To Estonian Eyes, Even U.s. Inmates Enjoy The Good Life

April 05, 1992|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Contributing writer

"This does not look like a prison. This looks like a hotel."

Suchwas the view of Urmas Polluaas (pronounced Poe-loo-us) as he toured the Harford County Detention Center last weekend.

It was the Estonian's first experience seeing an American jail.

Polluaas, 25, was joined on the tour by fellow Estonian Aivar Rozko(pronounced Roez-koe), 30. Both are in the United States studying the U.S. penal system.

The two are physical education teachers at a technical school in Estonia, but are studying to be correctional officers. Their trip's expenses are covered through donations from policeagencies and associations in Maryland.

During their 10-week stay in America, Polluaas and Rozko are touring a wide range of facilitiesto learn how U.S. prisons operate.

For example, they are going through the Maryland State Police Academy's program for correctional officers.

The two are amazed at the comparative quality of the U.S. penal system -- and other aspects of U.S. life as well.

On weekends, Polluaas and Rozko have been the house guests of police and correctional administrators statewide.

Last weekend, Polluaas and Rozko stayed at the Bel Air home of Maj. Dale Zepp, Harford Court Correctional Service Bureau chief.

One evening Zepp's wife, Charlotte, cooked a roast beef dinner. On another evening, the Zepps took the gueststo the Horn & Horn restaurant in Bel Air.

"They were just amazed at all the food and the variety of everything," Zepp said. "They had never seen so many different types of things at one place."

And ina doughnut shop, "Aivar couldn't believe that there were more than four or five types of doughnuts there," Zepp said.

Polluaas and Rozko also visited dairy farms in the Bel Air area and an auction gallery. The Estonians said they thought it was wonderful that everyday people could sell belongings quickly at such a forum.

But it's the information they've gleaned from their tour of the Harford detention center and other facilities that will count when they return home, theysaid.

Polluaas and Rozko plan to put the information to use helping to revise the Estonian penal system when they embark on their correctional officer careers.

They have their work cut out for them. Radical changes have to be made -- and not just with the prison system.

Shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head, Polluaas said: "All the life must change. They tell you, 'You're a free country, now.' But what do you do?" People have a socialist education. We must learneverything again."

Rozko said, "I learned about Karl Marx in school. I must learn all new things."

"Before we were a Soviet system," Polluaas said. "They just sent you to Siberia."

Rozko knows wellthe horrors of the penal system of the former Soviet Union.

His uncle was imprisoned for six years for holding up an Estonian flag, hesaid.

"My uncle would tell me stories about what it was like. It is a terrible system. Prisoners would fight. It was too crowded. There was not enough food."

But both insist that the U.S. prison system is vastly different. To emphasize his point, Rozko had another factabout his country's system.

"If you are still around after 15 years, they shoot you," he said.

"They said that the (American) prisoners have it better than the citizens back home," Zepp said.

Polluaas liked the fact that U.S. prisoners have something to do while serving their sentence.

"Here a prisoner can get his high school education," he said.

"We do not have that in Estonia. Here, a prisonercan find recreation, and education -- learn a technical skill. That is something that I think we should do."

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