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  • Published
    April 2, 2011

    Prison reform: kicking the ‘can’ on down the road

    When I began this journey over a year ago, advocating for reform of our prisons, I never dreamed that so arcane and bizarre a subject could become a source of amusement. Despite being a former legislator, I had forgotten the inherent lack of courage on the part of legislators, driving their propensity to tweaking rather than replacing or repairing broken systems. Having moved from prison chaplain to self-declare…

  • Published
    May 26, 2010

    Touching lives in prison

    When Neil White was sentenced to 18 months for bank fraud at the Federal Medical Center in Carville, La., he thought of it as a brief time out. “Daddy is going to camp,” he told his two children. When he emerged from this combination of prison and leprosarium (leper colony) on April 24, 1994, he was single and a broken camper, destined to depend on the very friends and family he had defrauded. He emerged with a …

  • Published
    May 12, 2010

    Are Maine prisons out of control?

    Maine, the state with the lowest incarceration rate in the nation, appears to be losing to suspicious death a disproportionate number of prisoners from within its segregation facilities. This seems somewhat odd in view of the concerted effort that the Maine Department of Corrections undertook over the past month to defend itself against legislative bill LD1611, an initiative intended to put reasonable restraints …

  • Published
    May 5, 2010

    Cain’s redemption or mark of Cain?

    Jim Ridgeway of Solitary Watch has prodded me to follow the “sawdust trail” of Burl Cain, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Jim’s article of Jan. 7 questions whether there may be another side to the transformation of Angola from violence and despair to hope under Warden Cain’s administration. From between the cracks of glowing press reports on the prison, there are hints that access to favorable …

  • Published
    April 21, 2010

    The fate of LD 1611: Watching the bee watchers

    LD1611, the bill that would have restricted the isolation of mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement/segregation, eventually passed as a resolve, asking the Maine Department of Corrections to study the problem and report back. What surprised me, as a former legislator and prison chaplain, was the rousing chorus of support from the press and interested parties. While useful for raising public awareness, …

  • Published
    March 31, 2010

    A pearl in the desert

    While it was my pleasure to serve for nearly two years as a chaplain at Maine State Prison, I was forced to conclude that religious programming, while serving as an outlet for prisoners and as a strengthening force in their daily lives, had limited value in developing the kind of life skills that serve the public’s interest in rehabilitation of criminals. The data offer little encouragement that religious …

  • Published
    March 17, 2010

    Your neighbor in prison

    As I watched the facial expressions of legislators while I was testifying on Maine’s so-called solitary confinement bill, LD1611, it was clear to me that they were struggling with how to rephrase their staid corrections mentality in the face of mounting evidence of its failure of logic and common sense. Dismissal of expert testimony on the adverse psychological and emotional effects of the loss of human dignity …

  • Published
    February 26, 2010

    Maine Department of Corrections running scared

    I’ve never seen anything like it! Opposition to the solitary confinement bill, LD 1611, on Feb. 17 brought out an army of corrections officials, guards, social services staff and hangers on, all glaring with contempt at the assortment of people advocating for prisoner rights. It was an army coming out after a guy with a slingshot. If there was one there were 50 people lining up to cover the commissioner’s back. …

  • Published
    February 11, 2010

    Prison myth No. 5: ‘You don’t understand what we are up against’

    Maximum security prisons are designed for three purposes — to keep prisoners safe, to protect the public and to carry out a strategy of corrections. The problem arises when administrators and staff cross that thin line of adding punishment to their responsibilities and make personal judgments on the basis of a person’s crime. Punishment is the role of the courts; safekeeping and rehabilitation are the roles of …

  • Published
    February 6, 2010

    Prison myth No. 4: All prison guards are brutes

    Being a prison guard is a thankless job. The shroud of secrecy that envelopes a prison system feeds the public perception that guards are schoolyard bullies who never grew up. They cannot repair that image because the public never sees what really goes on there. You have to ride tall in the saddle to come to work every day, be faced with emergencies that demand the right action and know that you are there to …

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