Tuesday, July 10, 2012

“Nor iron bars a cage...”

This 12-page booklet from 1945 is very rosy look at prison as a place of rehabilitation and training.

The California Department of Corrections Guidance Center of the Adult Authority was, according to this, concerned with “the description of the man as a human being in order to plan for his future with the greatest likelihood of helping him to succeed upon return to society.” A commendable goal. I wonder if it was met with much cynicism? In the years since we have seen the United States move into the position of having the largest per capita prison population in the world. A cursory look at today’s situation shows that the idea of prison is to remove people considered dangerous from society, and to punish. They also punish people convicted of non-violent crimes by throwing them into prison with the violent inmates. I don't know how much the system looks into a man’s (or woman’s) psychological background, but with minimum sentences it seems that nowadays rehabilitation isn’t much considered.

I'm not saying that the goals of this 1945 organization weren’t good, but I think its philosophy would nowadays seem foreign to the American public. Be tough on criminals. Throw 'em in jail, lock 'em up, throw away the key is more the attitude. But it also depends on the crime. A kid from the ghetto whose chances of making it in life are pretty slim anyway will go to prison for years for drugs; a white collar crook who steals millions and wreaks havoc with lives far beyond the reach of the ghetto kid may earn a relatively short sentence. Everyone knows about the unfairness but no one seems inclined to do much about it.

This booklet gave a “talented inmate” (no credit given, but who signed his name “Peek”) a chance to do the artwork. The lettering, which was once a required skill for a commercial artist, is very professional, and the illustrations are good. In our Photoshop era most of what you see here would be taken over by a computer program, not an artist hunched over a drawing board. Whatever crime he committed to get him there I hope Peek got a job as an artist when he got out, and that he never went back to prison.

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