Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yesterday ...

There was little blogging here yesterday because, after a visit to my chiropractor and breakfast at my favorite luncheonette, I met with Mike Peich, the recently retired head of the West Chester University Poetry Center, and drove off to the Cambria Community Center in North Philly. The CCC is a detention center, part of the Philadelphia Prison System. Mike and I were going there to hear Russell Goings read and speak to some of the men incarcerated there.
It was an extraordinary experience (The Inquirer will be having an article about it soon). Russ established contact with the men practically instantaneously. They knew this guy was the genuine article. Russ was completely respectful toward them, but pulled no punches. As for the guys, the didn't just respect Russ. By the time the event was over -- it lasted a good couple of hours -- I think they had come to love him. One said that it had been the most important day of his life. Some of the men even came up to Mike and me and my friend Bill Chaney to thank us for bringing Russ to talk to them. (It was actually Bill who made all the arrangements with the the warden; Bill and I are both retired, but we still get together regularly to arrange shipments of books from The Inquirer to the prison system.)
The men themselves were very well-spoken and sharp. I couldn't help wondering what the hell people like this were doing in jail (yeah, I know; they broke the law and got caught, but that's not my point). I wish them all well.


  1. It is amazing some of the quality individuals you will meet in prison. There are many types of prisons and some of them have some really bad people but some prisons have inmates that remind you of your neighbors. Folks of all types make mistakes. It also may imply the justice system is a little too aggressive.

  2. - or that most of those "quality individuals" are simply sociopaths and con artists who lie, cheat, steal and brutalize their victims, and once caught and placed in prison, they play the game and play up to decent people who want to believe that all people are good...

    If you had your car stolen, your home burglarized, your wife or daughter raped, your son murdered, or your life savings swindled, you might not think the justice system was too aggressive.

    Sure, there are some prisoners who find God in prison, or want to change their life, but most of the prisoners are multiple offenders.
    They are career criminals who know how to con good people.

    I know criminals from three vantage points. I ran with a South Philly street corner gang and some of my childhood friends went on to do murder and other truly bad crimes. I went on to join the U.S. Navy at 17 and I did security work as a young sailor and later as a Defense Department civlian for more than 37 years. And since 1993 I've worked as a crime reporter and columnist.

    I've heard criminals tell their sad and mostly fabricated stories, but I've also heard the police, the prosecutors and most important of all - the victims. My sympathy is clearly with the victims.

    I've been to numerous crime scenes. I've seen the burglaized homes, the homicide victims and the battered and brutalized. I've also seen the families of crime victims, and they too are victims.

    The victims I've interviewed over the years do not think the justice system is too aggressive. They believe the justice system is too lenient.

  3. Perhaps some attention and donations of books (children's books might be very helpful), time and money should be given to the victims of crime as well as to criminals.

    Below is the web site of the Philadelphia Coalition for Victim Advocacy:

  4. Well, I will certainly look into donating books for crime victims. And I certainly don't advocate going easy on crime or criminals. And I've had my share of friends in low places. But all of that convinces that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of crime. Actually, there is no solution to the problem of crime, period. It is part and parcel of the human condition. But incarceration by and of itself is not enough. As Somerset Maugham observed, men are not of piece. Blackguards an be capable of generosity and and kindness. And saints can at times be mean and vicious.