Beauty, Creativity, and Healing
Edited By Bandy Lee, Nancy Olson and Thomas Duffy
Creativity and Innovation in the Fight to Restore Justice to All
by Sunny Schwartz
My waking hours are filled with bars, yelling, and concrete. The subtle and not so subtle violence of America’s correctional system envelops my mind and heart.
Half of my life, I worked with criminals and deputies. Behind the bars, the prisoners are like that mob of needy, grasping limbs, but their want is almost mindboggling after what they’ve done to others. What do they deserve? Sometimes, especially after I have heard from their victims, I think they deserve all the horror our system can dole out, and more….But those are my worst moments (as cynicism is the biggest occupational hazard): that’s not the reason I go to the jails every day. But it does beg the question, one I’ve confronted again and again, and want to try to answer here. Why? Why have I sought out the violent and the thieves, the castaways, the embarrassments, the liars, the dealers, the wife beaters, and old school gangsters?
I will never forget the first time walking down mainline, which is a maximum-security jail. Here I was, 26 years old, never been to a jail or prison, my first year in law school, thinking to myself, “What the hell did I get myself into?” Walking down there was worse than anything that I had imagined. The reeling, the jeering, one too many catcalls—I don’t know what gave me the chutzpah. I walked right over to the guy and jammed him,...
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