Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Legal Aid Justice Center Examines America's Prison System

We are thrilled to report that the turnout at last night's L.A.J.C. event, at the Paramount Theater, appeared to be the largest in the event's history.

The crowd was treated to Alex Gulotta's passion, John Grisham's humor and pointed questions, and a thoughtful examination of a very complicated issue.
A particular highlight of the night was a poetry reading by Dwayne Betts, who spent eight years in prison and who now teaches in Washington, DC's public schools and has published a memoir (A Question of Freedom) -- with a book of poetry (Shahid Reads His Own Palm) to follow in the spring.

Betts's positive energy about the capacity of both individuals and institutions to reform themselves was incredibly inspiring. I particularly enjoyed his reflection on the power of the written word to change lives.

You can read more about Betts on The Atlantic's website, here.

Helen Trainor also spoke at the event, discussing the work of the LAJC's Virginia Institutionalized Persons Project (you can read more about the Project here).

Trainor and the other speakers emphasized that Virginia continues to invest in building new prisons and locking more and more people up (including an ever-increasing percentage of inmates who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes). Unfortunately, the state invests tragically little in programs to rehabilitate inmates or to teach them the skills necessary to survive and thrive upon their re-entry into society.