Posts Tagged ‘Restorative Justice’

The theory is that prison will teach a man (or woman) how to live in society. It doesn’t work. It’s the farthest thing from what actually happens.

The man gets up at a certain time, marches to the mess hall, and sits with the same three fellows he’s sat with for years. Never does a staff member ask if he could join them. This is an Us and Them world.

The day goes on, the man can only move from one place to another at specified times. He used to have freedom of movement during a good portion of the day, but no more. The staff discovered that it’s easier on them if they put in a military type regime.

This is training to live on the outside?

Then there are programs to take, Cog Skills, Anger Management etc. It doesn’t matter so much whether a man needs a program, the important thing is to keep the classes full. The man has no say in what programs he would like to take. This, of course, guarantees that poor teachers can retain their jobs.

Programs are made conditions of parole. I had a learning experience in this area. I had worked with an inmate for seven years. I knew him thoroughly – he was ready for freedom or at least for a halfway house. I was asked to be interviewed about this man and I agreed. The interviewer was a private individual who prepared reports on inmates. He and I had good conversations, but as we talked, I began to realize that no matter what I said this man was going to report that the inmate wasn’t ready yet. I further suspected that this is what the man always said – this is why the prison system kept him around – he kept filling the prisons, guaranteeing further work for the staff.

“There should be no jails. They do not accomplish what they pretend to accomplish. If you would wipe them out and there would be no more criminals than now. They are a blot upon any civilization.”

Clarence Darrow, 1857-1938

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Inmates should form a union.

Say that line and all manner of objections will arise. “Criminals should not say how they will live their punishment.” “This is a terrible idea – Guards and staff are in charge of the prison, not a bunch of illiterate scum bags.” On and on.

Stop a minute. Think of the idea. Recall the famous line: “Everything that rises, must converge.” It’s the title of the book Flannery O’Connor was working on when she died. But it has a philosophical meaning also – people or a group of people who rise up will converge or meet with the very people who opposed them. If a group of convicts struggle to change the rules they live under, they may or may not succeed. But they will learn what the staff, the guards, are like and they will come to respect them, even if they don’t agree with them.

Everything that rises, must converge.

Here’s an example. Inmates are now told what programs they need before they can move on to a lower security or even be paroled.

But it would be better if the inmates themselves had some say in what programs they were to take. A man might object to taking Anger Management because he’s had the program before and it didn’t help. Or he knows that his real problem is getting along with people who pretend to be better than him. Or – the most common reason – the inmates know that Anger Management is presented by a former mean guard who attended a three month training program on Anger Management, which didn’t do anything about his meanness.

Everything that rises, must converge.

Let’s say a group of prisoners gets together and forms a union around the idea that they should have some say in what programs they are to take. Nobody chooses Anger Management.

Staff gets very upset and cancels the idea that inmates should have a say. The inmates respond by not going to any programs. They stay in their cells.

Time goes on. Administration approaches an inmate who wants to get to minimum, another who wants a PFV (private family visit) with his girlfriend and so forth. If these inmates break the boycott, they’ll be granted their requests. But if management can spy on the union, the union can spy on management. The union finds out which inmates are going to become scabs.

By the next morning, the scabs are in no shape to want anything. No different than any other strike, scabs are dealt with severely.

Though I’m opposed to this violence, I know it will happen. But in the long run, everything that rises, must converge. Union and management slowly see the humanness of the other side. A compromise is reached – the inmates will be asked what programs they want and why before any assignments are made.

Everything that rises, must converge.

For years people said that miners should not have a union, that fast-food workers should not unionize, that teachers should not form a union. I look forward to the day people will talk about inmates having a union.

A few years ago, when I taught in prison, I came home one time and wrote down my feelings. I’m not sure my ideas of how to deal with crows are correct. What do you think?

Crows

by Ed Griffin

800 words

I teach a course in creative writing at Matsqui prison. Week after week I drive forty-five minutes into the country to the prison. As I walk to the gate, I notice several crows flying back and forth across the two, razor-wired fences. The crows screech at me as they perch on the fences. What are they trying to tell me? Then suddenly they fly deeper into the prison grounds.

