destroys inmates' writing
By The Associated Press
April 15, 2004
Freedom Forum Online
HARTFORD, Conn. - Prison officials destroyed computer files containing inmates' personal writing days after a prisoner won a national writing award, best-selling author Wally Lamb said.
Lamb, who teaches a creative-writing workshop at the York Correctional Facility in East Lyme, said yesterday that 15 female inmates lost up to five years of work when officials at the prison's school ordered all hard drives used for the class erased and its computer disks turned over.
"It flies in the face of the First Amendment," said Lamb, whose book She's Come Undone was a 1997 best-seller after being endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.
Department of Correction Commissioner Theresa Lantz halted the writing program on March 29 after learning that inmate Barbara Parsons Lane had won a $25,000 PEN American Center prize for her work on the 2003 book Couldn't Keep It To Myself: Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters.
Lantz met on April 13 with Lamb, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, and PEN American Center Director Larry Siems. Lantz said miscommunication between Lamb and herself about the writing award led to the shutdown, but that the rehabilitative program would continue after it was reorganized.
The commissioner is investigating the writings being deleted, said Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett.
"She is aware and obviously concerned about what Mr. Lamb as told her, and she has pledged to look into it further," he said.
Meanwhile, Blumenthal said on April 10 that he was pursuing a change in a state law that permits state officials to recover incarceration costs from inmates.
His statements came one day after Lane was announced as the winner of the $25,000 prize in defiance of the law.
"There is a need to refine and improve it so that it does not apply to income earned after someone is released from prison, and impede the return to productive activity," Blumenthal said.
Lane is among the inmates who participated in Lamb's writing course. Their work became the basis of Couldn't Keep It To Myself. Each of the women is entitled to $5,600 from publisher Harper Collins following release from prison.
The state went to court last year to seize the royalties at a rate of $117 per day under a regulation that permits authorities to go after inmates' assets. Lane received a bill for $339,505.
"We are of course underscoring our concern over the state of Connecticut's actions," PEN's Siems, who heads the center's Freedom to Write and International Programs, said in a written statement about the award.
Siems said the women, who did not write about their crimes, were targeted for their work. He said they were penalized, intentionally or unintentionally, for freedom of expression.
Blumenthal said the proposed changes would exclude income gained from rehabilitative activity or training while in prison, or following an inmate's release.
He said he was hopeful a settlement can be reached that excluded Lane's prize money. He declined to discuss details.
"I believe that a settlement is possible that will satisfy all of the interests, most particularly the public interest, as well as the First Amendment interests of the authors and the law enforcement and fiscal interests of the state," he said.
Lane, who has been incarcerated since 1996 for manslaughter, will still be in prison on April 20 when the award is given in New York. Her son and daughter are to accept the prize.
writing program will continue
after debate over prize money
April 13, 2004
MTWT Connecticut Style