Posts Tagged ‘helping inmates’

Any writer worth their salt has a beta reader, a knowledgeable writVB Coverer who will give an honest critique. Here’s what mine said.

“I like it, Ed. I really got into the heads of some of these criminals, but who’s this Delaney?”

“What?” I replied. “He’s the hero of the novel.”

“Look,” the reader said, “you start with the day the prison opens and then you jump right into the stories of your criminals. I liked those stories, one after the other, but I never got to know Delaney.”

I was upset. I had a clear picture of Delaney in my head, the guy who pulled this new prison idea off. Why couldn’t my reader see it?

But as I calmed down, I thought about his comment. I did begin with what is now chapter five, Opening Day. Right away I portrayed the criminals one after the other, but there really was no explanation of Delaney.

So I started over. How did Delaney come up with this idea? What was the key event that put him on the path of making a change? How did people take to his idea?

I wrote the first four chapters and then added a lot more about Delaney as the story went on.

I believe with Delaney that there are a lot better ideas for prison than what we have now.

The E-book version of Delaney’s Hope is available for $2.99 at B00GFGEBMG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1384110394&sr=8-3&keywords=Delaney%27s+Hope

VB Cover“Our prisons aren’t working,” says Surrey author Ed Griffin. “They’re crime schools and warehouses for people. The prison industrial complex doesn’t want to see any reduction in them.”

In his latest novel, Delaney’s Hope, Griffin writes about a prison official who regrets his years of collecting a good salary from the system, but helping few. He convinces the American government to let him set up an experimental prison, where inmates do not get out when their time is up – they get out when they don’t do crime anymore.

This explosive book was banned in prison because prison authorities found it challenged the current system and portrayed too well the criminality of a sex offender.

Fellow writer Robert W. Mackay says: Ed Griffin, educator and author, has written a terrific book. Delaney’s Hope is a novel, telling the story of a handful of inmates and a prison reformer who challenges the system. Protagonist Delaney, in that sense, reflects Griffin’s own battle to bring reason and a pragmatic approach to incarceration. For reasons that elude this reviewer, the book has been banned by a prison bureaucracy. Their loss is the reader’s gain. Highly recommended.

The E-book is available now on Amazon for $2.99:


I have printed copies($15.00) and shortly Chapters in Surrey will carry them.


One day at a book club meeting in prison, Alex looked around at everyone in the room. Five outsiders and seven inmates crowded the tiny room. “I’m not going to make it on the outside,” he said. “I never do.”

I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Alex was a ‘gentle’ man, a man who helped others, a man who would walk around the track on his hands to avoid a fight.

“You know, guys, I get out and I don’t know what to do. I can never find a good job, so I sleep all day in the halfway house, but they kick me out after three months because I wasn’t bad enough, I guess.”

I wondered if there was a Mrs. Alex and junior Alex people, but I didn’t ask.

“So after awhile, I miss prison and the routine, so I rob some store or other where I don’t hurt people. Since I’m still on parole they send me back here at least for six months or so.”

The inmates in the group tried to help him. They told him which halfway house would really help him and which ones were like outlet stores for the drug trade. One guy suggested a hobby, another said move to different area, a third gave him the name of contractor who hired ex-cons as laborers.

Institutionalization happening right in front of me. This prison system is sick, I thought.instituzionalied

What is the answer?

A friend of mine applied for a job as a Social Program worker. She was anxious to work with inmates to help them adopt pro-social attitudes and she came to the job with considerable experience working with people.

“What do I do on my shift?’

“When the inmates go back to their cells, you collect the basketballs and so forth. You count everything and check for damage.”

“What do I do when the inmates are in free time? Can I help them form reading clubs and things like that?”

“No. No. No. You stay in the office during that time. Watch TV, read a book, sleep, whatever. You have no contact with inmates.”

“But…isn’t that the job, social program officer?”

“Not here.”

She stayed on the job only one day.

When I asked another official for something, he would talk and talk, especially about how busy he was. These discussions took ten to twenty minutes. I knew that in business less than a minute could resolve the question.

In my twenty years volunteering in prison, I saw two men doing the job of one, I saw groups of guards chit-chatting in the bubble, and vacation spots and computer games replacing work on their computers.

These are correctional institutions and the staff must be trained to do the ‘correcting.’ Right now the public is getting ripped off.Do Nothing

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For years we held weekend writing workshops in the programs building of the prison. 15 outside writers joined 15 inside writers to spend the weekend talking about writing and about prison. We ate together, but the outsiders went home at night. Everyone who attended these workshops loved them. The insiders forgot they were in jail and realized there was a world out there that might just accept them. The outsiders found out that inmates were not snarling killers, but people who had made a mistake in life. One year the director of education said that the workshops had to be moved to the visiting area. Here there was no way to break down into smaller groups, and it was very uncomfortable for the inmates. A camera spied down from above while a microphone picked up every conversation on every table.

Over and over I suggested we return to the programs building. Answer no. Reason given – none. Finally someone told me the truth. Administration did want outsiders into the “deepest part of the prison.” I argued that it had worked fine for years. Why was it changed? No answer.

My friend Mike Oulton told me about life in Mexican prisons. Yes, they were poorer, but families often came in and ate meals in the cells.

Why are the public in general kept out of Canadian and American prisons?

While I was writing this morning, I got a call from Matt. He’s doing a long, long bit. Inmates can call people from the outside if they get the person approved. I’m approved on Matt’s phone list.

I’ve known him for a long time. After his wild oats had been sown and sown and sown, he settled down to help his fellow inmates. “What do I gotta do to become a writer?” he asked me one day.

Writer in Prison

Writer in Prison

“Write. Write every day,” I said.

“Come on, Ed.”

“That’s the secret. Everyday. At least fifteen minutes a day.”


“Come to class every week. And read books about writing. And read books once as a reader, and then read them again as a writer. Find out why the writer did what he did.”

“If I turn in some writing, will you critique it hard?”


“Come on now, Ed. I’ve seen your comments on some of the guys’ stuff. Super. Very good. Keep it up.”

“Some guys need that. I’ll give it to you hard if that’s the way you want it.”

The next week Matt turned in a paper, and I pulled out my red pen.

red pen After class the next week, he argued with me about all the red markings. We went over them one by one.

Matt kept writing. He earned his diploma in creative writing and now writes under a pen name. He didn’t want anything special this morning. He just called to see how I was. It’s rare that a teacher has a student like Matt, one who stays in touch and really appreciates the work we did together.

Was their a teacher in your life who made a difference? Say hi to him or her.


classroomYears ago I taught creative writing in a maximum security prison in the States. One day I found out what was really important in prison. On this particular Friday, the director 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 of 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

The 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. powerless

“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 repor

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. A 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.”


“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?”


“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.

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

Are convicts powerless? Why do many of then think they are? Why do so many staff think this?

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