Archive: Nov 2007

any advice for christina? i know of expungement clinics in the twin cities area, but could find little online that would be helpful. after a decade of law-abiding behavior, it is sad to think that a juvenile conviction for auto theft still impedes her job search.

Christina has left a new comment on your post “ex-felon employment and expungement“:

Hello, I am 30 years old and was convicted 12 years ago when I was 17 as a adult in the state of Missouri. I have 2 class c felonies for stealing of an automobile. I am looking for any way to get an expungment as looking for a job has become exausting, frustrating and degrading. I am a married mom of 2 boys and have not been in any other trouble since then. I was released in 1998 and its now 2007 and people still look at me like I am going to steal from them. How do I do something to help myself when noone else will help me? Please someone have an answer. – Christina W.

there but for the grace of god…

…my other blog is only rated at a junior high school reading level…

with the author’s permission, i share these reflections from an oregon state university professor who taught at the oregon state penitentiary in 1966-1967
(from a personal email):

Bits and pieces flutter by when I think about my Tuesday nights teaching there in 1966-67 with a few colleagues from OSU. The only ones whose name I recall are Will Gamble and Harry Goheen, a math prof. As I recall it was Harry’s idea and the first program of its kind at OSP.

Memories of prison sights and sounds come back first; specifically, the sound of that electrically powered steel door that slammed closed behind us as we walked the shiny hallways to our classrooms. I never got used to it.

And I remember the absence of sights and sounds I had expected that first night. You know, tattooed arms thrust between bars, young and old men yelling, cursing, threatening. For the record, I recall seeing none of that movie-set stuff in my one-year, once-a-week, 3-hour visits to OSP.

And I will not ever forget the inmates’ unrelenting appreciation for our being there.

That first night I was led to a classroom with perhaps a dozen young men who had signed up for Interpersonal Communication (i.e., Speech 111). The following week one of them handed me a transcript of my lecture, taped on a prison recorder, typed on a prison typewriter. It was all any of them had to give. I was touched by that as well as their respect and their undivided attention throughout the year.

And I recall the corrections officer who did a slow burn telling one of my colleagues of the unfairness of our fawning over guys in prison who were getting college credits for free, when his kids “can’t afford to go to college.”

And then the prison riot of 1967 or 1968. (I was doing a post-doc fellowship at Ohio State that year and missed the action when inmates took over a portion of the prison,.)

I remember reading the wire stories in Columbus about the turmoil, and later learned that a few inmates formed a protective circle around the sole female OSU professor who was trapped in a classroom with her students. It might have been the first time some of them had done something so selfless and …well, so noble. (She was untouched and ultimately escorted out to safety).

A half a dozen of my students were released on parole over the following months. Some of them enrolled at OSU as undergrads. One was Bruce, a bright, young hold-up man, who was later elected ASOSU president and last I knew, was making plans to marry an OSU coed (to the utter horror of her Beaverton mother). I never did find out if the marriage came about.

Then there was Gordon, a George Raft look-alike, talk-alike, act-alike. He also was up for robbery. He got out, went to OSU, then left to take a job as a reporter for The Bend Bulletin. Once there, the editor of the paper, became a father-figure to him for a year or two. A jealous husband blew Gordon away with a shotgun for trying to romance the man’s wife.

Mick. My father, a Detroit insurance executive, developed a pen-pal relationship that started when Mick was in prison and lasted I don’t know how long, perhaps until my dad died in 1984. Dad had a reputation for helping young men build successful careers in business.

I hadn’t thought in a long while about this experience of 40 years ago, Michelle. I’m glad Bill’s e-mail re-opened that book. In retrospect I think our program made a small contribution to a few young men and gave to ourselves the satisfaction making it happen, however briefly.

I wish you well as you and your students well as you continue your program, knowing that the hunger to learn can survive, indeed thrive, even within the impersonal halls of a state penitentiary.

Best regards,

OSU Emeritus Professor of Journalism

**the photo shows debris inside the Oregon State Penitentiary after the March 9, 1968, riot-fire (from the Oregon Historic Photograph Collections at the Salem Public Library)

in crime, shame, and reintegration (1989), john braithwaite contrasted the stigmatizing punishments typical of nations such as the united states, with the reintegrative shaming practiced in nations such as japan. in particular, he cited the public displays of repentance shown by corporate representatives in the east.

the l.a. times reports an incident of such public shaming in the u.s. congress:

WASHINGTON — They sat just two feet apart, the mother of a journalist confined to a Chinese prison and the wealthy head of the giant U.S. company that helped put him behind bars.

But before Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Jerry Yang took his seat to testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday, he bowed deeply before the woman.

The hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Yahoo’s conduct in China was a rare public shaming of the Internet leader, whose actions led to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao.

this is just one incident, of course, but i would not be surprised to see more american politicians and executives bowing long and low in the halls of congress. beyond capitol hill, my sense is that public shaming is occurring with far more regularity in the american criminal Justice system of 2007 than it had twenty years earlier. in my view, this is partly a globalization effect and partly a braithwaite effect, as professor braithwaite offered a practical and flexible conceptual framework for restorative Justice programs and reintegrative initiatives.

