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England exiled its criminals to the US, and after the American Revolution, they sent them to Australia. At the time, crime was thought to be inherent or genetic; if you committed a crime, you could not be rehabilitated. In essence, you and your descendents carried a fatal stain in the blood that could never be eradicated. The journey to Australia was a long one and many prisoners died en route if they had no friends to help them prepare for the journey. The fortunate ones carried citrus with them to prevent scurvy.
In Wildness and Razor Wire, Ken Lamberton demonstrated how important friends and family still are to surviving the prison experience. Today, it is the poor and minorities who compose the overwhelming majority of the prison population because they cannot afford qualified legal help and because the war on drugs is fought primarily against them. Our present attitude towards criminals has changed little from England’s attitude 250 years ago. All that has really changed is that we lock people in cells here rather than exile them to a foreign country.
Please see Smart on Crime | Tough on crime | Prison Reform
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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