a message to ICOPA people:
June 27, 2010
Dear ICOPA people,
To our QUB hosts, thanks so much for a wonderful conference and fertile ground for learning about things Irish and for renewing and starting friendships with kindred spirits. I returned to Central Ohio last evening with Angela Harvey, aglow with memories of the past week in Belfast. I felt the presence of the rest of you who were in Belfast in spirit if not in body.
Jehanne, I attach photographs of the spot where I scattered Louk’s ashes at my mother’s house, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, Ohio. They lie at the foot of a sculpture by a late Ohio State faculty member and renowned artist David Black. The pictures show the sculpture, its background, and my mother's living room that faces it. What a coincidence that I should return home with Louk’s ashes just in time to celebrate my mother’s 91st birthday today.
When I got home last night the only personal mail I had was from Billy, imprisoned in Indiana. Billy Brown introduced himself to me by letter in 1998 as he began an eight-year stint at the 120-bed security housing unit in Carlisle. Bob Gaucher published an article of his on the experience in the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. Now Billy is segregation at the Westville Correctional Center.
I have been corresponding with prisoners since I started teaching criminology. In so doing I have set some personal boundaries: I will not give, let alone lend, money to prisoners; I will not do lawyering, especially since I am no longer licensed to do anything legal anyplace. Billy was on 23-hour lockdown when his mother died. Since we met, I have been his sole contact outside his walls. Periodically from when we met, I turned him down when he asked for money.
Billy has been out of super-max custody for a couple of years now, and this year is in segregation, the warden tells me, because he had “gang literature” when they tossed his cell. In March, Billy once again asked me for money. I felt I had run out of excuses, I sent him fifty dollars. He asked for a dictionary. The first Oxford dictionary I mailed was turned down because in Indiana, books (only paperbacks) have to come from publishers or from a group like Midwest Pages to Prisoners. Billy got the dictionary the second time around. With it, he has organized a writing class that meets in his cell. He asked for a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary, which I got through amazon.com for a song. In his correspondence with me, he is suddenly transformed. Concern for helping his students has displaced his anger at those who cage him. He is exuberant in his letters.
When I first sent Billy money, I proposed to send a regular monthly amount to him. He told me he only wanted me to make deposits to his account when he told me he needed them. I have just responded to his first such request in the letter below.
New Zealander Pat Magill is my oldest ICOPA companion. At breakfast yesterday morning before I caught the plane home, Pat asked me, once more, what I thought we could do to make penal abolition happen. I responded that I had given up planning change. Pat calls himself an atheist, I call myself an agnostic. For the first time in our long relationship, I revealed to Pat that I believe that when I let myself engage in the human encounters that come my, things come together.
What an amazing trip. Thanks again one and all—love and peace, Hal
June 27, 2010
I got home last night from a week in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I went to the North/South Irish Criminology Conference and the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA). Here I found your letters. How wonderfully you write; as a response for starters, I’ve just put $50 in your commissary account. Just let me know when you need more.
My mother is 91 today. In an hour Jill and I will go and celebrate. July 6 she moves to a nursing home, leaving the home she and I moved into in 1957 that is just 2 miles down the road from Jill and me in Worthington. For years, she has called going to a nursing home “being incarcerated,” and from other places she has been while recovering from hip replacements, I agree. Happily, it is a warm, small place right in between my mom’s place and Jill’s and my place. It is just a mile’s walk down the house from our place. We can show up for any meal with her for free, and because her new home , unlike her own place, is wheel-chair accessible, we can take her out and bring her home to visit us anytime. I think she is coming to accept the change.
People who carry on sponsoring ICOPAs share a vision of a world without prisons, and beyond that, for resolving conflicts without resort to state force of any kind. I hosted the only ICOPA in the US in 1991 in Bloomington. ICOPA will not return to the US as long as felons from other countries are barred entry. For us who keep coming back, ICOPA is a place to charge our batteries, knowing that we are not crazy, not alone in mind and purpose. And then we also make new acquaintances. I met someone who teaches sociology at Ohio State, Angela Harvey, who lives in another Columbus suburb about ten miles from me. She is on the national steering committee for a group calling itself “Inside/Out,” where students in the freeworld get college credit for coming to class in prison side-by-side with prisoners who also qualify for college credit. Neat stuff! So now I have found a beer-buddy criminologist next door to hang out with. The daughter of a Dutch criminologist who helped found ICOPA in 1983 and died in March gave me a little wooden urn with some of her father’s ashes. At my mother’s birthday party, I will sprinkle Louk’s ashes outside my mother’s living room window, just past the circular walking path, at the foot of the surrounding forest; I will take pictures and send them to Jehanne for her to post on the web site for the Hulsman Foundation. Academic conferences are normally not all like what I get from coming back to ICOPAs.
It took me so many years as a freeworld adult to be able to cry because I could not afford to cry as a child, for loss of manhood. As you tell it, you cannot afford to cry where you are right now. But you know, with me, your emotions are right out there. Thanks for making me the one guy in the world you can let know, tears or no tears, how deeply you feel anger and love as anyone else on this planet. That’s pretty special. I consider shedding tears to be shedding of pain and anger. If you can’t shed tears literally, I feel your sharing of how you feel in your letters to me to be sacred. Thanks again.
I am sharing this letter with the email-list for those of us who were or had been ICOPA participants. It is fitting that I return from ICOPA to receive your mail.
Love and peace,