Saturday, January 22, 2011

From my prison notebook...

I volunteer at a maximum security prison, visiting weekly to lead a class in creative writing, public speaking and discussion with men serving long sentences. Often, these discussions and personal observations lead me not to clear positions on policy, but rather to reflections and puzzlements. For example, yesterday the guys in my class talked about how disenfranchised they felt by the legal system. One man described how he had found himself sitting in the courtroom at his own trial, with the prosecutor, public defender and judge all talking about him, and he couldn't understand any of the words except his own name. Research has firmly established the challenges to fairness in the current system - reactionary mandatory minimums, sentencing disparities, corrupt prosecutors, inept public defenders, cynical plea bargains, educational disadvantage, etc., - so the men's stories are no surprise. But hearing their descriptions of encounters with the system, I am overcome by frustration and sadness. As I read a few years ago in a New York Times editorial, "In our legal system, justice costs money, which means lots of poor people have to get along without it."


wayjay said...

Thanks for sharing this, Eleanor. I feel your frustration, and am grateful that PCARE has created this blog so that we have a space to share our ideas, thoughts, experiences, and the pain that so often comes along for the ride.

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