Monday, April 16, 2007

More than a Prisoner....

60 MINUTES: 4/15/07 -- MAXIMUM SECURITY EDUCATION -- Bob Simon visits a prison where inmates serving long sentences have found a way to free their minds through college education provided by elite Bard College. Catherine Olian is the producer.

I watched this program on a hospital TV while visiting a friend. It was a reminder that we all share institutional experiences throughout our lives, but no person can be reduced to his or her institutional ties. The woman in bed with heart problems was a patient--but only for the time being.

One very astute and determined student among the inmates said he had a daughter who had just been accepted into college. He had broken through the inertia and confusing feelings that come from being in prison and maintained a relationship with his daughter. He cared about her success. This would be an admirable step in itself, but he had gone even further to say to his daughter--as he said to the camera--that he was "more than a prisoner." He had completed the requirements for his Bard College degree and was going through graduation at the prison.

Correctional Facilities are designed for a transforming process like higher education. According to one local politician, prison "should change people." This is a truism because everyone knows prison DOES change people, it is just the staff's opportunity to help make SOME CHANGES for the better! I have watched highly-sociable people with great conversational skills and a sense of curiosity crash and burn as their trial unfolds and incarceration works its "magic" on their souls. Focused education with a curriculum pointed at the outside world helps inmates confront and question the negative transformations that occur in prison.

Our own library service resembles the Bard College program on some fronts, especially the Reading For Life Classes that are a part of Jails Literacy. Even sustained reading with a wide selection of books helps inmates face depression and boredom. Perhaps, a few minds are transformed. We have certainly heard our readers speak of being moved or changed or challenged. It is no shallow statement to hear them say--like the man on 60 Minutes--they are more than Prisoners.