Archive for November, 2009

It’s one of those nights when I am at capacity. How to let go of learning that a man in our group was sentenced to life–life–at the age of sixteen. What do you have to do to receive a sentence like that? I feel like I can imagine the answers, and still I think…life, sixteen, forever behind bars. Raised then, in essence, by the prison system. I can’t find peace with that sort of justice system. And yet, I imagine, the crime and the victims and I wonder if they feel like life is long enough? How can we ever bring two sides of a crime together? Should we? What choice do we have? This same man is now working with juvenile offenders, he tells us. Trying to help them stay out of prison, avoid his fate. I don’t know what else to do but pray that they listen. LISTEN. There are too many lifers in our group. Too many lives wasted. These men have served their time–forgive me any controversy that statement may cause for some. But they are doing us, society, the free world as they call it, no good behind bars. A man with a seventh grade education is one of the best writers in the class. He tells me tonight that he taught himself spanish and now works as an interpreter inside the prison. In the darkest place these men find a way to give something of themselves, to make something of a life that is so restricted you actually can’t imagine it unless you go there, meet them, listen.

We are letting lives go to waste. I understand the want for punishment, retribution. I get the pain of the victims. I grasp the idea to contain violence. I know it’s complex, so very, very complex. But I’m telling you, some of the lives in there are simply being wasted.

Small things tonight, like the men made sure we had hot water and brought us tea.

Small things tonight like the man who said on the first day of class that he was only there to pass the time, has started writing.

Small things tonight like S-, a lifer and gentle soul from the south, telling me that he is grateful this time of year that he has gotten to know us. And if he had one wish for me for Thanksgiving it would be that I gain a pound. What woman wouldn’t want to hear that–inmate or not?

Small things like thinking these men look to me with my MFA and think I know something, when every time I am up there it is they who teach me.

Last night on Stephen’s Colbert’s the Colbert Report in a segment he calls The Word (typically the funniest part of the show for me) he did a piece on Arizona’s upcoming privatization of nine of its prisons. The segment is funny, at the same time that is is cuttingly horrifying. Touching on issues of prisoners for profit, the state’s effort to balance their budget by way of the criminal justice system, the history of private enterprise to always “do the right thing” and the implications of running a prison for shareholders gains.

An interesting question posed during the segment: how will private prisons ensure a steady “supply” of inmates to insure their business’ success.

When people, whether prisoner or not, become a commodity we all better be concerned.

The segment starts about 4 minutes into the show.

Link to the show