Posts Tagged ‘prison management’

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?

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