ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT
Federal Prison Camp
FROM FEDERAL PRISON
locker was searched last week. One of the prison staff had
heard that I had money in my possession. Any kind of currency,
including change, is a no-no. The only time I have access to
any money is during visiting hours when a visitor can give me
change for the vending machines.
when my locker was searched, of course no money was found.
Later that night, several inmates quietly told me what the correctional
officer was looking for. "They heard you had a dime."
dime! Why on earth would I have a dime? And where would I
get it? For the life of me, I couldn't figure out where I was
supposed to have a dime.
it hit me. My New Year's column. (You can pull it up after
you read this). I talked about being in the kitchen on a New
Year's Day and, in the southern tradition, fixing black-eyed
peas. My exact words were:
can bet I will be fixing black-eyed peas as well as cabbage.
don't bet I won't find the dime in the peas. After all, I'm
to put it there."
didn't mean literally that I actually had a dime. I was just
talking about having good luck with the coming of the New Year.
Apparently, someone from outside the south had no idea about
this tradition, and thought I was spreading dimes around. A
search of my locker over a non-existent dime.
tell you what. Mardi Gras is close at hand. Can you just imagine
the ruckus I'm going to cause when I start writing about the
baby in the king cake?
* * * * * *
new inmates just arrived here at the prison camp. I expect
the number to grow in the weeks to come.
country runs the largest and most expensive prison system in
the world. The comparisons are staggering. If you compare
the same percentage of people, the rate of imprisonment in the
United States is five times that of England, seven times the
rate of Germany, nine times the rate in France, and fourteen
times the rate in Japan.
the cost is astronomical. In the past fifteen years, our country
has spent twice as much on prisons as we have on higher education.
The number of Americans in prison has quadrupled in the past
20 years. We now imprison well over 2 million people. The
cost? Well, it costs more to imprison an inmate than it costs
to attend our best American colleges.
you are wondering how the system is working, more than half
of the inmates who finish their term and are let out of jail
are back in jail within three years of being released.
get tough on crime, the congress and many states have increased
penalties with mandatory sentencing laws, abolished parole boards,
and cut funds for prison education. Unfortunately, vocational
and educational programs for inmates have steadily declined.
The system is not reprogramming inmates for life on the outside.
has stripped funds for prison education, even though research
has shown that inmates who receive vocational training or college
classes are more likely not to return to jail. Harvard University
psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, who has extensively studied our
prison system says: "When everybody was talking about
getting tough on crime, all we really did was get tough on ourselves.
These people have no clue about how to get along in a real-life
what is happening. A typical inmate comes into the prison system
at 18 with a 10-year sentence. He does manual labor and gets
no real training skills. Maybe a chance to get a G.E.D., or
a high school diploma equivalent. Perhaps a welding class.
is no computer access in prison. By the time these inmates
are released, not having computer skills will make them, for
most jobs, functionally illiterate. Several inmates here have
some college, but no correspondence courses are offered.
the inmate finally goes home, his contemporaries have jobs,
a house, a car and a family. He can often do little more than
find a low-paying job. Frustrated, he could well go back to
crime…and then back to prison. The danger to society continues
to increase and the cost continues to go up. What are we trying
punishment for many inmates continues after they are released
from prison. Ex-cons are often barred from working in a number
of professions. In many states, even with a lesser sentence
like mine of six months, I would be barred from teaching, being
a plumber, a barber, practicing law, and receiving any financial
aid to attend college. In 13 states, any felony conviction
can result in a lifetime ban on voting. So an ex-con can be
penalized for the rest of his life.
is a value to prison education that will, in the long run, protect
the public, and makes good economic sense. A former inmate
who is working in a productive job is much less likely to return
to crime. He becomes a taxpayer, contributing rather than costing.
imprisoned all over the country might have a menial job, then
idle away the hours. Why not train them with skills that will
help them when they leave prison to be productive citizens paying
taxes, rather than a drain on the system. I guess it makes
too much common sense.
* * * * * *
good benefit I can take advantage of here at the prison camp
is the use of the Louisiana library system. If you live in
this state, you are fortunate to have one of the finest library
systems in the country. If you are looking for an obscure book
that may have been out of print for years, you might be surprised
to find the state system can find it. That's because Louisiana
is tied into a sharing arrangement with a number of other states.
On many occasions, I have inquired about a book, and a few weeks
later it arrives. It might have come from Ohio or California.
I can check it out, and return it when I finish.
ironic that a number of my book requests end up coming from
my home library in Baton Rouge. I was a regular visitor at
the main library on Goodwood, and continuing to receive books
from there gives me a tie to home.