Five Social Science Analysts. These positions direct and manage research portfolios in one or more of the following areas: crime prevention; policing, gangs, violence against women and other family members, prisons and jails, community corrections, and courts.
Within NIJ’s organizational structure, the vacancies reside in the Crime Control and Prevention Research Division, the Violence and Victimization Research Division, the Justice Systems Research Division, and the International Center.
NIJ is looking for people with:
Strong organizational skills
Ability to multi-task
Ability to put the team first
Excellent writing skills
Knowledge of criminal Justice systems
Application Deadline: November 30, 2007
View the job announcement.

with the author’s permission, i am happy to share an excerpt from a paper written by nicholas, one of my students in the oregon state penitentiary. his passion and sincerity practically jump off the page:

“Since the very first day of my incarceration all I could think about was the outside and how I could have done better and how badly I wanted to get out and do better. All I could think about was being out there with my family, living a real life, and starting a family of my own. It is this feeling that motivates me everyday to do well and never return to the life I once lived, and most importantly never to come back here. Never again will I be deprived of the people and the things that I love, and it is this feeling that still grows within me with each moment that passes…I am glad this has all happened because it has made who I am today, a mentally strong young man who appreciates the important things in life. And although it’s been tough, it’s been the greatest experience I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. But after 5 years of an 8½ year sentence, I’m ready to go home.”

for some reason, i’ve been distracted all day by the sound of train whistles and prison gates slamming shut. while tempting to attribute this condition to the full slate of meetings on my calendar this week, it is more likely the result of reading a merle haggard interview just before bed.

like many former prisoners, mr. haggard can still call to mind details of his release decades later. via esquire:

I got out something like nine that morning. February 3, 1960. There’s a big metal security device at the main door coming out of San Quentin. When they open that door, it comes up and you have to step over it. Just as I was stepping over that device, a Hank Snow record came on. “The Last Ride.” My foot just stopped in midair. The song was coming from a radio near this guard who was standing there with his gun. He said, “What, did you change your mind?” I said, “No, that’s a really great song.” I stayed there and listened to the rest of the song.
[words n’ music]

dang. wouldn’t that just be the coolest scene in the movie? a good song always stops a good songwriter dead in his tracks. the second coolest scene would show the young mr. haggard in the front row at the man in black’s first san quentin show in ’58. from rolling stone:

I met Johnny in 1963 in a restroom in Chicago. I was taking a leak, and he walked up beside me with a flask of wine underneath his coat and said, “Haggard, you want a drink of this wine?” Those were the first words he ever said to me, but I had been in awe of him since I saw him play on New Year’s Day in 1958, at San Quentin Prison, where I was an inmate. He’d lost his voice the night before over in Frisco and wasn’t able to sing very good; I thought he’d had it, but he won over the prisoners. He had the right attitude: He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards — he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan. There were 5,000 inmates in San Quentin and about thirty guitar players; I was among the top five guitarists in there. The day after Johnny’s show, man, every guitar player in San Quentin was after me to teach them how to play like him. It was like how, the day after a Muhammad Ali fight, everybody would be down in the yard shadowboxing; that day, everyone was trying to learn “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Then when my career caught fire, he asked me to be a guest on his variety show on ABC. He, June and I were discussing what I should do on the show, and he said, “Haggard, let me tell the people you’ve been to prison. It’ll be the biggest thing that will happen to you in your life, and the tabloids will never be able to hurt you. It’s called telling the truth: If you start off telling the truth, your fans never forget it.” I told him, “Being an ex-convict is the most shameful thing. It’s against the grain to talk about it.” But he was right — it set a fire under me that hadn’t been there before.

on most issues, i’m probably walking on the fightin’ side of merle, but he gets a 10 out of 10 for authenticity in my book. one more quote from the esquire piece:

I’ll tell you why it’s different when somebody else is singing “Mama Tried“: They’re reading the words. I’m telling the story. [don and phil sure sang it pretty, though]
[words n’ music]

amen. here’s a whole collection of mr. haggard’s prison songs.

via boing:

a volunteer in the dane county, wisconsin jails has archived 77 scans of notes and sketches found in jail reading materials.

working with the jail library group in madison, jumbled pile found these items “abandoned in books or stuffed on the jail’s book cart.” i’m intrigued by the notes, receipts, and sketches, but also by the jail library group itself. which subjects are most requested by dane county jail inmates? poetry tops the list.

* Poetry, especially love poems
* Religion, especially Islam
* Physical and mental health
* Psychology and self-help
* Job manuals and career advice
* Hobbies and games: chess, card games, Scrabble, drawing
* Crime, gangs and prison life
* AODA and recovery materials
* African-American nonfiction topics: Black history, slavery, Black nationalism

if you are inspired by the scans or the project, you might consider donating a book from their amazon wish list.