Posts Tagged ‘writing’

It seems to me that I am always criticizing our prison system. But yesterday I had a very positive experience in a local pre-trial center.

I had the privilege of taking a famous writer to this facility. As you probably know, pretrial facilities separate people, so that those who were in a crime together cannot work on their stories. As a result there are many separate sections in pretrial, and they can’t be mixed.

The famous writer did not object to speaking to only two of the six or so units. She was her usual engaging, personal self. Nothing was a problem for her, having her picture taken with the men, moving through all the heavy metal doors, and repeating her talk three times, twice to the men and once to the staff.

Everyone was in a good mood. Was it her charm? Was it the fact of having a NYTimes best seller visit them? Was it that I only saw a small segment of the staff and of the inmates?

Whatever, the morning was filled with laughter and good cheer. There are staff who are human beings and inmates who know how to get along with staff.

It was a lesson for a critical person like me.

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.

Two important notes for today

  1. Inmate Mike Oulton and I wrote a book about prison, called Dystopia. This coming week it will be priced at 99 cents from July 21 to July 25.

The dictionary says that ‘dystopia’is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

 

The book trailer is here: http://youtu.be/crDx4v7jJEU

 

2 Arrest records and Mary Bentley have brought us this information: http://blog.arrestrecords.com/15-surprising-ex-convicts-who-made-it-big/.

15 Surprising Ex-Convicts (Who Made it Big)

This list of former convicts proves that no matter the circumstances, anyone can overcome hurdles to change their lives around and become a success and an influence.

1. Daniel Manville

http://www.legalnews.com/detroit/1283324

Daniel Manville served three years and four months in jail for manslaughter. While he was in jail he studied the legal profession, earning two college degrees. After he got out he went to law school. He passed the bar, representing both prison guards and inmates in civil court cases. He currently teaches law at Michigan State University.

2. Uchendi Nwani

http://www.scoop.it/t/itsyourbiz/p/4007976123/2013/09/20/the-millionaire-ex-convict-uchendi-nwani-on-sunday-show Uchendi Nwani served six and a half months of labor at a federal boot camp for drug dealing, interrupting his college studies. After his stint, he lived in a halfway house and cut hair at the university salon where he resumed studies. He opened his own barber shop and later school after graduation. He shares his success by traveling nationwide, motivating others to follow their dreams even in the midst of adversity.

3. Eugene Brown

http://educationtownhall.org/2014/01/13/chess-and-life/

Eugene Brown served time in a New Jersey prison after a robbery attempt. During his prison stay he met his future mentor, a man named Massey, who taught him how to play chess. Brown realized that chess was a metaphor for life, and later established a chess club that also taught life lessons. Brown became a successful businessman, and in 2014 Cuba Gooding, Jr. will play the starring role in a movie based on his life.

4. Jeff Henderson

http://www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/jeff-henderson.html

Jeff Henderson served ten years for dealing and manufacturing cocaine as a youth. During his time in prison he discovered he liked to cook and spent his days honing this talent. Released for good behavior, he worked as a chef in LA before moving to Las Vegas. He is currently working at Caesar’s Palace, earning top recognition and rewards.

5. Mark “Chopper” Read

http://www.news.com.au/national/what-happened-during-mark-8216chopper8217-read8217s-early-years/story-fncynjr2-1226736503189

Australian Mark Read robbed drug dealers during his earlier years, and was recognizable by his many tattoos and cut-off ears. He served multiple stints in jail for crimes such as attempted abduction of a judge and armed robbery. During his time behind bars he wrote several best-selling crime novels. Eric Bana starred in a movie about his life in 2000.

6. Robert Downey, Jr

http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Robert_Downey_Jr.

Robert Downey, Jr has served jail time for multiple drug-related charges (involving heroin, marijuana and cocaine). He also attempted multiple rehabilitation and drug treatment programs. Although he has been candid about his battle with addiction, he has since enjoyed a comeback and starred in several blockbuster films.

7. Tim Allen

http://hollywood.improv.com/event.cfm?id=303620

Before Tim Allen became a famous celebrity, he served two years and four months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota for cocaine possession and drug trafficking. After his stint in prison he turned his life around and became a famous Hollywood actor.

8. Christian Slater

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000225/

Actor Christian Slater suffered some setbacks when he served 59 days in jail after assault on his girlfriend and a police officer. He had been arrested prior to that for drunk driving, boarding a plane with a gun and another episode of assault. After jail and rehab, he was able to successfully turn his career around and enjoy a comeback.

