Posts Tagged ‘prison authorities’

 

I’m honored to have one of my books banned, Delaney’s Hope. I join a prestigious group of people who have had their books banned. The Grapes of Wrath, Green Eggs and Ham, Brave New World, Lolita, etc. See the whole list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments

Two days after I taught a class in prison, I received a call from the prison authorities. “You’re out. Turn in your badge,” the deputy warden said in her harshest of tones. “Your book tells of the rape and murder of a young woman.”

Yes, it does, but nowhere does it approve of such an action. I pointed that out to the friendly deputy warden, but she wasn’t impressed. So I said, “I appeal this decision.”

At the appeal hearing, the acting warden quickly moved away from the initial complaint and said that I brought in things without clearing them with the administration. Yes, I did that, as any good teacher would, bring in materials that would help students understand. In this case I only gave it to one man to teach him how to edit someone else’s work.

The hearing continued and then the acting warden said, “Now about this blog you write every week, Prison Uncensored. You are often critical of the prison.”

“Warden,” I said, “I can’t believe this is part of our discussion today.”

“We expect our employees and volunteers to say positive things about the prison and the administration. You’re banned from entering any federal prison from now on. You can appeal this decision to Ottawa if you want.”

Despite my twenty years of volunteering to teach writing in prison, I was out. I knew Ottawa would back up their local man. My daughter said, “They don’t pay you, they don’t honor you, so just get out.”

A further comment is that Delaney’s Hope is  a warden who set up a prison that really worked i.e. it changed people.  I don’t editorialize in the book, but an existing warden might not like what he or she read.

So, I’m out, but my blog continues. Prison Uncensored Blog https://prisonuncensored.wordpress.com/. The back of Delaney’s Hope says the book was banned in prison.

Recently I made a teaching decision which led to some controversy. I’ve been a volunteer teacher of creative writing in prison for twenty years.

I had a student who was doing very well in the class. I felt he needed something more, so I brought in the draft of my own novel for him to edit and critique. As a teacher, I felt I had every right to do this. In fact, I never gave it a thought.

My draft novel is called Delaney’s Hope. It’s the story of a man who feels guilty after getting a good salary from the prison system for years without doing very much. He decides to set up a prison that really works, that changes men and women instead of just warehousing them. After much effort, he gets his chance. The government gives him a minimum prison with only five inmates and three staff for one year. One inmate is a master drug dealer, another defrauds an insurance company and shoots a company executive. Two of the inmates are violent offenders and the last is a sex offender, who has killed a 14 year old girl in an attempt to rape her.

I tried to portray each of these offenders as best I could. The challenge for this experimental prison was to see what would happen.

Somehow prison management got hold of the novel and decided that it was sexually oriented material involving children. Yes, I portrayed the sex offender as best I could, so that I could show the efforts to cure him. I wasn’t writing a how to manual, nor an endorsement of the man’s action.

The deputy warden called me a few days after my class and said I was out, not allowed to volunteer in the prison system anymore. I had no idea why at first, and when I found out, I appealed this decision.

Something else was going on here. The book I wrote is not pornography, rather it sickens the reader at such an action. Compared to the Bible where Lot offers his daughters to strangers, it’s mild. I wondered why the prison authorities ignored the drug dealer and the other criminals

At the appeal, the discussion reviewed these facts, and then the acting warden said, “And, you know, you write a blog every week called Prison Uncensored.”

“Wait,” I said, “I hope that’s not part of this discussion, is it?”

The warden replied, “We want all our employees to portray a positive image of the prison.”

“Don’t I have a right to free speech?”

“We’ll let you know our decision by mail in a few days.”

Of course the decision was negative. There was a further appeal available at the national level, but my daughter helped me think this through.

She said, “Fight if your heart tells you to, but I’m glad.”

“Glad?”

“Yes, I know you like teaching, but focus on teaching in the community and on your own writing. Forget people who do not appreciate you.

What is your opinion? Did I do wrong? Should I appeal further?