Training In Federal Prison
The tall, beautiful young woman
called for the mic. With her eyes glistening with tears, her
lips trembling, she said, "I've asked the Lord a thousand
times why He sent me to prison. Now I know. It was for this!
The words were spoken by 22-year-old Janelle at the close
of a Lifespring training at the federal prison for women at
Pleasanton. They came as a postscript, almost an afterthought.
The training session had come to an end and the room was being
cleared for the final candlelight ceremony when she suddenly
asked to speak.
Janelle had passed up the final
invitation to share her feelings with the group but, as the
mics were being removed, something inside her compelled her
to speak. She had to let us know that she had been deeply
moved, and that the clouds of guilt, resentment, and self-hatred
had been lifted from her troubled soul.
Janelle was just one of 44 women
who completed the Lifespring training at Pleasanton. Some
68 had enrolled, but 24 had dropped out for one reason or
another. Some because they lacked commitment to themselves,
some because they could not face the truth, others because
they could not surrender to the firm self-discipline required
The training took place in the
campus-like setting of the federal institution from which
Patty Hearst had been released several months earlier. The
prison itself stands on revenge and oppression. Its brochure
describes the correctional program as "based on a supportive
atmosphere relatively free from the corrosive effects of the
traditional prison environment. The social climate and the
correctional techniques employed serve to stimulate motivation,
learning, personal responsibility. The philosophy stresses
security, privacy, staff-inmate interaction, flexibility of
program, and freedom of movement..."
The prison is surrounded not
by walls but by transparent steel link fencing that reveals
broad green fields and distant hills. There are trees, flowers,
broad lawns, and long paved walks between the modern redwood
and glass buildings. Each woman has her own room and the key
to her door. They prize these keys, to which they attach fancy
key rings, some bearing photos of their family or friends.
a journalist who has long been an advocate of penal reform
and a severe critic of our crude and destructive penal system,
which makes people worse instead of better, I was pleased
to be able to visit Pleasanton as a participant and reporter
of the Lifespring training sessions.