By Karen Lausa
Perspectives from those who work and live in the criminal justice system.
This article was published in collaboration with Vice.
My heart was beating fast. I threw off my sweater suddenly I was feeling very warm. And then I read this line in my students essay: Mein Kampf was my go-to book.
I facilitate the Words Beyond Bars book discussion group, which meets in a cinderblock classroom in Colorados largest prison facility. Its a bi-monthly education class, and the final book we read last semester was In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. A psychological history of U.S. Ambassador William Dodds tenure in the early, developing years of Nazi Germany, it ignited a discussion that ranged from world politics to the end of German cultural enlightenment to Hitlers early bedazzlement of his nation.
But even volunteering in prison, I didnt expect to read an essay like this one.
I hate government and nothing good comes of it and most people in it are vile, wrote my student, who is serving a 60-plus-year sentence for an assault conviction. There was a time when Hitler was a glorified word, and he was considered Uncle Adolf by me and those I lived around.
His words forced me to check my own mantra, one Id had to hone in order to work in a prison: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, their own story. The question I now had to ask was whether knowing this mans views was a game-changer for me more so than knowing what his crime had been. Did I suddenly dislike him now?
The 25 participants of my class a racially diverse group of black, white, Latino and Native American inmates are required to submit reflection papers after completing each book. As their facilitator, I critique their writing after I return home, frequently impressed by the deep thinkers and their attention to plot, character and setting.
In this case, the plot included the nonfiction extermination of the Jews.
Was this book a poorly considered selection? A lifer in the last group had written me a kite in prison lingo, a written request touting it as a favorite, and it had five stars on Amazon. So why not?
In our discussion about Larsons book, the questions ranged from, Why did everyone hate the Jews so much? to, Does anyone notice how Hitlers timing was as perfect as Donald Trumps? At one point in the conversation, I shared that my own parents had fled Germany early on, reviled for their religion as early as 1933.
But this essay was the first time a student of mine had exposed me to his race-related beliefs and the mantra of white survivalism. Almost worse, he was sharing his views quite respectfully, almost eloquently hes not a bad writer. Hed been a book group participant three sessions in a row and had devoured everything we read with perceptive and illuminating observations. He was an asset to the program and generous with praise to othersId really liked him.
I just didnt know all that was inside him. I didnt realize that the man clad in prison green sitting across from me had been raised in a family for which National Socialist ideology was the gospel.
I read on through his confessional paper, sipping my coffee in silence. As I absorbed his remarks about the demise of white culture in our country today, I felt hoodwinked, foolish for ever believing that our book discussion group could be as transformative as I passionately insist it is. Interacting as a small community of readers is the model for this program, never mind that each person who enters the room committed a felony and is guilty of a serious, often violent, crime. We sit in a circle to symbolize equality. I absolutely believe these men are more than the thing they did, often decades earlier.
Why, then, was I questioning this man, whom I know and respect? Who was the hypocrite here? I was not being duped by this mans story he was stating his truth. I felt misled, but by myself: accepting these men as long as they didnt cross my boundaries with their beliefs. Or maybe Id been romanticizing my ability to heal them with the right book.
Could what a warden once suggested to me be true that the guys show up in my class just as a diversion, to get out of their cells and hang around a woman?
My student admitted, toward the end of his paper, that he was apprehensive to share his background. After explaining that it was how he was raised, he confided, I have not totally given up on it, but I have backed way away from much of the extreme hatred that is carried with the Nazi party followers.
Returning to the subject of the book discussion group, he began a final paragraph with, I found a way to break free from those suffocating bonds. I joined Words Beyond Bars, a book club. It helps people open up and look at things in a different light. Expanding your mind and being around people you normally wouldnt talk to.
I came to this work as a way to thread together my love for literature and my desire to nudge the culture of mass incarceration toward a less punitive, more humanizing system. The men are, in general, polite, grateful, engaged, and desperate for more education. They long for validation and a way to retain their individuality in a grey landscape of sameness, day after day.
