Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Patron, come in....

"Choose any book you want," it says.
The iron grill above the Gate
spells out the words in cursive script.

Since I expect to be here for some time,
I'm pleased to see that reading is
an option. I see another sign:

"Patron, come in." The floor is cool,
the columns twined with marble ivy.
There are no lines to check out books.

This is no living library,
I look around the silent crypt,
a tombstone on every spine.

Some are standing tall, pristine;
others cracked and leaning.
What shall I take to read?

Misers of love and Ministers of doubt
amassed a wealth of ironies,
then left us their sad stories.

"Oh, Reader, Stop and Weep," is one
of the more maudlin titles here,
"Mon Semblable, mon Frere, " another reads!

"Au contraire!" I say, "I am a man
of mirth; there must be another gate
for those who didn't WANT to die!"

No answer. "Do any of these books
get any circulation?" I inquire.
Behind my back, the Gate creaks closed.

--dan (this might be the ideal afterlife for Anne Rice fans!)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Is this inmate gonna make it? You decide:

“Library Staff: I am in desperate need of some reading material A.S.A.P. please. I have read anything & everything available in my pod and cannot bear another day with nothing to occupy time except counting squares in the gate (812 per section, 12, 180 squares in all) or staring at walls lol. Anyway if possible could you please send #2 #3 #4 in the Gunslinger, Dark Tower series by Stephen King as well as anything by the following authors: Wambaugh, Turow, Sheldon, Cook, Koontz or” [Drum-roll please!] “James Patterson…I appreciate it greatly.”

This young man sure sounds like a Dot.com refugee who has fallen onto hard times or wound up on the other side of the law. Maybe it's time to create cyber-jails. It might alleviate the boredom to have touch screen walls and online university for every inmate. (I'm sure the Department of Defense would be willing to fork over the cash for a cyber-retrofit of all our nation's jails.)

Anywho, this patron will get his wished-for paperbacks: “Irreversible Errors, Vector, and Finnegan’s Week.” (James Joyce, laugh all you want at our terrible American Puns. Meanwhile, your native Ireland becomes a magnet for innovation and jobs, while here in the U.S.A., we’re fighting the war on error! oops, terror!)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Judge outlaws prison group's Bible program
Saturday, June 3, 2006; Posted: 11:13 a.m. EDT (15:13 GMT)DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)

A judge has ruled that a Bible-based prison program violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause by using state funds to promote Christianity to inmates.Prison Fellowship Ministries, which was sued in 2003 by an advocacy group, was ordered Friday to cease its program at the Newton Correctional Facility and repay the state $1.53 million."This calls into question the funding for so many programs," said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the suit.

"Anyone who doesn't stop it is putting a giant 'sue me' sign on top of their building."Lynn's group accused Prison Fellowship Ministries of giving preferential treatment to inmates participating in the program. They were given special visitation rights, movie-watching privileges, access to computers and access to classes needed for early parole.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt called the perks "seemingly minor benefits" that constituted unfair treatment to those not in the religious program. Despite any claims of rehabilitating inmates, the program "impermissibly endorses religion," Pratt wrote.The InnerChange Freedom Initiative was implemented in Newton in 1999. State prison officials have said they hired the religious group to improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism -- not promote Christianity.

Ministry president Mark Earley said in a statement Friday that the group plans to appeal the ruling and believes its program is constitutional."This decision, if allowed to stand, will enshrine religious discrimination," Earley said. "It has attacked the right of people of faith to operate on a level playing field in the public arena and to provide services to those who volunteered to receive them."The judge gave the group's workers 60 days to leave the prison, though he put a stay on his order, meaning the decision won't officially be implemented until the appeals process is complete.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Dan's 2 Cents: Let the gavel fall. There shall be no “official” faith. This article highlights the inherent problem of sliding state grants into the pockets of Prison Ministries or any faith-based program. Prisons and jails are adverse environments where humans suffer.

