Dear Mr. Pinhead
Ralph W. Pinhead
Director of Inmate Regulations
State and Federal Correctional Institution
Dear Mr. Pinhead:
I am the Director of a distance-learning program in political economy, using the works of Henry George, that over the last decade has become very popular among inmates. In the course of enrolling students in correspondence courses and supplying them with textbooks and lessons, my organization has encountered a number of procedural roadblocks. Whenever I ask the reason for some apparently senseless requirement, I am given a two-word explanation: "It's regulations." Since I can only assume that explanation to be a referral to your department, I am writing to you directly.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the regulations I have encountered:
- Inmates are not allowed to receive padded envelopes.
- Inmates are not allowed to correspond with anyone whose name does not appear on their approved list of correspondents.
- Inmates are not allowed to correspond with other inmates, even if they are serving as volunteer instructors in an approved distance-learning program.
- Inmates are not allowed to receive stamped envelopes, even though they are serving as volunteers in a distance-learning program and their prison jobs, which produce goods sold on the outside at market prices, yield them a wage of 20 cents per hour, which they must use to buy personal hygiene items as well as postage stamps.
- Inmates are not allowed to receive hardcover books. If the only textbook available is a hardcover book, the cover must be cut off. The prison will not perform this action; instead it returns the book to us, so we can mutilate it ourselves and then pay to send it again.
- Inmates, even if they happen to be college graduates, are not allowed to enroll in any course that is not part of an approved GED program.
- Registered, return-receipt mail sent to an inmate comes back with a signature that was obviously forged (which is not hard to determine; our students hand-write their lessons).
- Inmates are allowed only one small case for all their personal belongings; if their textbooks over-fill the case, they cannot take the course without giving up some other possession.
- Inmates may not receive educational materials without an approved requisition form attached; although no one is told in advance about this requirement, materials sent without the form are returned to be re-shipped at the sender's expense, and the inmate is not informed why their materials have failed to arrive.
- Mail sent to an inmate who has been transferred is neither forwarded nor returned; it just disappears.
- Correspondence sent to an inmate is returned if the inmate's number is wrong by a single digit, even though every other detail of the address is correct. (I mean, come on people, how many guys do you have in your facility named "Jarvis W. Green"?)
Mr. Pinhead, you are probably aware of the State and Federal Correctional Institution's high rate of recidivism. I suppose you can imagine some of the conditions that contribute to it. Most people leave "the system" with no marketable skills and very little social or familial support. They take a minimum-wage job, which enables them to rent a room in a rooming-house, where their neighbors are losers, users, drug dealers and schemers of small crimes. In most states they can't even vote. These conditions provide the raw material that fuels the local economic boom that your job represents. There wasn't much going on in Lottoville, after all, before they built the new facility.
In the first course of our distance-learning program, students read the classic Progress and Poverty by the well-known American economist Henry George. Although readability tests place the difficulty level of this 600-page book well into the graduate school range, high school dropouts in prison read every word of it, eagerly sign up to read more such books, and recruit new students by word of mouth. My organization has never spent one penny recruiting students from this market, but they keep coming in every week. In addition to helping students understand fundamental economic problems and what can be done to solve them, our program offers inmates a more basic service -- which is, I believe, what generates their appreciation and enthusiasm for our program. It offers them proof that they can read and think, that they can digest complex material and apply concepts to explain things that had been mysterious to them: in short, it proves that they can educate themselves. It seems clear that this sort of opportunity for self-empowerment can make a real difference; indeed, statistics show that access to education -- particularly college-level education -- is by far the best predictor of successful reintroduction to life "on the outside".
Could that be the explanation, Mr. Pinhead, for the long list of regulations that hinder (but fail, I should add, to actually thwart) our program? Could it be that we threaten your job security?
Program Director, Henry George Institute
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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