The closing of the paper was both moving and disturbing. The writer concludes, Id do anything to be a productive member of this society. In doing so I have begun to change. The confines of prison have led me to a certain degree of personal freedom. Freedom in prison what a concept.
By the time I get to the end, gone is my sense of being misled. I no longer question my book choice for the discussion group. And I have reached an understanding about this man, one of many.
Karen Lausa is the developer and facilitator of Words Beyond Bars, a book discussion group held in Colorado correctional facilities.
See the original post here:
- Oregon 'Hate Map' Reveals 11 Racist, Separatist Hate Groups In The State - Patch.com - August 18th, 2017
- Doomsday Desperation - Southern Poverty Law Center - August 18th, 2017
- 'American Made' Review: Tom Cruise Flies Between Comedy and Tension, Missing Both - TheWrap - August 18th, 2017
- North Korea: Nuclear War Fears Spur Sales of Preparedness Goods ... - Fortune - August 14th, 2017
- For Doomsday Preppers, the End of the World Is Good for Business - New York Times - August 13th, 2017
- Film Review: Good Time - Consequence of Sound (blog) - August 13th, 2017
- Nine Inch Nails - Webster Hall, New York City - Gigs - Reviews ... - Soundblab - August 11th, 2017
- Film Review: The Glass Castle Fails on Almost Every Level - Splice Today - August 11th, 2017
- If North Korea targets Guam, how should the US respond? - Fox News - August 11th, 2017
- Naked - slantmagazine - August 10th, 2017
- Noir Thriller Wind River Examines An Ignored America - Willamette Week - August 10th, 2017
- Silicon Valley luminaries are busily preparing for when robots take ... - Mashable - August 10th, 2017
- Review: Nolan's 'Dunkirk' is as Riveting as it is Groundbreaking - First Showing (blog) - July 23rd, 2017
- Do you Have What it Takes to be a Christian Survivalist? - CBN News - July 19th, 2017
- Morning Star :: No growth but lots of opportunities | The People's Daily - Morning Star Online - July 19th, 2017
- 'War for the Planet of the Apes' Review: Finale of biblical proportions - Rappler - July 18th, 2017
- Queued Up: 'The Lego Batman Movie,' 'XX,' 'Logan,' and More - Aquarian Weekly - July 12th, 2017
- Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes - Consequence of Sound (blog) - July 11th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ... - Norfolk Eastern Daily Press - July 8th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ineffably creepy - Norwich Evening News - July 8th, 2017
- DJ CherishTheLuv, Music Missionary - HuffPost - June 30th, 2017
- What it Means to Finish Pikes Peak + Results - Hot Rod Network - Hot Rod Network - June 29th, 2017
- 'It Comes at Night' a Spellbinding Tale of Family and Survival - Shepherd Express - June 29th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - Charleston Express - June 26th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - Arkansas News - June 25th, 2017
- Where billionaires are stockpiling land for the apocalypse: Map - The Real Deal Magazine - June 19th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - Business Insider Nordic - June 17th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - SFGate - June 15th, 2017
- Billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse here's where they're going - The Advocate - June 15th, 2017
- Next "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana - KRTV Great Falls News - June 11th, 2017
- Veteran teaches disaster preparation skills at Heights library - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 10th, 2017
- It Comes At Night stars on survivalism, the apocalypse - WDEF News 12 - June 9th, 2017
- Recently unveiled documents reveal anarchist strand festered at Evergreen for nearly a decade - The College Fix - June 9th, 2017
- Margaret Atwood on the utopias hiding inside her dystopias and why there is no the future - Vox - June 9th, 2017
- Humanity 2.0: The Unstoppability of Singularity - HuffPost - June 8th, 2017
- Upcoming "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KTVQ Billings News - June 6th, 2017
