Posts Tagged ‘federal prison’

Call him Irving, an amazing inmate and an amazing person. I first met him in my creative writing class. He was one of those rare students that I could give a few writing principles to and he would run with them. Soon he was turning in amazing stories, one about a man from a Louisiana bayou, environment and correct Cajun accent as well.

He loved his First Nations’ heritage and wrote a story which brought his tribe to life for me.

He and I talked about the prison’s lack of release planning, and he began to develop some ideas.

Soon he was moved to the Okanagan area where his original offense had occurred. While he was there, he developed a full release planning program and talked the admin into letting him run it. Guys about to be released signed up for his program and he put them thru it. Who will pick you up from Pretrial? Where will you go on your first day out? And so forth.

His prison record was perfect and I was surprised he was still in prison himself. Finally, he came in front of a judge, who took a look at his prison record and his letters of support (one of them was mine). The judge did not add any time, he just told him to finish his current sentence.

An amazing thing happened next. A police car picked him up, and he thought he was on his way back to prison, but instead the police took him to a half-way house in the Okanagan area. He was filled with joy and excitement – he could visit with his mother and his sister. Within a week he had two jobs and was following the rules of the half-way house to the letter.

A month went by. The warden of a large prison noticed the fact that this model prisoner was in a halfway house instead of a federal prison. Without delay he sent a squad car to the Okanagan to pick him up. Never mind that the warden already had 300 prisoners who needed lots of help they weren’t getting. Never mind that his record at the halfway house was perfect. Back to prison.

I met him the next morning. He was sad that he had to give up his two jobs, sad that he couldn’t see his sister or mother, and sad that he had to endure more prison. I told him to contact a new woman on the prison staff. I went to her myself and asked her to help Irving. She said she would. (but she didn’t)

He came back to my writing class. “You know, Ed, what we need is for the staff to see what happens in this class. We should invite them to come.”

“It’s okay by me, but you’ll never get them to come.”

I was wrong. He did get them to come.

A year later he was paroled. Here was a man who long ago got the message that crime didn’t pay. The prison system brought him back when he was doing fine and then dragged their heels to release him. Again, prison jobs were more important to staff than helping inmates.

Each of my students in prison affected me in a certain way. I called one man, My Mirror Image.

Davi was about my age, 58 back then. We were similar in artificial ways, about the same weight, the same height etc. But one day he mentioned a word that caught my attention, “Selma.”  He too had been in Selma, marching for the rights of black Americans.

I was a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, he was an American who had entered Canada in a very wrong way. The FBI and the drug squad were literally on his heels, so he took over a rural border crossing with a gun.

As we talked, we discovered that we shared a lot of beliefs, from picketing for the grape boycott to what America should look like.

There were also many differences between us. I went home at night and he didn’t. He was raised by a series of foster homes and I was raised by a loving Irish Catholic family. I did not believe in violence and apparently he did. But the more I talked to him, I knew he could change. It would take time and long discussions about change and freedom and respect. I also knew that nothing in prison was going to help him.

He was an excellent poet, who could put so much in a few lines of poetry, ideas that would take me an essay each to convey.

Canada turned him over to the US, who offered him a deal – give them a list of all his drug connections and he’d get a lighter sentence. He refused and he’s now in his seventies in a federal prison in Oregon. If he’s anything like me in his seventies, doing crime does not seem like a good idea. The cops are not his enemies anymore, type 2 diabetes is.

Crime is individual and prison should be also.

What is your opinion? Should he have given the authorities a list of his drug connections? Could a prison help him?