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Wilderness and Razor Wire, a Naturalist’s Observations from Prison by Ken Lamberton. Ken Lamberton was an award-winning teacher at age 27 when he made the grievous error of falling in love and running away with a student aged 14. He was arrested after two weeks and sent to prison for a total of 12 years served in a split sentence when he was released by one judge and returned to prison by an appellant panel. He was released in 2000 and has not returned to prison. His life story is different in that his wife and three children did not abandon him during the prison years. In fact, his wife returned to school to learn enough law to fight his case from outside prison.
In prison, Ken met Richard Shelton who was teaching creative writing at various prisons in the Arizona penal system. He began writing at the same time he observed the natural world that invaded the prison. He kept records of what he observed, made drawings and read voraciously. Wilderness and Razor Wire is about his prison experience and also about the people and the nature he observed while there. He was fortunate in that most of his sentence was served among other sex offenders where gang violence was minimal. He was brutally attacked and injured when he was mistakenly transferred into the general prison population.
Pets for prisoners were prohibited where he was incarcerated, but prisoners kept pets in defiance of the rules. Some prisoners kept insects and others had small rodents as pets. Lamberton observed that prisoners with pets were happier and less prone to violence. I think some prisons should experiment with allowing inmates to have pets. Lamberton observed that human contact, one person to another, or one man to pet, was essential to prisoner mental health. The most feared punishment was isolation from others, and that is the trend being followed in more and more prisons.
Please see Prison reform | America’s prisons
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There is so much evil in the world that we as human beings have an obligation to oppose. I have chosen US prisons as the evil against which to crusade. I am not sure why I chose prison reform as an issue; I have never been in jail or prison, and no one I know have either (at least as far as I know). Among the rich and famous, the cause often selected is one they or their loved one experienced personally.
None of us has the time or the resources to actively oppose all the world’s evils. I do not expect to see significant change in America’s prisons during my lifetime, but we must start somewhere, sometime. Some people are already trying to improve our prisons and/or ultimately eliminate them. That is now my goal too.
Some other evils for your consideration to oppose: hunger in the US. Speeding up disaster relief. We Americans are generous in responding to foreign tragedies; we must do more here at home. The easy availability of guns in the US leading to one shooting tragedy after another. Joblessness among minorities. Epidemic of drug use. Exploitation of the poor and the undocumented. Unjust wars-torture. ET CETERA
So take your pick. There are plenty of evils to go around.
Please see America’s prisons | Prison reform | Tough on crime | Smart on Crime
- Evil (triangulations.wordpress.com)
- The Jack-O-Lantern (malisal.wordpress.com)
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There are crimes and there are criminals who deserve to be incarcerated for lengthy sentences or for life. Those crimes and criminals, however, are a distinct minority of the current prison population. The “get tough on crime” option should be applied only to those crimes and criminals who present a clear and present danger to the rest of us. We should consider shorter sentences or probation for everyone else.
The longer the sentence, the more difficult we make it for former prisoners to adjust to changed circumstances in society. Those of us not living in a prison are able to adjust to changes in society as they occur. Someone who has served three, five or more years in prison must adjust to those changes all at once as he/she struggles to find employment and learn to cope with the new demands of myriad small and large changes.
Technology is changing rapidly today and will continue to change rapidly tomorrow. Someone absent from society for years and returning now might be required to learn to pump his/her own gas, use self check-out at stores, acquire a cell phone, use an ATM for the first time and complete some transactions using computers and the internet because they are no longer available anywhere else. That is true now here in Utah in dealing with some state agencies and is probably coming to your state soon as a cost cutting measure.
If we truly want to return people to society after a prison sentence and not expect them inevitably to return, we really should consider making penalties certain and short. Making penalties certain is a proven deterrent, more so than a less certain harsh penalty. The shorter the sentence, the easier we make it for someone to return to a society that has not changed beyond recognition or beyond the returnee’s ability to fit in.
Before my recent retirement, I spent 20+ years in a healthcare setting taking x-rays for most of those years. I started my career using film, and then switched to digital systems. I was required to learn three different digital systems over the years. Taking an x-ray was the same in all cases, but processing the images differed in all four cases. The digital technologies differed in small, significant ways that required specialized knowledge that could only be acquired by months of experience. Job skills become stale without practice. In today’s economy, some employers are refusing to hire someone who is unemployed; they want someone with current job skills since job requirements are changing rapidly for some. If we imprison criminals for long sentences because we are “tough on crime”, we guarantee that any job skills that they possess will decay.
Please see Prison reform | America’s prisons | Smart on Crime
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The US invented the present system of prisons and we incarcerate more prisoners than any other country, both on a percentage basis and in terms of absolute numbers. This is a statistic that we must change, since the current system is a cancer on the body politic.
I have just finished reading Crossing the Yard by Richard Shelton. He taught creative writing at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and started creative writing workshops at various units of the Arizona State Prison beginning in 1974. Eventually, he assisted the prisoners in publishing some of their work in the Walking Rain Review. There is a website www.walkingrainreview.com devoted to the publication and back issues can be purchased at www.amazon.com .
Working with inmates changed his life for the better and he believes that the workshops helped some of the inmates turn their lives around. Some of the inmates in our prisons should never be released, while other inmates should not be in prison at all or should be serving much shorter sentences.
American prisons incarcerate; most do little or nothing to rehabilitate. There is a current trend to privatize prisons. That creates a financial incentive to incarcerate more people for longer periods of time, generating greater profits. I believe that it is only a matter of time until we outsource some prisoners abroad to save money and increase profits. Private prisons here in the US already remove prisoners from their families and any other local support they may have by shipping them out of state.
Long sentences and no rehabilitation make it very difficult for released inmates to re-enter society. Shelton suggests that one way we can help put an end to prison revolving doors is to encourage more people to volunteer their time teaching job skills to inmates. Any employed person can teach about his/her job to inmates so that upon release, the ex-inmates have some current knowledge that can be expanded upon as necessary. An additional benefit of increased volunteerism is that more people will know how our prisons really work. That is a mandatory first step if we are to make the necessary changes in the American system of imprisonment.