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Re: [BKARTS] Prison erases writing workshop files after inmate wins $25,000 PEN award

I think the folks responding to this posting need to remember that this
is a book arts listserv before getting hysterical about this topic.  My
day job is in an area where I have considerable daily contact with
individuals in the prison system.  I have two observations about this

First, it might be a good idea to withhold judgment without knowing
what the other side of the story might be.  The American criminal
justice system, with its flaws, is far superior to what goes on in the
world generally.  If there is some kind of action taken regarding this
writing project, its probably a good idea to assume that there must
have been a good reason.  If there is no good reason, our system has
more than ample remedies.

Second, these kinds of programs often allow inmates to focus on how
badly they have been treated by society rather than focusing on how
they can take responsibility for their actions.  I know nothing about
this particular program.  However, other "rehabilitative" programs in
prisons often allow prisoners to wallow in self-pity, blaming the
warden, the judge, the prosecutor, the victim and anyone else for their

There have even been prison programs designed to increase the "self
esteem" of prisoners.  Of course, the primary problem most serious
criminal offenders have is too heavy a dose of self esteem.  They tend
to feel that they are so important that they do not have to obey the
rules applicable to the rest of society.  The most difficult problem in
the criminal justice system is to get the message across to inmates
that they are not in prison because they are victims; they are there
because they are criminals.

Repeating once again that I know nothing about this particular writing
project, I can certainly envision similar projects where prisoners are
allowed to engage in group efforts which feed their need to believe
they are the real victims.  Such a project would be a major roadblock
to a prison program which has as its goal the rehabilitation of
prisoners by making them face up to their own criminal thinking which
landed them in prison.

Having said all that, I think it is a good idea not to get too
judgmental about a prison official who made a decision about this
program unless one had a lot more information.

Jim Welker

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