I go into the guard house and chat with the guards. Most of them are good human beings and we talk about the weather or we laugh at my cheap briefcase which I have to pound so it will open for inspection. Occasionally I meet someone with an attitude, but mostly they’re just ordinary people. They’re not eagles or hummingbirds or blue-jays. They’re just crows, like the rest of us, ordinary birds trying to live.

I can’t understand why the men in prison hate them so.

As I wait for the big gates to slide open, the crows fly over my head and scream at me again. I think how strange it is that we call a pack of crows a murder of crows. Why are they flying back and forth? Maybe there’s a murder of crows living in the prison and one outside and they’re just changing shifts.

I go into my class. Jack and Brian and Dennis and….. Not their real names, but just ordinary guys. Guys trying to write. Trying to figure out their lives with pen and paper and keyboard. Jack was beat up regularly by his father, so he figured violence was the way you dealt with society. Now he’s writing about his early years — and his father. Brian, 32, the article writer, sees a lot wrong with the world and especially a lot wrong with his world. He’s trying to write down his anger instead of acting it out. And Dennis, 41, is finding an outlet for his creative energy in fiction rather than in a line of cocaine.

They’re not representative of society as a whole. With few exceptions, they’re poor people. People without resources. A disproportionate number of minorities and natives. They, too, remind me of crows, not eagles or hummingbirds or blue-jays. Crows.

I teach my class. We have a lot of laughs. Occasionally I meet a con with an attitude, but mostly they’re just writers. I can’t understand why the guards hate them so.

Maybe writers are different from the general prison population. But I care about these guys. I read in the paper every day how we should lock these guys up and throw the key away or we should just hang them all. No, not Jack and Brian and Dennis. Don’t.

I finish my class and I walk to the gate to leave. What have I accomplished? A Band-Aid. I haven’t solved the problem of crime. I haven’t faced the agony of a woman who’s lost her daughter to rape and murder. I haven’t broken the cycle of abuse to kids who later turn to abuse. I’ve gone to prison and passed out Band-Aids. It’s very frustrating.

When I go home, my friends will ask me about prison. “It’s a big warehouse,” I’ll say. “What kind of society puts a human being in a cage?” Then my friends will demand my alternatives. I won’t be able to say anything.

The crows laugh at me as the gate slides open. They’re so loud and obnoxious. Caw. Caw. He doesn’t have any answers.

I get back in my car and drive to the city. Questions peck at me. Why do we try to solve crime out in the country, instead of where it happened? Why is Canada locking up more and more people, yet crime seems worse? Why did the government cut funds to educate prisoners? Why are all the criminology books in the library clean and unread, while the public rants on? Why does society give these guys three squares a day and not demand they change their souls?

I’m going mad with questions. I jam a tape in the player, something soothing. Simon and Garfunkle. On the side of the freeway a murder of crows works a farmer’s field for some left-over corn.

I go home and check my bird book on crows. Very intelligent, gregarious. Crows gather together to mob owls and other predators, but may, in turn, be mobbed by other birds. In agricultural areas, crows are considered great pests.

The crows fly back and forth over the prison walls If the crows inside the fences are just like the crows outside the fences, what is to be done with those inside? Put them all in cages? Kill them? No. What do you do about crows? You study them, you learn how to help them, and you put up scarecrows where you have to.

 

Be sure to visit Writers Write Daily on WordPress for a 99 cents deal on my new books, Life Takes a Turn and Delaney’s Hope

Check out an interesting graphic, the Criminal States of America

http://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/states/

He sat on a low bench and waited for me every Friday morning. A big man, the strong and silent type, he was doing a four year bit. The other inmates were inside the room, laughing and having a good time. But Jon sat quietly. Outside the room was outside the building, and it was often cold. But Jon sat there, smoking and thinking. I often asked him what he was thinking about, but he never answered me.

My school principal was putting together a book called Prison Voices. He interviewed men and women from across Canada, but he wanted some strong selections from his own area, Vancouver. He pleaded with me to get some creative writing from my class.

