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Letters to the Editor

Letters published December 17, 2003

History Is No Excuse
Keep blackface out of our faces: When I read Darren Keast's article about the minstrel shows ["The Real Shock Rock," November 19], the word survival comes to mind. White men mocking African American slaves surviving in a cruel land. Imagine living in a world that will punish or kill you if they even think you are as smart as the so-called master race. Slaves were smart enough to play dumb to survive, until they had the power to fight back. With just about everything taken from them, the only things they had were their strong minds and their love for music, which they used to communicate with and entertain each other, keeping spirits high in low times.

Keast profiles a few white entertainers with no creative talent of their own. Guess it's unheard-of for a white man to play and dance in minstrel shows -- as a white man. The clowning around and talking in such a bad English dialect also is a no-no. So what can they do? Put on blackface. The sad part of the whole minstrel-show phenomenon is the fact that working African American entertainers couldn't even perform unless they, too, were in black face paint, because white Americans felt that slaves were not intelligent enough to put on shows and make a living at it.

So you have a few guys (historians) who want to put on these shows for a handpicked crowd, feeling that they can't get their historical minstrel show understood unless they relate it to historical reenactments. Yes, it's a part of history -- a very embarrassing part of history, and it should only be read about in books and learned about in classes.

Ivory Martin III
Cleveland

Layoff Cop-out
Prepare to feel really sick: In response to "Cop Shortage?" [First Punch, December 3]: The city layoffs are not about numbers. They're about all the people who watch over you and your family.

Funny how the media talks about how in debt Cleveland is and how horrible it is that so many people are losing their jobs. Then, in the same segment, they show you Mayor Campbell's new ideas for the new convention center that we can apparently afford to build. She complains that so many people have been calling in sick lately. What the hell does she think will happen, when they actually cut more than twice those numbers?

Samantha Smith
Cleveland

S Is for . . .
Simply sidesplitting: In response to "The 'S' Word," November 26: great review. I laughed almost as hard reading Robert Wilonsky's review of Bad Santa as I did watching the film.

Aaron Spears
Cleveland

God Squad
Hey, it beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick: I was very interested to read Kevin Hoffman's article "Captive Audience" (November 19), on the coercion of Ohio inmates to practice religion. Despite my job writing for a church paper, I have always supported church/state separation and am very much opposed to the overt or covert insertion of religion into the public sphere.

I must admit that when I visited Marion, I found that at least some of the religious programming was a little overwhelming in its evangelical zeal. And yet . . . Marion is a remarkably calm, quiet place, which is pretty unusual for a prison. Who would want to support the prison of old? Since prison is a place of intimidation anyway, I wonder whether religious intimidation is not a better alternative to intimidation by rape or violence. It was clear that the Horizon Interfaith Dormitory gave its residents hope. Without such programs, we are, unfortunately, left with harsh punishment with little thought to rehabilitation, which seems to be the current attitude toward prisoners.

I don't know the answer to this, but thanks, Scene, for the thoughtful article.

Martha Wright
University Heights

That strong arm brought peace to Marion: Kevin Hoffman's "Captive Audience" certainly presented the well-known arguments against faith-based prison programming. I appreciate the publishing of my e-mail remarks in "The View From the Inside." However, I am a bit miffed at the subtitle, "A former Marion inmate recalls coercion and conversion."

Prison is an enormously difficult place to achieve socially productive change. While I stand by every word of my assessment, I wish to leave no doubt that I am a profoundly better person because of Kairos and the encouragement that came my way from Warden Christine Money and her staff.

Most of us ended up in prison because we refused to be "led, coerced, or strong-armed" into proper conduct. I characterized Kairos as using such tactics, but those tactics are no different from what corporate America and the military use to advance discipline. I thank God that Christine Money has the courage to go where no other warden in my experience has dared to tread. The civilities, peace, and quiet of Marion Correctional are a testament to her faith, methods, and dedication.

Contrary to ACLU Legal Director Ray Vasvari's statement about an "unquestionably evangelical event," I never saw or heard of a Kairos staffer demanding that any prisoner accept Jesus Christ. Rather, the focus was always to get in touch with our inherently spiritual nature. I have seen that power change prisoners in ways I never thought possible. If it takes a "strong-arm" to accomplish that, I suggest that all corrections professionals adjust their exercise routine accordingly.

William A. Hamann Jr.
Fort Thomas, KY

Warden Christine Money's on the money: My hat goes off to Christine Money. At last there is someone who understands the meaning of rehabilitation. Our society has forgotten that our legal system was founded on the basis of returning men and women to society, where they can move beyond their mistakes. Ms. Money has found a way to reduce violence on the inside. Staff and inmates alike are much more safe due to the programs developed at MCI. I would also venture a guess that, in years to come, studies might even show that her efforts have lowered recidivism rates. Christine Money is giving these inmates hope, something that politicians only want to take away so they can make their case for building more, bigger, and better prisons at the taxpayer's expense.

Vicki Nagel
Marion

If Christ can do the job . . . : May I suggest that when these criminals get out of prison, they come and live in your neighborhood. I could not believe that prisoners are allowed to see porn, but not required to sit and watch something that could possibly rehabilitate them. It has been proven that Christ can change people's lives. What is wrong with instilling some morals in people who would otherwise not have any? Whatever it takes to get them rehabilitated should be the issue, as long as they come out more productive citizens.

Beverly Jefferson
Cleveland

Inmates need programs as well as preachers: Although the intent of religious programming is positive, inmates need more than the superficial "God loves you, repent and be saved" message. They need support on the outside and encouragement to maintain and improve family ties, including programs to help them afford phone calls and visits with family. They need placement near their homes, to which they will return. Inmates need steady, rewarding work and trades or skills that keep them from idleness and self-pity. They need corrections officers who employ firm and consistent rules, but who also show compassion and sincerity in their work style.

Maybe the warden at Marion is demonstrating a basic principle of Christianity --"love one another" -- as she and others in the system promote the work of the Promise Keepers, etc., and that is admirable. But it is shortsighted and insufficient to the task of providing convicts with the skills, emotional support, hope, and self-renewal that are the essence of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, only the "correction" seems emphasized. At least religious proselytizing and programs focusing on morals do seek the good in the "man-gone-astray." Now let's strengthen that aim with mental health and social programs for inmates and their families.

Shelley Pomeroy
Concord Township

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