A letter from the State Pen

Daniel Grove

December 12, 1990|By Daniel Grove

I AM WRITING to you from the Maryland Penitentiary. A guard working the South Wing of this prison was stabbed yesterday evening. As a result, the prison is on "lock-down" status today.

I saw the local news broadcasts concerning this tragedy. I also saw how the Division of Correction spokespeople obstinately continue to paint a gruesome picture of the South Wing and the prisoners housed there.

South Wing houses several types of prisoners. Some are prisoners who are found guilty of disciplinary infractions and sentenced to a specific term of segregation, generally 30 to 60 days. When the prisoner completes his confinement, he could be held in a designated section of South Wing, apart from the segregated prisoners. Prisoners in this section are said to be on "idle status." The prisoners on idle status mingle with other prisoners; for the most part, they participate in activities the same as any prisoners. The Division of Correction spokespeople would have the public believe that only the worst prisoners in the penitentiary are housed in South Wing, and this just isn't so.

For years, everyone from the governor to the commissioner of correction has been complaining about lax security at the prison and deplorable conditions in the South Wing. The state had the money for renovations five years ago, and the money was spent for work that at best could be described as shoddy. With impending cutbacks in the state budget, there won't be any changes made in the South Wing any time soon.

Problems within Maryland's prisons run deep. There are too many people doing too much time, with no hope for redemption. This sets the stage for tragedy. I notice that the age of prisoners entering for the first time is going down, and many of the new prisoners have life terms. As they enter, they have too much free TC time and no way to channel their energies into positive endeavors.

As a prisoner, I see around me a potentially strong work force. More prisoners need to be put to work. Most guys I know in here are at their best when they are doing work that they feel is worthwhile. For over five years now, I have been working as an engraver of plaques and desk signs for all of Maryland's state agencies. I have given back to this state with my work, at the same time making money for the state. Trouble is, there are just too few opportunities available like mine. I am one of the lucky ones.

To have a life sentence and sit idle every day is more than some can bear. Most of us, of course, got here because we committed crimes, but that doesn't mean that we should be warehoused and face a slow, living death daily. Many in here cannot articulate the desire to do better, so those of us who can speak up must let the public know what we face. Should we warehouse our prisoners and hope that we will never have trouble from them after they are released? Or might an alternative way of doing time be explored, such as work programs that can teach a prisoner a constructive trade -- one that can be economically feasible for the state, as well as rehabilitative for the prisoner?

Problems with our prisons will not go away. This system of "corrections" as it is today has a lot of room for improvement. A harmonious, symbiotic relationship could develop between the Division of Correction and its prisoners, and it wouldn't be necessary to ask the taxpayers for more money to build prisons.

Ignoring the problem will only result in more spokespeople making excuses for a faulty system that should have been "corrected" years ago. None of us wants any more tragedies to occur.

Daniel Grove is prisoner No. I68463 B-423 in the State Penitentiary.

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