“Hey, Jon, how about giving me some stuff for the book?”

“Not me, Ed, I ain’t no writer.”

“I think you’re playing with me, Jon. I know you can do it.”

“No, not me.”

“How about just a little something next week?”

“Okay, Ed. Just a little something.”

This is what he turned in the next week. It’s one of the strongest things I have ever read. It caused some consternation among the funding sources for the book, but the principal fought to keep it in the book. This is exactly the way he wrote it.

 

grape jelly

 

i’m through trying to emulate words

that have been coddled and sheltered from the world

by authors with silver egos and slicker tongues.

 

i want to swallow my pens and

vomit images upon the page;

to spank words

and send them red-bottomed from the room;

 

to forget the dry syntax,

the politically correct anal froth

that sounds more nazi than reform.

 

i want to abuse the english language

like finnigan’s wake did the irish;

like gutter quebecois did the french

 

i want words that smell sweet

as a half-naked thirty-something

in the back seat of a buick regal;

 

words that are wet with fear

smuggled in sweat soaked blue-jeans

torn at the knees after a hard nights thieving

 

words that suffocate in their cellophane wrappers

given away free in the candy stores of amerika,

breeding rebellion and inspiring the masses

of illiterate beggars who march through city streets

looking for scraps of food under padlocked dumpsters;

 

i want seventy-five dollar pens that write seventeen cent poems,

to be thrown away when the ink has bled dry.

 

i want words that offend;

words that rape priests

and send cheers through crowds of frightened children.

 

i want words that question;

words that linger in the backs of throats

like half-dissolved aspirin.

 

words that will duel anything ever written

at any time,

by anyone

and won’t even break a sweat.

 

i want words that run salivating tongues along warm panty lines

in the bedrooms of lovers entangled in wet sheets

strangled in skin and salty sweat;

 

that embrace lovers with indecision and guilt

as they make that horrifically long walk to the altar

or that longer stretch back home

to their waiting spouse’s tapping foot

and wounded-dog cries

 

words that sound like cherry bombs

exploding in a pranksters hand;

like gas shells over hamilton,

i want to be the fallout in my own city,

my country and preferably washington, dc.

 

i want words that betray liars

while i lie paralysed on the beaches of france

or the deserts of morocco

crippled by scotch and heroin

cursing the sand

plagued by the piercing pitches of demons i’ve loosed

upon the eardrums of the world

 

i want to be the laugh in the poetics of robbins,

the innocence of lerner’s switchblade;

bathe the black indifference of vonnegut jr

with a voice and insolence all my own…

 

i want my words to bleed grape jelly.

i want real emotion.

 

What do you think of this poem?

P.S. Watch for my most popular book, Once a Priest to be 99 cents next Sunday

I’m not very good at raising money. It’s kind of embarrassing from me to ask for money for any cause. But on the other hand, people ask me what they can do to help people in prison. It isn’t practical for them to become official volunteers in prison, but they’d still like to do something.

An educational bursary is a perfect idea.

The Ed Griffin Educational Bursary

A man in a Fraser Valley prison struggles to complete his degree. It’s part of his correctional plan that he finish, but there’s no money in the system to pay for courses. A female inmate wants to become a drug and alcohol counselor to help others avoid the pitfalls that led her to jail. She just needs a few college courses, but the little money she earns in prison ($6.90 a day) goes for phone calls to stay close to her family. She can’t afford tuition.

Through the John Howard Society, a humanitarian organization (http://www.johnhowardbc.ca/), Ed Griffin has set up a bursary to help BC inmates with the expenses of higher education. Those who seek education are trying to better themselves. They know that education is the proven way out of crime. You will receive a tax receipt from the John Howard Society, who will in turn present money to the educational institution that the winning inmate has chosen. To donate, simply follow the directions below.

To donate by cheque: 
Mail to:
John Howard Society of BC,
Attention the Ed Griffin Bursary Committee
763 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
V5V 3C2

To donate by credit card or interac:
Go to http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=s5877
On the second page, Donation Details, be sure to mention “For the Ed Griffin bursary account.”