9. 50 Cent

http://thatsenuff.com/index.php/2014/03/50-cent-deads-all-rumors-of-a-realtionship-with-vixen-sally-ferreria-calling-her-a-thirsty-video-b-details/

Before he became a famous rapper, Curtis Jackson III (aka 50 Cent) served a six-month boot camp sentence (instead of his original three-to-nine years) for drug-related charges. While in prison, he earned his GED and was determined to make it as a rapper. His first album was a hit, and he continues to make music along with other business aspirations.

10. Danny Trejo

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001803/

Danny Trejo was in and out of prisons for charges relating to both robbery and drugs. He finally turned his life around and broke free of his addictions. He now plays the tough guy onscreen in many television shows and action films.

11. Frank William Abagnale

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Abagnale

When Frank William Abagnale was only 16 years old he began his career as a conman (pretending to be a doctor, college professor, lawyer and airline pilot), eventually writing $2.5 million in fradulent checks. He went to prison for five years. Since his release, he has cooperated with the government and runs a consulting firm that helps agencies debunk fraud. A movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was made based on his life story.

12. Junior Johnson

http://espn.go.com/racing/blog/_/name/hinton_ed/id/4913741/daytona-500-grand-marshal-junior-johnson-discovered-draft-accident

Junior Johnson served jail time for smuggling illegal alcohol in North Carolina, back before he became a NASCAR driver. He credits his early transports as training for his later career, where he has won 50 races. A highway in his hometown bears his name.

13. Malcolm X

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

And remember: Dystopia is on sale for 99 cents July 21 until July 25

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

One day when I was working at Surrey Pretrial, six Chinese women came down to class. Normally we worked with people on getting their GED, but these women did not know a word of English. My colleague and I guessed that these women had been abandoned by their coyote. The coyote was a person or persons who promised the women “a good life in Canada,” by bringing them here, probably as prostitutes.

We guessed that the women were in their late teens or early twenties. They laughed among themselves and it was hard to see any of them as criminals. We guessed they were the innocent victims of crime.

Since we didn’t know what was ahead for these women (and nobody bothered to tell us) we taught them as many legal terms as we could, lawyer, represent, appeal and so forth.

The women worked hard on any assignment we gave them, but they still continued to have fun together.

They came to us suddenly and left just as suddenly, that is all but one of them. This last woman had no one to talk to. When she came down to class, she cried the whole time she was there. We wrote to our superiors and explained that this woman had no one to talk to. We didn’t know why she was kept behind, but it almost seemed like solitary confinement for her.

Lawyers kept information from us, higher ups kept information from ordinary workers and everyone kept information from the general public. What a strange world.

Once in a while, a man in prison excels at writing. Such a man was Mike. I gave him a few principles of writing and off he went. Soon his talent was as good as mine – no, he was better than me.

Mike and I decided to write a book together. We would call it Inside/Out. He, the insider, would say that prison did do some good for guys, even though there were problems. He would not write boring treatises, rather he would tell the stories of individuals. As for me, the outsider, I would stand against the whole prison system and tell stories of how it had ruined the lives of several people.

I wrote my part of the book and Mike wrote his. We were both finished and ready to put together a book. But something happened. Mike came up for parole, but he was rejected because his roommate had a cellphone. That sounds crazy and impossible, but that’s exactly what happened. The cellphone was on Mike’s side of his two man cell, but everyone knew that it belonged not to Mike, but to the roommate.

Mike got a year and a half more in prison. More programs to take even though he’d already taken them. We taxpayers spent $50,000 keeping him there. He was the poster-person for the fact that prison exists mostly for the sake of the staff and the guards.

Mike decided that he no longer liked what he had written for our book. In effect, he said I was right, that prison helped no one. He scrapped his section and started over and, in my opinion, he did a much better job this time.

As with any book that’s written by more than one person, there’s usually conflict. And so it was with Mike and I. Mike felt bad that his section was longer than mine, much longer. But I argued that I was comfortable with my section. I told my story with as many words as I wanted. If I were to make my section longer, it would clearly go against the rule to ‘cut the fat.’

So we published Dystopia and it’s done well on the market. It’s my story of going to prison and it’s Mike’s. He was arrested in Mexico for smuggling drugs and served two years in a Mexican prison and then eight years in a Canadian prison. Mike’s out now and has been for four years. He’s got a little entertainment business and works as an MC on occasion.

Even the word Dystopia I learned from an inmate, a man who called himself the only Jewish inmate in the whole prison.

Dystopia is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

I’m not a very good poet. It is only when I feel very strong about something that I try to write a few lines of free verse. It’s easy, however, to quote from a famous poet. They say things so well with an economy of words. What do you think of these few lines from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know—and wise it were
If each could know the same—
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!
The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison-air:
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair
For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.

Take any verse and think of today. Could this poem have been written about today’s prisons?

see note about writing classes under WritersWriteDaily

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.