How do Correctional Officers offer comfort to inmates that makes their suffering bearable and prepares them for life on “The Outside?” In Iowa, they call in the God-Squad!Instead of trying to humanize the penal system with progressive training to staff and prison educators PAID FROM WITHIN, the state seeks to CONTRACT OUT its responsibility for rehabilitation. Why does the State back away from the untidy personal aspects of incarceration? By doing so, it becomes increasingly mechanical, as if housing, feeding and crowd-control were its only mandates.

Truth is, behind those prison walls, real people are guarding other real people. Claude Brown’s memoir, Manchild in the Promised Land, showed how NY Juvenile Corrections conducted God-free rehabilitation back in the fifties. It was done man to man, person to person. They didn’t always get it right, but they made an effort.This case illustrates the burden of being an American in 2006.

How did we become a “Prison Society,” happy to warehouse human beings? We have created a costly “Us” and “Them,” yet the ordinary tax-paying citizen receives little benefit from this dehumanizing process. Our prisons do not increase public safety, though a thousand sheriffs and politicians campaign on this platform. Incarceration does create jobs in the short-run; but, in the long run, state economies become dependent on locking people up and locking people OUT.With tax-exempt, non-profit churches now reaching into the State Treasuries, it is obvious that our society depends on creating a “Fallen People” that the Saints can coerce back into conformity while they are behind bars. This access to inmates is based on the concept that you cannot “shut faith out” of public places. I agree completely, but the transaction is private and voluntary.

In one Christian story, Jesus walks through the wall and appears inside an upper room without using the door or stairs. There you have it, plain and simple: Faith has a free pass. Why mix that up with money—unless your goal is to get rich manipulating the vulnerable inmate who seeks release from guilt and relief from boredom? This greed is what seems to be behind PFM Director, Mark Early’s, desire for “an even playing field.”The game changes when you make the religious counselor—the friend to the friendless—his paid confessor. There is then manipulation on both sides.

In this Iowa case, inmates vying for precious privileges were able to play the God-Squad for a bigger share of the prison pie. Is it right or fair for them to be fast-tracked for signing on to God’s Plan? The fact that the PFM inmates received more perks and benefits than other inmates, however, is a sub-issue of the primary problem: turning rehab into religion. (For this reason, blame should not be pinned on the religious program; but on the correctional facility, for allowing inmates unfair advantages. The Correctional staff should broaden opportunities for the growth of all their inmates.)

In conclusion, I am not criticizing Prisons and Jails for contracting out services to non-profit organizations. Our library provides a regular library service consisting of all the books and magazine choices one would find in any public library (with some minor exceptions.) However, we have a contractual relationship that is clearly distinguished from the relationship of the MANY religious volunteers who serve the inmates. These volunteers seek volunteers from the prison population, and, thereby, enjoy a Freedom of Association—and Freedom of Religion—regardless of watchtowers, fences and bars. Let’s rehabilitate the Constitution and teach the responsibilities of citizenship to inmates. That is the kind of program that will prepare men and women for Liberty—or life on America’s streets.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

12 is the luckiest number

An inmate approached our book cart and knelt down beside another guy browsing the bottom shelf. When asked what he was looking for, he said, “Something real that’s made up.” The other inmate chuckled at the young man’s turn of phrase.

Since we are not stocked with bestsellers in “Creative Non-fiction,” I knew I was in trouble. With a little coaxing, we moved past history, crime, and biography to fiction that seemed like it could really happen. Ah, that strategic word, “Plausible!”

“I’ve only read 12 books in my life and I read ‘em all in jail,” he said.

I asked him, “Of those 12 books, what was your favorite one?"

“Well, it was by someone named Nancy or Nancy was in the book,” said the duodeca-libral inmate.

“Nancy Friday?” I asked, knowing how popular this expert on “Women’s fantasies” was among our connoisseurs in the “Men’s Division!”

“Who is she?” said the inmate.

I struck out, unable locate the Nancy of his dreams. (I had forgotten the realism of Nancy Taylor Rosenberg.) We did settle on one of J.A. Jance’s Seattle mysteries. And I saw him pluck a beautiful anthology of African-American poets from the carts. After all, what is more real AND more imaginary than a classic poem?