Leverett House Hosts Ex-Cons In Discussion of Penal Reform

Three representatives from an organization of ex-convicts said last night that students should write letters supporting the head of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections in his efforts to bring about penal reform.

Speaking to a group of 40 in the Leverett House Dining Hall, members of the Fortune Society called for the restructuring of the prison system and for counseling programs aimed at helping ex-cons adjust to everyday life.

The discussion was sponsored by the PBH Prisons' Committee.

"Boone is a good guy by himself, but he can't do anything because the inmates think he's living, the conservatives think he's radical, and the liberals say he's full of shit, "Francis O'Leary, one of the ex-cons, said in an appeal for reform support.

The founder of Fortune, David Rothenberg, said that community-based correctional facilities would be the answer to the present system. "Halfway Houses are only jails with carpeting in the middle of a city," he said. "Community-based facilities would allow the convict to work out his problems within the society."


Why He Did It

Charles Jackson, another ex-con, added that Halfway houses are not the answer because "the inmate still isn't cured. No one ever asks why he did what he did."

Jackson said that the ex-con is more afraid of society than society is of him. Many ex-cons prefer to go back to prison in order to avoid making choices they would otherwise face there, he added.

O'Leary stressed the importance of reassuring inmates of "their dignity and humanity, because you learn after being in for a while that the only way to survive is to hate." Rothenberg added that outside contact is essential for a feeling of support.

O'Leary said that volunteer teachers, often students from the college community, go in thinking of education as a rehabilitative cure-all for convicts. She said, however, "if you give a rapist an education and a diploma for a PhD you have a rapist with a PhD. Nothing is changed."

The three representatives emphasized further utilization of the media to make the public aware of prison conditions.

The Fortune Society, founded in 1967, prints a newsletter which it sends to 23 countries.