a very curious young man. He kept me hoping – and learning myself – What is a euphemism? What does it mean ‘to show, not tell?’ Who are some famous authors from my heritage?

He never missed a session.

Unrelated to our class, he broke a rule. I don’t know what rule he broke, but his punishment was not to come to the writing class anymore. I hit the ceiling. Since when has education been used as a punishment? Denying a man a class that he liked and did well in – what kind of educational policy was that?

I complained to different levels of prison officials. Of course my complaint went nowhere. It seemed that because he liked the class, they took it away from him.

As might be expected, trouble followed trouble and soon the young man was shipped to higher security.

This young man is out of prison now and is doing well. He doesn’t seem to be bitter and I hope he continues that way.

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addictionPrisons spend big bucks making sure that no one can put drugs inside a tennis ball and throw the ball into a prison. Big chain link fences, netting strung over courtyards, and extra staff to patrol the grounds. The guards put visitors, their car keys, their glasses through high-tech machines to look for signs of drug use.

One day the guys in my class got talking. The question was, “What are you going to do when you get out?”

“I’m going to start an IT business.”

“I got to get my teeth fixed.”

“I’m gonna get married.”

“Listen you guys,” Lewis (not real name) said, “here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna have me a super drug party. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’m going to buy whatever I can and make up for all these wasted years.”

The guys laughed and ignored his comment as so much braggadocio. But his comment stuck with me. Why hadn’t the prison system helped him? Over coming addiction is not just keeping drugs out of the prison.

At the end of the class that year, it was hard to do, but the guys arranged for the prison photographer to take a group picture. They all had to sign releases, and they presented me with the picture. I have it in my room, above my desk.

Lewis is there, with what could be called a smile. But this picture is so poignant – Lewis did exactly what he said he was going to do. He had his drug party and died during it.

All those years he spent in prison. It was no secret that he had a drug problem. No one helped him. No one found the key to Lewis. No one even looked for it. It’s like the individual is not important.

A friend gave me Stephen Reid’s new book, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden. One passage struck me:

Prisons are about addictions. Most prisoners are casualties of their own habits… Prison provides the loneliness that fuels addiction. It is the slaughterhouse for addicts, and all are eventually delivered to its gates.

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The Victim of Crime

Posted: January 13, 2013 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
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Everyday about the same time, he ran past my house. Thin, perhaps in his late thirties, early forties, my hilly neighborhood did not seem to affect him. Whether he was going up the hill outside my house or down it, he wore the same determined face.

My curiosity forced me to stop him one day. I really didn’t stop him – he ran in place.

“I admire what you’re doing. How far do you run?’

“5 K in the morning, 5 K at night.”

“Wow!” was all I could think to say.

“My name’s Ed,” I said. “What’s yours?”

“John. I just live around the corner.”

“I think that’s great, John.”

“See. I’m a music teacher and this is how I handle the stress in my life – by running. And I better get going. Nice to meet you, Ed.”

That was last summer. I hadn’t seen him in six months until one day this month my wife and I were walking up our hilly street – slowly, of course. We saw John coming down the hill – walking. It was the first time I ever saw him walking.

As he drew near, I saw that he didn’t look well. “Hey, John, how’s it going? You remember me, Ed, and this is my wife, Kathy. You’re not running?”

Without preliminaries, he jumped into the story. “I put a couple of good musical instruments up for sale on Craig’s list and two guys came to look at them. One guy picked up both and started to leave. When I grabbed for him, the other guy hit me on the head with a heavy stick of some kind and I fell into the corner of my piano. When I woke up, they were gone, along with the musical instruments and my laptop. It took me days to come out of the fog. When I run now I get dizzy. I just can’t do it.”

Tears came to his eyes. “I want to run. I start, but I have to stop. The doc says give it time. But it’s been five months now.”

It seemed to Kathy and I that more than running had left his life, namely his stability and his way to handle stress.

“Have the cops found the guys?” I asked

John looked at me like I didn’t know anything. “Of course not.”

“Did your doctor suggest a counselor?” I ventured.

“Yes, but it’s not covered in my plan.”

John said goodbye and walked slowly away, head down.

The victim of crime. Oh, sure, we can stand on our righteous platform and say, “He should have done this or that,” but what real help has our society given John? Did the government pay for frequent counseling? Psychologists, physiotherapists, whatever was required and as often as needed. If his injury limited his ability to teach some students, was he compensated for that?

John didn’t seem to have that snarling attitude about “finding those dirty criminals and hanging them.” But if he did, would a counselor have been there to help him through those feelings?

And what about the community, in this case, our neighborhood. It’s upsetting to all of us that a couple of guys can steal from a neighbor and get away with it.

In my opinion, we haven’t even begun to help the victim of crime. What is your opinion?

This Blog

Posted: January 5, 2013 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
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My apologies. A little illness has knocked me down for the holidays. Illness always knows when to strike.

blog I’m enjoying writing this blog. I’ve found that the people who participate in this blog often carry it for me. They know more than I do about some situations (many situations). I only wish it would be easier for inmates to have blogs of their own. We would learn a lot. But as it is now, they can barely get time on the few house computers. And despite the fact that some US prisons now have email, Canada is still in the stone age of communication. (That just struck me – hammering out a message in stone. Not far off for the Harper government.)

My New Years’ Resolution for this blog is to change it every week

Please keep your suggestions and comments coming.

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