June 18, 2006
-- by Thomas Leavitt
[There are now more corrections officers (29,000) in California than there were state prisoners 20 years ago (24,000) when the individual featured in the article below went to prison. During that period, the prison population has increased more than six-fold, to 160,000. The cost to society to imprison these folks, many of them who belong elsewhere, and the wasted human potential they represent, is breathtaking in its scope.
The article below, printed in this month's "Street Spirit - Justice News and Homeless Blues in the Bay Area" (a publication of the American Friends Service Committee), highlights the destructive and inhumane nature of our prison system... and also the difficulty that even truly redeemed and repentant individuals face in obtaining parole from a system politically biased against it. I've excerpted several paragraphs from it, in the hopes that STF's readers will be inspired to read the full article off the Street Spirit web site.
An extensive and moving interview with the Rev. James Tramel is also available on their site. -Thomas]
From Prison to Priesthood
With a little help from his friends, Rev. James Tramel makes the journey from darkness to light.
by Terry Messman
In ministering to prisoners who were dying the loneliest deaths imaginable behind the prison walls of the House of the Dead, Father Tramel found friendship, a new reason to live, and a hope that could not be buried, not even behind the fortress walls of some of the nation's toughest prisons -- San Quentin, Folsom, Solano State Prison, and Vacaville. [...]
Father Tramel is a man of many firsts -- the first man ever to be ordained as an Episcopal priest while in prison; and the first prison inmate ever admitted into an Episcopal seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.
He was also the youngest prisoner in San Quentin when he was locked up in the notorious California prison in 1986 when he was only 17. He spent his entire adult life in San Quentin, Folsom, Vacaville and Solano prisons until his release on March 12, 2006, after serving more than 20 years for second-degree murder. [...]
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The problem of crime and punishment is as old as humanity. We define what's a crime, and we define punishment. I agree with you, of course, that the increase in the number of "criminals" in jail is beyond belief. The statistics are probably about the same in New York, too. The situation may even be worse in NY because incredibly long sentences are given for minor drug infractions, and we haven't been able to get these off the books. And this is at a time when the actual number of crimes committed has dropped dramatically.
We would save almost nine billion dollars if we called off the failed drug war and tried something new, but the current system keeps a lot of untraceable cash money in the pockets of shady characters who funnel it back to their corporate masters so that's not likely to happen any time soon.
Nobody gets hurt but a few young punks and innocent taxpayers, but priorities are priorities.
Posted by: grannyinsanity at June 19, 2006 11:57 AM
I have recently returned from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, OH, and a friend pointed me to this blog which featured the Street Spirit article and interview about my journey from prisoner to priest. At the General Convention, the strong theme was for the Episcopal Church to live into its ministry of reconciliation in the world. My deep hope is that leadership will emerge, amongst individuals, organizations, and communities, to restore the hope of reconciliation to the American correctional justice system. Any path to the restoration of prisoners in our prisons must hold both accountability and reconciliation in tension.
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