A new memoir has been released from a former candidate for the Democratic party turned inmate, and its timely release is poised to bring another voice to the current debate on prison reform and, in particular, the lack of education available in American penal institutions. Jeff Smith spent a year in prison for conspiracy for election law violations and, like many who actually spend time in a prison environment, realized that the system is fundamentally broken.
In interviews surrounding his memoir, Mr Smith. Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught me About America’s Prison Crisis, he accurately highlights the complete lack of rehabilitative program content in most prisons in this country. And he provides an important contrast with Scandinavian countries where the emphasis is not strictly on punishment, but on providing individuals with the skills and tools needed not only to become productive members of society, but emotionally healthy community contributors. Smith has stated that one of his key concerns is the lack of education in the system, and the fact that behind those walls, so much potential is lost because of it.
I applaud Smith for speaking out about his experiences, and for pushing us to examine prison reform through a humane lens, and I’m eager to read his book. Let’s not forget, that in the one year Smith spent behind bars, he saw but a fraction of what life in prison is like, and even that was enough to reveal to him the profound failings of our system. And also that Smith went into, and came out of, prison with advantages most prisoners could only dream of (like a doctorate). So please, while Smith makes the rounds largely because of his prior public presence, remember that everyone in prison has a story. Theirs are no less important and no less deserving of a moment of your attention.