Like I've said many times, hate breeds hate. If you treat people with decency and respect, then we all win in the end.
By Steve Ford - Staff Writer
The N&O lately has echoed with the clanks, squeaks and backfires of a struggling probation system. Not surprising was that, when Correction Secretary Theodis Beck in a letter to the editor offered his take -- calling for more people to be locked up -- a Central Prison inmate had an insightful response.
We published that response last Sunday. Robert A. Odom, serving life without parole for murder, argued eloquently in his letter for the kind of intervention and support that can save young people before they descend into a life of crime.
Inmates have contributed perhaps a couple hundred among the 16,000-plus letters we've received this year. Some of their letters have made the grade to run, but many were too long, too uncheckable, too narrowly focused. Those that appear to be candidates for follow-up by the news department get passed along to news folks.
As an experiment, I set aside an informal sample of this year's inmate letters that we didn't use. If we North Carolinians are serious about cutting down on crime, we could do worse than lend an ear to these "experts" for the occasional nuggets of wisdom they provide. And sometimes, an inmate will point to a situation that deserves to be looked into. Here's a synopsis from my sample:
- Errol Duke Moses, Central Prison (Death Row), undated. Asks for investigation regarding two murders he "did not commit."
- Rayford L. Burke, Central Prison (Death Row), April 13. Wants helps exposing "intentional injustice being done to me by the system."
- Steven Williams, Harnett Correctional Institution, undated. Discusses failure of the state's prisons to rehabilitate; cites "biased and hateful treatment by correctional staff" during family visits.
- Ronald Nobles, Pamlico Correctional Institution, undated. "Our prisons are full because once you are incarcerated, you are here to stay for an unreasonably long time, thereby not giving you a chance at life again."
- Raymond Cobb, Tillery Correctional Unit, May 19. "North Carolina's prison system is designed for failure with its very poor prison-to-street transitional methods; you serve anywhere from two to 50 years without work release [and] you get kicked out of prison with $45."
- Kenneth Ray Lawson, Eastern C.I., Maury, May 16. "More prisons and longer sentences are not the answer. Prevention, intervention, education and yes even reduced sentences could be some of the solutions."
- Frank Brunson, Harnett C.I., undated. Once an inmate is released, he "diligently seeks out employment only to have the door shut in his face because of his prior criminal history. ... What good is a degree or a vocational skill if an inmate, now free, can't use it to support himself?"
- Arthur J. Hill, Harnett C.I., June 14. "Prisons are multi-million if not multi-billion dollar business. If recidivism was to decrease somebodies would lose a lot of money."
- Grady Wyatt, Lumberton C.I., June 29. Prisons exploit both taxpayers and inmates, who work for a net of $0.70 a day; he outlines a "crime deterrent" contract for inmates being released.
- Reggie Woodard, Lanesboro C.I., undated. Asserts his rights were violated after he filed grievances against prison officials.
- Matthew W. Dickens Jr., Tyrrell Prison Work Farm, July 11. Says he has a plan to prevent crime. "All I am asking for is a pardon, and worthy compensation from the state of N.C. when my plan bears fruit."
- John W. Hampton, Central Prison, July 16. Writing "to let everyone know that we are being treated like animals behind these walls"; letter also signed by 14 other inmates.
- James Evans, Odom Prison, undated. Expresses pride as a black person in Obama election victory; says newspapers were withheld at the prison the day after the election.
- Thomas Najewicz, Nash C.I., Dec. 17. "Increased participation in work release programs will lower recidivism by giving ex-offenders a fighting chance to successfully reintegrate into society."
- Othello I. York, Hyde C.I., Dec. 7. Complains about unfairness of prison cell phone ban, in light of high costs of prison pay phones and the benefits to inmates of staying in touch with families.
Prison inmates likely have done some pretty bad things, perhaps hurt or even killed someone. A cell may be where they belong. But most eventually will be released. I think it's part of the paper's duty to help ensure their fair treatment, to help them give "customer feedback" to the community that has to pay in so many ways when the criminal justice system malfunctions.
We might rather they be out of sight and out of mind, but it's not that simple. Better to listen and try to learn.