Wilderness and Razor Wire

English: Ken Lamberton reading in Amherst, MA ...

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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

America’s prisons

Barbed tape at a prison

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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.