The John Howard Society of BC is a registered Canadian non-profit charity created to work within the criminal justice system promoting safe and peaceful communities.

The John Howard Society of BC and the Ed Griffin Family have established a program to promote, encourage and sponsor the continuing education of individuals who have been incarcerated in the Canadian Correctional System.  To be eligible, the applicant must have participated in educational programs within the Correctional Service of Canada or the British Columbia Provincial Correctional System.  The applicant must be enrolled in a registered educational institution.  Studies may be part- time or full-time. Studies should be directed toward the specific goals of enhancing the individual’s literacy and employment skills, and to assist the individual with reintegrating into society as a contributing citizen.

Applicants to the Ed Griffin Bursary must:

  • Be a Canadian Citizen or Landed Immigrant
  • Be enrolled as a full-time or part-time student in the next academic school year, at a recognized university, community college, technical institute or other post-secondary institution for advanced learning
  • Must have participated in educational programs within the Correctional Service of Canada or British Columbia Provincial Correctional System
  • Write a letter as your application and you may submit an essay specifying the reasons why they should be considered for the bursary. This bursary has a special, but not exclusive, interest in creative writing.

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class.

One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff.

Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

What can we do to bring prison reform to the top of the government’s agenda?

ideaSome readers of this blog have submitted interesting ideas for your consideration. The first is about drug reform.

Drug Reform Stalls on California Governor’s Veto

Longstanding debate swirls around the nation’s drug policies, especially those related to simple possession.  Under current sentencing laws, certain drug charges classified as felonies carry sentences that don’t seem to match the crimes.  As a result, there has been a steady push to reclassify certain drug crimes as misdemeanors.

In the fall, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have done exactly that in the State, correcting disparities between offenses and punishments, once and for all.

Greater Flexibility for Prosecutors and Judges

Essentially, the California initiative would have given judges and prosecutors more leeway interpreting charges, allowing them to classify certain offenses as misdemeanors, which carry felony charges today.  Instead of lengthy prison sentences, offenders convicted under the new guidelines would be sent to treatment facilities to address drug dependency issues.  Probation and community service would also be applied to sentences in some cases, adding punitive elements as well as rehabilitation requirements.

The law was seen by some as an appropriate measure to alleviate the prison overcrowding problem in California.  Under current statutes, certain recreational drugs like LSD and Meth fall in an intermediate legal area, which may be charged as felonies or misdemeanors.  Drugs like heroin and cocaine, on the other hand, are always subject to felony charges.  The proposed law extended the flexibility to charge these drugs in the same way others are handled, giving judges and prosecutors discretion to issue misdemeanor charges when warranted.

Compelling Arguments from Both Sides

Opponents of the measure pointed to public safety concerns stemming from relaxed drug penalties, leaning on the long held position that prison is an effective deterrent for drug users.  On the other hand, supporters see two major benefits from relaxed sentencing guidelines for simple drug possession.

Felony charges stay with offenders, blocking access to jobs, housing and education required to get them back on their feet.  Supporters of Bill 649 saw less chance for convicts to return to jail if felony records were not imposed for drug offenses.  Instead, misdemeanor charges could be addressed without creating criminal records preventing personal advancement among those charged.

According to proponents, saving valuable resources and directing law enforcement efforts to more pressing areas are additional benefits of relaxing drug possession sentencing standards.

While federal sentencing trends are themselves moving toward greater flexibility for drug possession charges, Brown defended his veto, stating broader reform was on the way for California’s penal system anyway, so changing this single aspect of the system independently does not make sense at this time.

Author Byline:

This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.

 

Krista Coleman sends along an interesting infographic, “What Makes a Killer?” Here’s the link: http://www.top-criminal-justice-schools.net/guns .

 

In Canada people are meeting the need for those who have a loved one in the criminal justice system. Based on first nations healing ideas, people share their experiences and find strength and hope in the process. See http://toddcanada.org/

And you?  How about a blog from you? Nameless if you want. (No names of inmates or prison names may be used without written permission.)

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