- Survivalist shares experience in Harker Heights - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 5th, 2017
- Click Your Hiking Boots Together: Oz Farm Is NorCal's Eco ... - 7x7 - June 3rd, 2017
- You'll Find Far Cry 5 ProvocativeEven if It's a Mess - WIRED - June 1st, 2017
- 'Alien: Covenant' and the Nature of Horror - Film School Rejects - June 1st, 2017
- Via 'The Florida Project,' meet two of the youngest stars in Cannes Film Festival history - Los Angeles Times - June 1st, 2017
- Alien 3 is far from the worst Alien movie. In fact, it's pretty great. - Vox - Vox - May 23rd, 2017
- These Minnesota doomsday preppers are ready for disaster to strike ... - Grand Forks Herald - May 14th, 2017
- These Minnesota doomsday preppers are ready for disaster to strike ... - Duluth News Tribune - May 11th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - May 9th, 2017
- Homesteading and Survivalism Living a simple life - May 6th, 2017
- On Ketamine and Added Value - E-Flux - May 6th, 2017
- A Memorial Day Festival for Colorado's Most Famous Cannibal - 5280 | The Denver Magazine - May 4th, 2017
- Learning Survival Skills - Mother Earth News - April 30th, 2017
- Seedship Review The best parts of Sci-Fi - A 90s Kid - April 30th, 2017
- Vanishing: Where Is The Music Of The Impending Apocalypse? - The Quietus - April 27th, 2017
- Community pays tribute to 102nd anniversary of Armenian Genocide - Twin Falls Times-News - April 25th, 2017
- To Sunderland owner Ellis Short - this is for you - Roker Report (blog) - April 25th, 2017
- Did the Movie-Theater Audience Ruin Personal Shopper for Me? - New York Magazine - April 23rd, 2017
- Mitzvah-Lite: What We Miss When We Only Follow Moral Commandments - Forward - April 21st, 2017
- Conan Exiles to be released for the Xbox One in second half of 2017 - Windows Report - April 17th, 2017
- Adrienne Truscott Presents Solo 'Non-Dance', THIS at New York Live Arts - Broadway World - April 13th, 2017
- Conan Exiles is coming to Xbox One here's why you should care - Windows Central - April 13th, 2017
- A Small Step for Man: Life Frightens Without Inspiring - The Georgetown Voice - April 12th, 2017
- The Founding Fathers Of Survivalism - Survive Tomorrow - April 7th, 2017
- Brazil Really Needs Its Most Hated Politician - Bloomberg - April 7th, 2017
- Crazy In The Desert - Men's Journal - April 7th, 2017
- Bunker mentality - The Exponent Telegram (press release) (registration) - March 27th, 2017
- Coming of age after Purim - Jerusalem Post Israel News - March 23rd, 2017
- Jay Weatherill's big energy call is a survivalist fix of last resort - The Guardian - March 17th, 2017
- South London's Phobophobes Share Sinister New Music Video - Broadway World - March 10th, 2017
- One of Trump's treasury assistants is a survivalist who invented a bizarre techno-bow - The Verge - March 10th, 2017
- Wingin' It - The Portland Mercury - March 8th, 2017
- Feminist pacifism or passive-ism? - Open Democracy - March 7th, 2017
- How a mythical 'hermit' criminal hid in the woods for decades - New York Post - March 4th, 2017
- Wolf Pack 2017 - Creative Collectives Australia - March 1st, 2017
- MAGIC Fall 2017 Fashion Trend: Puffer Jackets WWD - WWD - February 28th, 2017
- Witnessing the Ghosts Of the Past and the Struggles Of the Future in Kashmir - The Wire - February 28th, 2017
- The Essential Animation Charms of 'My Life as a Zucchini' and 'The Red Turtle' - Film School Rejects - February 26th, 2017
- Green politics can save us - Drexel University The Triangle Online - February 24th, 2017
- Phobophobes Announces New Single and UK Tour with LIFE - Broadway World - February 20th, 2017
- Lynn Hummel column: Always something to panic about - Detroit Lakes Online - February 17th, 2017
- Commentary: Always something to panic about - Park Rapids Enterprise - February 15th, 2017
- The Wild Eight is survivalism served extra-cold - Eurogamer.net - February 9th, 2017
- Bomb-shelter builder stays busy as customers prep for 'Trumpocalypse' - Duluth News Tribune - February 7th, 2017