Change is in the Air


changge is in the air

Any time you sentence an 84 year old nun to three years in Federal prison for successfully trespassing at a nuclear storage site for spray painting, “The Fruit of Justice is Peace,” on a wall and playing guitar; it is cause for serious reflection. I would submit that the security team at the Oak Ridge Tennessee nuclear storage facility should be up on charges. They let a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Megan Rice, and two accomplices, wander around for two hours before being confronted. However, US District Judge Amul Thapar, “wanted the punishment to be a deterrent,” and the rest is history. Well done Judge. A classic example of judicial over reach to send a message at tax payer expense; it defies logic.

In the very good department some interesting things are gaining traction in the media; all breathtaking and refreshing. In Colorado, the new State Corrections Commissioner, Rick Raemisch, decided to spend a night in Administrative Segregation (Solitary Confinement), where no personal possessions are allowed. He wanted to see what it was like. It was probably a good idea.  Tom Clements, his predecessor, was murdered by an inmate released from Colorado’s Administrative Segregation, directly into society. One day in solitary confinement did not feel very good to Mr. Raemisch. However, the average stay for an inmate, in solitary confinement, in Colorado is 23 months. When this makes the New York Times; it is a good thing. When people like Rick Raemisch gain leadership in the corrections field; it is a very good thing. Change is in the air.

Piling on in the good news arena, February 21st our local paper ran a story on Minnesota prison health services, “it needs work,” the story said. State auditor, Jim Nobles, wanted to examine whether the state was fulfilling a constitutional requirement to deliver adequate healthcare to inmates. Now that’s government assessing itself; a good thing. It was reported that a Joel Altar, who led the report, said offenders with mental illnesses spent more time in segregated cells than other inmates. This raises the question whether some inmates are being disciplined who instead should be getting into treatment for their mental illness.

A recommendation of the report was to create a state ombudsman for corrections, “a relatively low cost way to provide a voice to inmates” said state senator Mary Kiffmeyer, “you need somebody in your corner: If you’re appealing to the very same people that are running the entity, it’s really hard.”

Reminds me when my wife Patty, who was a federal inmate at Pekin, Illinois, challenged a corrections officer’s decision to cut prayer time in the chapel time so that the chapel could be used as a TV room. The officer’s payback response was to have my wife charged with attempting to incite a riot. Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Perhaps powerful media scrutiny and state legislative initiatives across the nation will lead to Federal changes as well, that would be a breath of fresh air for those behind the wire. There is always hope, always. Want an example?

After seven years, thousands of dollars in expenses, 23 months of incarceration, plus supervised release; my wife was offered a full time job! It was subject to a Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) background check. We fully expected the DHS background check to fail, due to her felony, resulting in a lengthy appeal battle, expenses and lawyers; none of which we could afford. To our surprise, three weeks later, Patty received DHS approval to work, her background check cleared. Whoever made that decision, thank you! That was an enlightened forward thinking call and a game changing course correction for my wife. A government bureaucrat made an excellent decision, impacting a released inmate’s career and future; truly cause for hope and optimism. Patty’s first day of work is her first day off of probation; I’d say that’s a good day.

For those behind the wire and their families who are also doing time, change is slowly coming; it is inevitable. As the obscure politician, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, somewhere long ago, once said, “anger ventilated often leads to forgiveness; anger hardened often leads to revenge.” He also said, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” learned stuff. So if an inmate without hope, faith, health or family is released from solitary confinement directly into society, guess what, bad things happen. Give the inmate dignity, maintain their health, mind and some hope, their families may stay with them until release day, and more family units remain intact, how bad is that? I believe mainstream media will stay on the corrections issue and ten years from now we will look back, shake our heads and say, “we are better than that, how barbaric.” Stories will be told, books written, lessons learned, changes made, perhaps faith and optimism restored. Now that really would be beautiful.

Link to New York Times Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/my-night-in-solitary.html?ref=us&_r=0

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