* * * * * *
do you do about a lumpy mattress? Especially when you are in
prison and can't go mattress shopping. You improvise. My mattress
was sagging on the left side so that I often felt I was about
to roll out of bed. There was no ply-board around. So I looked
for alternatives in the kitchen. Boxes. That solved my problem.
Washington State apple cartons work well. So do the heavier
frozen food containers that are waxed on the outside. Strategically
placed under my mattress, a firm and level foundation is obtained.
I slept well last night. When I get out of here in seven weeks,
be sure to call me if you need your lumpy mattress fixed.
* * * * * *
million people have read To Kill A Mockingbird. Actually
a lot more. That many copies of the book have been sold. Harper
Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for this classic of adult attitudes
towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930's. It
was the only book she ever wrote. Yet its popularity hasn't
diminished, and it was recently selected by a national library
association as the best novel of the century.
I read it 45 years ago; I really don't remember. But I never
have a problem rereading any book that describes how an innocent
man is falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit.
novel tells the story of a young black man accused of raping
a white woman. We hear the surroundings of the tale through
the eyes of an 8-year old girl whose lawyer father has been
appointed to defend the accused.
novel basically is about conscience. That of a small town struggling
with hypocrisy, prejudice, and irrationality, and a lawyer's
advice to his children in trying to instill core values that
teach them the difference between right and wrong.
also see the pain of growing up. The insights of the young
narrator reflect humorous vignettes of small town southern life.
The story is not complicated. But you get into a comfortable
flow as you follow events that are funny, wise, and heartbreaking.
is a book to read (or reread), and then share with your children.
Like "Night" that I discussed a few weeks ago,
"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a family discussion
book. And its lessons are as relevant today as when it was
written 43 years ago.
* * * * * *
number of readers missed the television news story on WAFB in
Baton Rouge where a juror on my case said she regretted I was
convicted and in prison. It was a two-day story. The first
part of the interview appears at the end of this column.
* * * * * *
"It is never too late to
have a happy childhood: Walk in the rain,
collect rainbows, smell flowers, stop along the way,
build sand castles,
watch the moon and stars come out, say hello to everyone,
new rules, go on adventures, act silly, take bubble baths,
and hug and kiss, dance, laugh and cry for the health
of it, feel happy,
say the magic words, trust the universe."
* * * * * *
Peace and Justice to you and your family.
Juror Regrets Sending Jim Brown
started with this email... "As one of those 12, I
so thought you would win your appeal. I believe in the system
far less after being on that jury. I know this doesn't mean
much to you now but I wish you and your family all the
best under the circumstances. There has not been much peace
of mind from this juror since that day we left the courthouse.
Keep up the good fight. God be with you."
has been almost three years since Jim Brown was convicted and
to this today "Beth" - as we will call her - says
she regrets her decision to vote guilty. Even on verdict day
Beth says she walked into the courtroom thinking, "You
know if you fight it hard enough you can get it on appeal."
says when called to be a juror in 2000 she was both scared and
nervous. For days, and weeks she and the other jurors heard
from witness after witness. Including key prosecution witness FBI
agent Harry Burton, who testified that Brown lied to him about
being involved with the Cascade Insurance scheme.
a pretty good witness. Harry's convincing," said Beth.
However, she still says jurors wanted to see Burton's notes
of his conversation with Brown. "We requested to see
these notes and we weren't allowed. We were told that basically
the notes reflected what the FBI agent had told us."
even though the jury found Brown not guilty of the bigger
charges including conspiracy, on the counts of lying to an FBI
agent, they voted guilty. Still she thought he could win on
appeal. Beth's reasoning, "We weren't allowed to see
the FBI notes so if there are notes and if anyone is allowed
to see them he can beat it on appeal. Surely he can."
of course that hasn't happened. And as she thinks of Brown now
serving a six-month sentence in federal prison she says, "Under
the same circumstances I wouldn't have done it the same
way. I wish I could go back and change it. I never
thought he would go to prison."
seeing Harry Burton's notes has been one of the major issues
Jim Brown has argued in his appeals. But the courts have ruled
that Burton's testimony reflected what was in the notes. And
this week the nation's highest court refused to hear
Brown's appeal. No word yet on whether he will ask the U.S
Supreme Court to re-hear his case.
always had very strong feelings about the way in which the jurors
were treated. And Friday night at 10 p.m. you will see Brown's
reaction to what Beth had to say and hear what the U.S.
attorney has to say about this as well.